All my life, my self-doubt murdered my plans, strangled my enthusiasm and drowned my passions.
When I was 7 years old, my deepest desire was to become an author. But self-doubt convinced me that my sister was the creative genius in the family. I could never compare to her, why waste my life on silly phantasies and unrealistic ideas.
When I chose a sensible career in research instead, self-doubt insisted that I was an imposter in a ridiculous scientist disguise. I lived in constant fear of being exposed. Of somebody pointing a finger at me, shouting: “You know nothing, little girl”.
And now, as I dreamed of rekindling my love for writing, self-doubt vetoed again. And I believed its warnings, bought its objections. Again.
As always, I stuck with my familiar life, my stale routines devoid of challenges, excitement and adventures. Busy suppressing my passion and disregarding my need for creative expression, purpose and direction.
While my dreams simmered on the back burner, neglected, oppressed, out of reach. I thought I didn’t need them to be happy. But I was wrong.
Every aspect of my life was a struggle. I felt like I was serving a life sentence in a homemade prison.
Paralysed, stuck. And alone.
I couldn't advance in my career because crippling self-doubt convinced me that I was a fraud in a ridiculous scientist disguise. I felt lucky I had a job at all! Considering my incompetence.
I was unable to go out with friends because I felt weak, anxious and vulnerable and was terrified of being mugged or killed on the way home alone.
I avoided meeting new people because the thought of social interactions made me feel sick. I believed that everybody I met would automatically judge me.
And I had given up on love and the prospect of a new relationship because I felt too flawed and damaged to deserve it. The only conceivable outcome was abandonment and the resulting unbearable pain. No, thank you!
So I sat at home. Day in, day out.
Wallowed in self-pity. Blamed myself, the Universe, other people for my misery. Drowned in negativity and self-loathing. Resented the people who had it all figured out, who were happy, confident and loved. And spent whole days in bed, in despair and hopelessness.
I would still be there now. Full of emptiness, hurt and envy.
But I was lucky. Because somehow I discovered the answers to the 3 most essential questions we will ask ourselves when we embark on the journey to a free, light-hearted and happier life.
Several years ago, I was working as part of a multidisciplinary team updating a national guideline for breast cancer detection and management.
I finished a presentation of the research plan to 20 leading oncologists and cancer geneticists, as one of them stood up, shook his head in disapproval and said: "This is all wrong! We are dealing with an important issue here. People's lives are at stake. We can't have your inexperience screw this up. What are you? A student? This is not up to scratch."
And before he sat down, he added: "And, by the way, your accent doesn't only sound horribly German, it is also terribly Welsh."
As you can imagine I was stunned. Hurt. And angry. We had worked hard on the research plan and it was good.
A sharp, burning feeling spread through my throat as I suppressed tears. I wanted to defend myself and my work. Tell him what an ignorant, arrogant idiot he was. And kick him where it hurt most.
But instead, I mumbled: "Ok, we will revisit it until the next meeting". And excused myself to cry in the toilet where nobody would see it.
At the time, his criticism crushed me. Made me doubt my abilities. For days I replayed the events in my mind. Overanalysed what had gone wrong, what I could have done better to avoid the inquisition. And beat myself up for stupid mistakes I made and for not standing up for myself.
If the same happened to me again now, I would react differently.
It wouldn't offend and hurt me, or knock my confidence. Because I know 3 important truths about criticism today that could have spared me a lot of suffering, upset and heartache.
Since the birth of my little one I have tried to lose the weight I gained during pregnancy.
And every year I make a New Year's resolution. With great hopes and motivation. This time I will succeed. I will do whatever it takes. I will stick to my diet and reclaim my body.
But, the truth is, I hate every minute of it. I crave carbs and chocolate, I detest kale and beat myself up for never making it to the gym. The constant feeling of hunger makes me grumpy and bitchy. And every minute of every day becomes a struggle to keep myself committed.
