Separation

Which path should I follow? (Image from Dear Esther)
Which path should I follow? (Image from Dear Esther)

Back in January 2014 I wrote a post about needing to rediscover honest blogging. It’s funny looking back at that now, almost two years later. A lot has happened in that time. I may not have fully rediscovered honest blogging, but I think I have definitely made a good stab at living a more honest life, and being more honest with myself and those around me.

I remember last summer, it was about 02.00 am, I was sitting in my hospital bed hugging my knees feeling utterly terrified. I had never felt so small and so vulnerable and so utterly afraid to die. I had gone into hospital, as many of you know, with suspected viral meningitis but having reviewed my family history I was told that they were now exploring the possibility that I’d had a brain haemorrhage like my dad, who had greedily had three.

What I realised that night and the nights following was that I wasn’t only afraid to die, I was actually afraid to live.

I looked back over the previous fifteen years or so and recognised that I had slowly and gradually lost something essential of who I was. I had lost my spark. I had lost myself in a vocation, in a job, in a relationship. And I realised that I didn’t really like the person I’d become. I realised that I’d let myself go. I realised that I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror any more, I had become so ashamed of who I was.

But here’s the remarkable, grace-filled thing about this personal epiphany: I simply observed and asked questions of myself without judgement. I, thankfully, recognised that beating myself up about it would solve nothing. This was a time for self-forgiveness, for listening, and for doing something about it.

Live without fear

I sat in that hospital bed in Kirkcaldy and I promised myself that if I got through all of this then I would live without fear, I would grasp life again, I would join the adventure once more.

This past year has been one of the happiest I’ve ever known. I think this has been the most content I’ve ever been, certainly the most consistently content. I’ve felt empowered, and as I’ve listened to myself without judgement I’ve learned and grown.

All this despite what’s going on.

Separation

After years of struggling together, a couple of months ago Jane and I agreed to separate, with a view to divorce.

It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly. I cried for about three weeks. But I think in terms of our own personal growth and happiness I think this is the right decision. Obviously, we now need to guide the children through this as gracefully as we can.

We told the boys a couple of weeks ago; it wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated. Now is the time to make it public.

There is still a lot to sort out, a lot of practicalities as we untangle seventeen years of life together. But we’ve agreed to be as gentle and kind to one another as we can. There is no animosity, there is no resentment. We’re still friends, we just make terrible partners: we still don’t really get each other. We’re like bright, colourful lights that when brought together cancel one another out and produce white.

It’s important to both of us that we model to our children a positive, healthy approach to separating: that even though it is terribly sad that we weren’t able to make things work (and boy! did we try) that we can wind things up gently and courteously.

So… that’s where I am. A lot of uncertainly ahead, but within myself I’m in a good place. I’m healthier than I’ve been for a long time; I’m happier too; and I’ve got my zest for life again. Time to make it count.

And what amazing family and friends and colleagues I have around me—I’ve never felt so supported and so inspired by these amazing people. Thank you, thank you, thank you lovely people. I am truly and deeply humbled by your love.

As I tweeted a couple of weeks’ ago:

Rediscovering honest blogging

Where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.
In my study, where I love to sit and listen, and pray and think.

This is a blog post I’ve been trying to find the courage, and the words, to post for quite a few months now. I made a commitment with myself to post it in the first week or this year. Here we are four weeks later… but here it is.

For the last few years I’ve felt bad about not blogging here more often. I’ve missed it, apart from anything else, partly because it helps me to think things through but also because in not writing I feel that I’ve not been honest with either myself or others. Let me explain.

Blogging

I started blogging shortly after I got married in 1999, following our move to Inverness. Although I didn’t call it ‘blogging’ at the time, it was a simple way to let family and friends know what we were up to. I had acquired a domain name (gareth-and-jane-saunders.co.uk) which I still own, had taught myself HTML and I hand-coded every page and news update. It was fun… apart from using FTP over a dial-up connection. When I moved to Edinburgh in 2003 I installed a new piece of software called WordPress which was then at version 0.71. I loved it and I’ve stuck with WordPress ever since; it’s now at version 3.8.1.

For years I blogged about all sorts of things big and small, both serious and fun. I enjoyed the creativity, I enjoyed being silly, I enjoyed having somewhere that I could refer back to: my blog also became a record of how I’d made stuff or fixed stuff, with the benefit that it was also there in the public-domain for other people to find and use.

Writing is thinking

I enjoyed that the writing helped me to think things through. In that sense it was like a journal. An article on A List Apart two weeks ago, called ‘Writing is thinking’, confirmed this for me. In it Sally Kerrigan writes:

I’m asking that you start with thinking. I suspect, if you’re a reader, you’re already a thinker—which means you’re halfway there. Really. Because writing—that first leap into taking your idea and making it a Thing People Read—isn’t really about wording. It’s about thinking.

I enjoy thinking. I enjoying thinking things through and arriving at a conclusion, an opinion. That said, I’ve never really considered that I’m good at sharing my opinion about things, but I guess that I must be if I have written about them. At theological college I always used to joke that I was born to reflect and not shine.

Crisis of confidence

In 2005 I read a blog post by a friend, Kelvin Holdsworth, entitled ‘How to blog’ in which he offers twelve eleven tips (number nine is missing, for some reason) on how to be a good blogger. Tip number three is ‘blogging is performance, not real life’.

I didn’t fully agree with it and it got me worried. Sure, some of my blog posts could be described as ‘performance’: playing the fool, showing off, trying to make my audience laugh. But many other posts were about reminding myself how I had done something (like how to change the node type on a Windows network) or simply sharing with friends and family what was going on at home. I didn’t consider these as a performance: I was trying to be genuine and honest and authentic.

micro-blogging vs traditional blogging?

