TED talk: The Price of Shame

“Freedom of speech comes with responsibility of speech.”

I just watched Monica Lewinsky talk about the price of shame, and our burgeoning culture of online humiliation and apathy. I’m not ashamed to say I was crying halfway through it, empathising with her mother. Watch the whole talk here:

Shy or Socially Phobic?

What would you say to someone who told you they hated talking on the phone? They screen every call before they answer, already irritable because the sound of the phone has made them jump. What about avoiding invitations to parties and get-togethers? Or going and then hoping to blend into the scenery, reluctant to chat or make eye-contact. Would you tell them they were just shy, to get over, get out there, meet some people? Or would you stop & consider they might be socially phobic?

It’s taken my husband 11 years to concede that I could be socially phobic. I think the millionth, “Why are you calling? Why can’t you text, for the love of all that’s holy?” finally got to him. He’s slowly comprehending how much my anxiety takes out of me, and the cost of ‘functioning as normal’. He’s your textbook good guy, a decent human being that would never want to see his loved ones in pain, but if it’s taken him long to ‘get’ this, how much do others suffer?

My social anxiety manifests itself in interesting ways. I don’t struggle with shopping, mostly because I do it online. I’ve been known to mutter frequently, “I hate people”. I have worked from home for 5 years now, because I am safe in my own space, behind my wall of screens, connected by the internet. On the rare occasions I have to do face time with clients, I psych myself up, practice everything I need to say, plan everything down to the last detail, and lay off the caffeine. But if there is any deviation from plan A, I have plans B, C & D. Is this time-consuming and exhausting? You betcha. But it’s the only way I know how to cope, and a darn sight better than the overwhelming sense of apprehension, nausea, clammy hands and gut-churning panic attacks that I used to have. What a rush, said no sufferer, EVER.

I’m the chica in the corner, on the fringe, at the edge. I’ll never be the person with my back to the door, or sitting in the middle of a restaurant. My anxiety gives me the strength to ask for a corner spot! Or it is my hyper-vigilance? I don’t discriminate in my anxiety; my husband has been on the tail end of my temper if he stands behind me for longer than 1.6 seconds. I’ve never been in active combat, so I don’t know why I am this way.


Me watching the London Marathon last year, with a safety zone of at least 3 metres one way and a concrete plinth to stand on so no one could sneak up behind me.

Many psychiatrists and psychologists believe, as with many mental health conditions, social anxiety disorder is most probably the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the exact nature of the relationship between genetics and learned behaviour is uncertain. The parenting you experience may influence whether you will develop social anxiety disorder. If you have worried or anxious parents, it can often affect your ability to cope with anxiety during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

People with social anxiety disorder often describe their parents as:

  • overprotective
  • not affectionate enough
  • constantly criticising them and worrying they may do something wrong
  • overemphasising the importance of manners and grooming
  • exaggerating the danger of approaching strangers

Biologically, social anxiety disorder is currently thought to be related to abnormal functioning of brain circuits that regulate emotion and the “fight or flight” response centre. There is no cure for SAD. There is medication, which I don’t enjoy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which seems to be working slowly. I’m working on identifying unrealistic beliefs & behavioural patterns. I want to de-sensitise myself to certain triggers, and question certain gut-reactions.

I want to be the person that can just say YES to adventure, to sit in the middle of a cafe and look strangers in the eye. Most of all, I want to stop planning and start living.

Wish me luck!!

Grief, that old chestnut

Grief is a banshee. It can churn your insides, leaving you whirling with emotion, but make it impossible for you to move, shower or eat. It whips you like a car antenna, raw and whimpering. It leaks out of you slowly, at inopportune moments. It appears to have no plan, except to level you flat and keep you there.

My grief left me numb, but functioning in a simmering state of rage. It took its toll in silent, insidious ways. Rapid, permanent hair loss. An auto-immune disease. Aches & pains in my joints which turned me into a cantankerous crone. And even when I dealt with the underlying issues, talked my way through therapy, and felt resolved, grief is that distant cousin, always waiting to pay a visit.

Does enduring grief really leave you stronger? Do those scars criss-crossed across my life make my soul more resilient, or more likely to rend? I’ve watched my friend battle with her child’s autism diagnosis, grieving for a childhood lost, but loving fiercely and fighting to get them help. She dances the same line I’ve danced between despair and anger and love and hope and such spine-bending sadness. In the dark moments, she comes over to my house, melts into a chair and says, “I just have to be here.”

And I let her sit, knowing that she is letting the pain wash over her, breathing in to it, letting it re-inflate her like a bouncy castle, to withstand the shocks that are sure to come her way once she gets up & goes home, to fight another day.

“I like to keep my issues drawn, it’s always darkest before the dawn.” 

― Florence Welch 

A wonderful reminder for all the bloggers, photographers, bakers, quilters and creators out there:

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures”

Henry Ward Beecher

Rotate Your View & Rewire Your Brain

I was reading this incredible article, Neuroplasticity: You Can Teach An Old Brain New Tricks, this morning, and I thought how apt it was for our photo assignment today.