Usually, after a month (at the very most), I give up. Finding myself at the same weight I started within weeks.
My husband recently acquired a new Christmas jumper. Yes, this is him modelling it in the picture! He wears it everywhere. Dropping little one off at school, to shopping, to the cinema, at restaurants. EVERYWHERE!
And not only is the jumper visually...well, let's say flamboyant, the eyes also light up and it plays the Darth Vader theme. I kid you not!
A few years ago, I would have been mortified. Incapable of walking alongside him while his belly was trumpeting the Imperial March.
A few years ago, I would have been so embarrassed that I wanted to crawl and hide in a hole somewhere. My face would have been bright red with shame. I would have looked around anxiously, horrified of the judgement in the eyes of the passers-by.
And I would have been furious with my husband for putting me through it all. Intentionally! I would have blamed him and resented him for my suffering.
But today, I think it's hilarious. I am actually considering getting one for myself. Because I learned two crucial truths in the past 10 years that made all the difference.
This morning I took little one to school. In the school yard, parents were chatting in little groups while waiting for the doors to open.
As we arrived, my mind whispered: "Nobody will want to talk to YOU. You are an outsider."
To prove it wrong, I joined a couple of Mums. But as I tried to contribute to the conversation, they talked over me, taking no notice of what I was saying.
"See?" My mind gloated. "They don't want to have anything to do with you. You aren't interesting enough. People will always ignore you."
As the children swarmed through the school doors, the two Mums wandered off, still chatting, without acknowledging my existence.
"I told you so", my mind confirmed. "You are an impossible person to like. People just don't click with you. You are too boring, odd. Just not good enough. You have nothing to offer. You will be alone for the rest of your life. You pathetic loser!"
A few years ago, this experience would have thrown me into a bottomless abyss of self-punishment, self-loathing and self-pity. For days I would have beaten myself up for being unlovable, unpopular, worthless.
But today I wasn't bothered. The school yard experience didn't affect me at all. I didn't lose another negative thought on it. I went on with my day feeling happy.
So, why do I react so differently now? What happenend?
In 2003, my life had shrunk to the size of my one-bedroom flat. I was stuck in a prison of my own making. Paralysed by fear, insecurity and anxiety.
I felt like life was running away from me. As if I was standing behind a giant window, a one-way mirror, watching other people move by. I witnessed their adventures, failures and successes. I saw them laugh, cry, love and grow.
They had happiness and fulfilment. They had fun, enjoyment, freedom. They lived.
They were oblivious of the pathetic, shivering creature observing them from the dark back room. The terrified bundle of misery that envied them, wondered how they did it. How they could be so care-free, light and joyful.
To me, every aspect of life was a threat. I was traumatised by the past, horrified by the present and petrified of an uncertain future. Fear, anxiety and panic determined my every move. And I knew it had to change. I had to reclaim my life.
I suffered from crippling anxiety for over 10 years. I was stuck in a prison of my own making. Watching other people live, laugh, love and grow but too scared to participate.
I was terrified by every aspect of life. Horrified that the traumas of my past would catch up with me, petrified by the terrors lurking in the present and dreading an unknown future.
I was a mere shadow of my former self. I felt pathetic, weak and worthless. My quality of life was terrible and sometimes life as it was didn't feel worth living.
But I managed to work through it. Panic and anxiety are no longer parts of my life. I am free to make my own choices without compromise. I am free.
And today I want to share with you my most beloved exercise. It was the first and fundamental step in my escape from the clutches of fear. If you only did one thing to overcome your anxiety, this is the one I'd recommend!
Simply because it breaks the "cycle of fear". I'll explain...
In this interview with the lovely Tracy Lynn from The Queen Adventures, we discuss the importance of self-worth in relationships and singledom.
Tracy's interviews are aimed at single women but the message applies to every person finding themselves alone, looking for love or trying to free themselves from a bad relationship. Self-worth affects us all...