Girl on the Net Eroticon Freebie, 2017
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~ Sylvia Plath
In my opinion the flip side of self-doubt is knowledge. My journey to get to know myself has drastically reduced my self-doubt from utterly crippling anxiety to developing my own business based on my personal strengths. Writing here is part of that development. Like much of what I write there is a content warning here for anxiety, self-harm, sexual abuse and loss of a child, although they are not covered in any depth.
M y blog is a hobby, a place of self-expression and quite frankly, an indulgence I can’t always afford in terms of time and energy. Understanding when I was at the very beginning that this was how it was going to be for me, has been very important in helping me navigate doubt in the content I put here.
My first Eroticon lucky bag contained a GOTN mug with the caption “Your words can change the world.” That mug has influenced my confidence and outlook, not only in my blog, but in life more generally. It is a really nice succinct reminder to speak kindly and powerfully where you have the privilege to do so, and doing it only in a considered way. The lovely Mr Hunt brings me tea in that mug if he senses I am having a bleak moment.
That mug and a few other encounters at Eroticon, and feedback through my blog, has driven something that is developing into a real-life career. In a lot of ways, it was the reframing of the cheerful quotes on teaching presents I used to receive “Teachers make little ones count!” being a particularly trite example that is still lovingly magnetised to my oven.
For a while, my life has been the type that would make an EastEnders screenwriter scratch their head and say, “We can’t do all that to one family.” The only way I have been able to make sense of it has been to say, if my knowledge or example can provide information or comfort to anyone else in the same boat, then it is worth sharing. I was first put onto anti-anxiety and depression medication at University, but by then I had been self harming for years. My twenties carried on in the same vein, settled only by meeting my partner. We have buried a child and our remaining three have inherited my autism. They have been the victim of sexual assault by a carer we invited into our home. We have been through social services procedures that would make your hair curl. And somewhere in the middle of this, supported by both a diagnosis of autism and a brilliant and kind psychologist I have begun to understand myself and treat me as I would like to think I would treat others.
A lot of my experience is based about being able to translate my neuro-diverse, autistic experience into language. It is about having to develop self knowledge, with the guidance of a psychologist to help me make sense of the feelings I developed around my diagnosis, the guilt of passing the condition to my children, the guilt of being in the parent role while my children were exposed to an abusive adult and how autism affects my personal relationships, including sexual relationships. If I can’t be a good example, I am happy to make use of the fact sometimes I am a dire warning of what can happen
My ethos of teaching that drew me to the career in the first place is wrapped up in that one GOTN quote. I wanted to change the world. I still do. But I know you change the world one person at a time. You change it for them when they are ready and although you can challenge them and lead them, you can’t make them receptive.
For many years around my diagnosis and early parenting experiences I was completely wracked by self doubt. I have whole mind maps that showed I couldn’t navigate the complexities of messages I couldn’t filter due to my autism about what made a good parent. Others saw my self doubt not as a useful introspective critique but as weakness and that deskilled me even further.
Self doubt is normal. It is good to be reflective and critical of your own behaviours as a tool for growth. When self doubt affects your overall mood is when it is time to take action. To reach for help. I was so lucky that after years of not getting what I needed, appropriate support changed my whole life perspective and gave me tools to become a more effective person.
Confidence breeds confidence. If you are lucky it becomes a self-perpetuating pyramid scheme. I had no confidence in my parenting or at that time my teaching, but I could write. I published a few short stories and gained confidence from the numbers of people reading them.
I used the confidence that brought to become more secure in my academic skills and turned this towards fighting for my children’s access to education. I’ve built on that to turn in into a job, fighting for others rights to access education. It’s made me more confident in talking about my autism as a difference not a weakness. I’ve been able to bring skills home from other people’s blogs and reading I would never have found alone to provide skills for my children, especially when it comes to talking about gender. Their innocent and confident exploration of being non-binary young people has encouraged me to be critical of my own gender labels and see them in a new light.
Pyramid schemes are notorious for their inevitable failures. But confidence can be sured up by fact. I have bolstered my trust in myself by winning for other people, by getting discriminatory policies changed. By sharing my story on the blog that few people read. And yes, by posting a few pictures that would make my mother worry for me, but have increased my confidence in my body.
I have less self doubt when I press publish on most blog pieces than I do when I press send on a professional email, and on that less doubt than when I respond to my families’ social worker. Even though I want to change the world for that one person with what I write, it carries less weight than my professional or personal life.
I publish in the knowledge I might be boring, but also that I have tried to consider my words carefully and with respect for the rest of humanity. I publish knowing I will inevitably fuck up from time to time and more importantly, when I do that will hurt someone and I will need to apologise. I aim to do this a little as possible.
I set my own content boundaries away from the keyboard and apply them before the final publish button in the same way I set my kink boundaries outside a playtime and expect them to stay in place. I don’t allow myself to get carried away in a moment and regret it later. By controlling the need to regret I trust myself more. By trusting myself I have less self doubt.
Sylvia Plath and many other creative geniuses like Van Gogh, created a body of work while wracked with self doubt and fighting many other demons aside, until it all became too much for them to bear. Writing my blog is not my life’s work. Whilst its important to hope that one day something I might write or a picture I might take might influence someone in a positive way, I know it is not a work of genius. Just being here and creating is enough.
I still have completely paralysing moments of self doubt as a blogger and as a person. I no longer rely on everyday medication, but I have medication for when “stage-fright” panic sets in around a particular event. I have a PA I can turn to when doubt paralyses me a work or with personal paperwork requirements. It is not weakness to turn to support in whatever format you have it. Knowing my limits and mitigating them without recrimination has made me a stronger person.
If being here cost more in emotional energy than it brought me, I would leave, because this is my place of exploration and creativity, it is my joy and my growth. And if anything can overturn self doubt, it should be joy in being yourself.