The moment I first really understood guilt was when pregnant with my first son in 1996. That crushing guilt every time I was working because I should be putting my children first; and the same feelings of guilt when I was enjoying spending time with my children and simultaneously feeling I should be at work, earning a living to bring my children up the best way I felt I could.
Guilt is an emotion that many of my friends are talking about at the moment for all sorts of different reasons. I want to take a moment later in this blog to consider the impact of this emotion, along with the many other emotions being pushed to the surface at the moment and ideas that we can use to create a positive experience rather than a negative one.
As someone who re-registered with the NMC at the outset of the pandemic, it is hard not to feel guilty that I have not been needed in my local community up to this point. I have friends who feel guilty that they've had to leave their children and families as they have been working on the frontline. I have friends who feel guilty about their feelings of isolation and inability to work because they are furloughed and further guilt if they do talk about it because they feel others are doing so much more.
These last few days have been extraordinary in that on top of the stress and fear surrounding coronavirus, we now have the massive global movement #BlackLivesMatter. I remember several years ago when I first met Dija Ayodele discussing with her so many different issues around not only the treatment of skin of colour but the treatment of people of skin of colour. It took me a long time to be brave enough to ask the following question: "I feel afraid to talk about skin of colour because I don't really understand the issues of racism, I don't really know what language to use; I simply care for human beings, but I'm so scared to cause offence or get it wrong - how can you help me?"
My friendship and collaboration with Dija has grown over the last few years since I asked that clumsy question. We continue to talk to each other and challenge each other as we attempt to ensure that we respectively get the message right in her work for her Black Skin Directory, my work at AestheticSource, and our general communication with people around us.
Talking to Dija this week with the growing protests around the world it seemed so natural to invite her to join me in this weeks' Tuesday Tips.
"Firstly, I would say everyone needs to look within themselves and investigate where guilt and discomfort stems from. A lot of this has to be self-centred because it's an inside out process. We are socialised to say we are colour blind, we all belong to a broad church and accept each other as we come; however, a reluctance (be it from shyness/ fear of getting it wrong) to acknowledge the basics such as one's race, overlooks the individual. Which of course may not be your intention at all, but in self-tone policing it's what inadvertently happens. We all deserve to be wholly acknowledged and, the fact remains, this is messy work that cannot be compartmentalised. Mistakes are bound to occur as we stumble to find the right words but the effort to continuously strive to get it right will always be what counts.
The New York Times, best-selling author of Me and White Supremacy Layla F Saad recorded a super insightful podcast with Emma Gannon Ctrl Alt Delete and it is recommended listening (in fact essential) for all looking to effect personal change in the sphere of race and identity. The book is also a fantastic resource, though it's not a book you read, it's a book you do. It will change your life.
Whilst there is an urgency to change the narrative, I also believe one needs to take the time to diligently do the work of challenging their own personal beliefs that you may have never really examined previously. To this end, anti-racist work is lifelong. It's not enough to say 'I'm not a racist', we have to fight it actively and that means not overlooking incidences of wrongdoing and keeping quiet. Silence once allows a misdemeanour. Twice, and then it becomes the way we do things."
Thank you so much for your time in writing this Dija. For those reading who might like more information on the wonderful work Dija is doing with Black Skin Directory, follow the link.
No, I will not stay silent, I will ask the difficult questions, I will not allow myself to experience the guilt of doing nothing so I will constantly challenge myself to be the very best version of myself, and I challenge those around me to do the same.
That word 'guilt' has come up again. It can be such a negative emotion, but can we see it as a positive? If we look at guilt more fully, there is healthy and unhealthy guilt – healthy guilt being an experience that drives us to improve ourselves, such as my challenge to myself above, and unhealthy guilt such as the guilt I described earlier around whether I was working or caring for my (now grown-up) children – in fact, I needed to do both, so the guilt was misplaced, and a simple change in perspective on the guilt turned this into a positive driver.
Managing guilt well is just one of the many challenges we are all facing today. Another friend who has risen to challenge is Lisa May, a former Executive VP at Johnson & Johnson, and founder of holistic coaching and development company https://www.livefulle.com/; Lisa is also the brains behind https://timeout2thrive.com/ a new free app for key workers, and in fact, anyone needing support – this is from the Timeout2Thrive website:
"A FREE App created for front line workers in healthcare and essential services. Take a moment for yourself to rest, recover and recharge. You deserve it.
Curated exercises and experiences from experts in music, mindfulness, inspiration and holistic wellness. Featuring Award-winning music, nature-scapes, heartfelt gratitude, and even comedy. Whether you need a quick emotional reset, deeper reflection time at the end of your day, or just some encouragement and appreciation, TimeOut2Thrive is designed to support you as you serve others and stay healthy."
We appreciate your selfless sacrifice, caring spirit, and sheer will power to persevere. We have created a space on this app for you to hear the words of gratitude from patients, healthcare leaders, and luminaries. They sing your praises with words of thanks and encouragement… representing millions of people whose thoughts are echoing across the world, in awe of YOU.
This is no ordinary app; it brings together a remarkable group of collaborators including Bruce Cryer, Todd Linden, Nadja Giuffrida, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Joe Dispenza, and composer Gary Malkin, among many others. I attribute the length of time I have taken to write these Tuesday Tips to the fact that I have been interspersing paragraphs with exploring the app, and now feel utterly calm, peaceful and full of gratitude. Thank you!
I urge you to share this app with family, friends and colleagues; it is a free resource for all at a time when so many people are feeling the need for support.
As always, I wish you all luck, do reach out to me if you want to talk through any ideas, and most of all, stay safe and stay well.