Rotating our thoughts by being mindful of them can lead to new neural pathways and connections in our brain, which can hardwire us to react with happiness, peace & gratitude. Watching my daughter’s near-miraculous recovery has convinced me of what scientists have been saying for 20 years now: the brain is dynamic and can be re-coded, hence the term ‘neuroplasticity’. 

Today is my daughter’s birthday, and instead of wallowing and remembering the trauma of the day she was born, I chose to wallow in her happiness, her delight, her excitement at being 9! I’m anticipating her face when she sees that a long-wished-for book has just arrived. And you know what? I haven’t cried once today. It’s grey & raining and I’m feeling happy. How about that, elastic brain?

Rotate Collage

Original photo was from the Mystery & Light assignment from 2 weeks ago.

Through the Looking Glass

I had a dance with anaphylaxis on Saturday (accidental ingestion of kiwi in a beverage), and the after-effects were unpleasant and persistent. So I finally caved this morning and took the drugs to counteract the rabid hives which had proliferated across my neck and chest. A common side-effect of the drug is mild anxiety-like symptoms and extreme woolly-headedness (like I don’t have that already!). Cue fun take on assignment!

I’m bringing you along on my journey so you can see what it’s like, first-hand. I used two glass jars and my camera phone, and the results are pretty darn good, if I say so myself! Ready to tumble?


Square jar, on my bedroom floor

jar corner

Corner of the square jar, where the camera struggled to focus

table through glass

My walled patio, through the bottom of a jar

weed through glass

A weed in the cracks, seen through the mouth & body of the jar

London in Motion

The 2 K's

rough-housing? photo-bombing? cousins at play

London is a city perpetually in motion. It’s a never-ending series of stories playing out simultaneously, but also a rich source of triggers for anyone recovering from anything! In an earlier post, I talked about how I couldn’t hear an ambulance without bursting into tears after my daughter was born. Well, yesterday, I discovered I may be over ambulances, but seeing a Children’s Acute Transport with its special blue lights will still set me off. Of all the places to have this epiphany, crossing a busy road at rush hour with my daughter was really NOT ideal! If Pavlov’s dog had a face, it would probably be mine. However, all’s well with the world today, and it got me thinking about the funny things that annoy Londoners in motion. These are usually Tube-based, central London anecdotes.


Here are my favourites:

Mystery & Light

Sarah McLachlan’s song, Building a Mystery, has been playing in my head all day. I forgot how much I ❤ her, so I am glad that this assignment triggered that memory. It’s nice to have a positive trigger, for a change. I’ve been working through some incredibly negative triggers recently, so it’s good to have a happy memory brought to the surface.


Ribbons of pasta? Ruffled fondant icing? Tear in space?


Oh, sun, how I love you, but why you so cruel?

Light 3

Floating wall?


Tricky topic for me today…

Low: I keep mulling over the fact that my London BFF is moving back to Paris in a few months. She has been my lifeline here, our children are friends and I would just like to say that the expat life sometimes SUCKS big time! There’s going to be a big DISconnect in my life in a few months.

High: I’ve done lots of fun Twittering today, I ❤ Mondays because there are a zillion #MondayBlogs to discover. If you’re on Twitter, say Hello – I’m @petalandmortar 

And here is my photo for today:


Layers of love

Tides of March

I knowed it, I knowed it, as my baby girl used to say. I get slightly manic towards the end of February – as a former resident of Iceland, this heralds the return of more hours of sunlight – and I over-committed myself to a zillion things for March. The likelihood of starting today slightly harried and breathless – HIGH! Urgh.

But then I reflected back on the message from Eiri Jones, church leader at the Borough Welsh Chapel. Yesterday was St. David’s Day, and if you’re Welsh, or a friend of someone Welsh (like me!), it’s a pretty fun celebration involving lots of glorious Welsh songs, food and good company. I am NOT a church-going person, but Eiri makes her messages relevant, both on a personal and a global level, which makes me listen. Her message yesterday was about simplifying, going deeper into our lives, and making the ordinary extra-ordinary.

So this morning at 9.30am, I did the never-before-done-unthinkable and actually looked at my list of things to do and decided to un-commit myself. I have lived most of my adult life engulfed by lists, mostly as a coping mechanism (more on that later!). But in my road to recovery and whole-heartedness, I’ve decided that I have to listen to the silence of ‘not doing’, to figure out how I feel. Time to strip away the extraneous crap and really get down with who I am and what I want. 

“Truly being authentic is knowing what matters to you, on the deepest level of who you are, and committing always to act from that authentic centre.”
Richie Norton

Blogging has opened up a whole new world for me. I have already had one interesting offer which has got me zinging today. 

Read the start of my journey here. And if you say “Sorry!” a lot, read fellow blogger Suzie’s post Sorry, I’m Not Sorry.