In November 2006 I joined Facebook, back in the day when you needed a university email address to sign up (go me!). In January 2008 (six years and one day ago, to be exact) I signed up to Twitter, having resisted for about a year. I began micro-blogging.

My updates were more up-to-date and shorter, they were quicker to write, but they also invited more immediate feedback. It was when I saw that my micro-blogging could become a conversation that I really saw the value of social media, and Twitter especially. I hooked my Twitter account into Facebook and so anything posted on one network was immediately echoed in another. It became a quick and easy way to keep in touch, and for the conversation to be more two-way than my blog comments allowed.

Over the next few years my posting to this blog declined. Here are the number of posts by year:

  • 2003 (26 posts) — First installed WordPress (June)
  • 2004 (138)
  • 2005 (415)
  • 2006 (409) — Joined Facebook (Nov)
  • 2007 (423)
  • 2008 (368) — Joined Twitter (Jan); Reuben and Joshua born (Nov)
  • 2009 (35)
  • 2010 (59)
  • 2011 (165) — Isaac born (Jan)
  • 2012 (34)
  • 2013 (48)

It seems that micro-blogging (Facebook and Twitter) in itself didn’t contribute to my reduction in writing longer posts. Which is interesting, at least to me, because I had always tacitly assumed that’s what had caused it.

Factored into this, of course, is the fact that I also got involved with other blogs:

(and more) which meant that my focus was diverted away from this channel exclusively; my blogging habit got a little diluted, you might say, not simply by micro-blogs and social media but also by other ‘full’ blogs.

Parental crisis

Looking back, the biggest factor that stopped me blogging so regularly was (obviously) the birth of my twin boys Reuben and Joshua in November 2008.

Despite having more to say, I had less time, less energy, and less sleep—which was not conducive to thinking things through to any depth beyond the most immediate. (Ah! Those days when it felt like my thoughts were literally falling out of my head!) In 2009 I posted only 35 articles, and I almost doubled that the following year.

But if I’m honest, it wasn’t just the lack of sleep that prevented me from writing. As we clocked-up the boys’ first few months I realised that I was becoming more withdrawn. I certainly felt that I was out of my depth, as I’m sure many first-time dads feel. I had an enormous learning curve, not only with the practicalities of feeding, winding, changing, bathing, and dressing a baby (and two for that matter!), but there was also the learning curve in managing myself and my relationship with Jane under such trying conditions. We were both utterly exhausted and (with hindsight we know now) Jane was descending into post-natal depression. I felt incredibly alone and incredibly vulnerable, more so than at any other time in my life.

I had always prided myself in sharing even the difficult periods of my life with others, whether that be being bullied at school or the death of my father. But somehow throughout 2009 I felt locked in: between a rock and a hard place. I was highly critical of my own perceived failings and I felt too vulnerable to reach out and ask for the help or advice that I really wanted. Except in a few cases, I felt too afraid to post on my blog things like ‘I found X useful today when looking after the boys’ or ‘I don’t know how to do Y’, because when I said such things in the ‘real world’ I felt bombarded by the advice given to me: ‘Oh, you should do this…’, ‘No! Try that…’, ‘This other way worked for me…’.

The worse piece of advice, as well-meaning as it was always offered, was, ‘It does get better.’ I knew that it must. It just never helped me at the time. It never took away the pain of now. Like the man standing on the shore watching another drowning shouting, ‘It does get better once you reach the shore. Or learn to swim’. I wanted someone to throw me a life-ring to help me float for a while, so that I didn’t need to use any more energy treading water, and for them to simply stay beside me for company.

And so I felt locked in, unable to reach out, afraid of not being able to cope with the consequences of baring my soul, admitting my weaknesses, and asking for help. So I wrote nothing… or at least when I did, it was ‘performance’. I shared the cute moments, the proud moments, the funny conversations, the humorous anecdotes. These were the moments that didn’t require me to open myself up to criticism. These were the moments that hid the darker moments: the pain and uncertainty and honesty.

My genuine and authentic self

Chrys Bader wrote a fabulous blog post on 15 December 2013 entitled ‘The end of the Facebook era’ in which he wrote,

Now that social networking has become universal, we’ve become increasingly sensitive to what we share on Facebook. Speaking on a stage in front of a mixed audience of family, friends, and acquaintances makes it hard for most of us to be our genuine and authentic selves. As a result, we tend to see people sharing only their proudest moments in an attempt to portray their best selves. We filter too much, and with that, we lose real human connection.

As your Facebook network becomes saturated, it can feel very public. It puts the focus on managing your image, rather than truly bonding with people.

I realised that is how I felt about my blog. I had lost the real human connection. My posts were increasingly impersonal posts about web technology or videos that I had enjoyed. I had begun to feel that my every move was being watched and judged, and so I posted nothing that revealed any more of the real me than was absolutely necessary.

I included part of that quotation in our Christmas newsletter 2013 before talking about some of the significant but in other ways trivial events of our family life from last year. I prefixed those tales with what was really a challenge to myself: let’s connect!

And so, here I am. This is one of my primary challenges for 2014: to rediscover honest blogging. I want to share more of my genuine and authentic self on my blog this year, and on social media. I want to explore more about what I think—and there’s a lot to think about this year: the referendum on Scottish independence, the economy, the state of the Christian church in today’s society, as well as family life, work, music and a million other things. Maybe this is the year I learn to shine as well as reflect. Let’s connect!