Peer Pressure is out. Personal Pressure is the new problem.

Hello dear readers!

How are we all?  In shock at seeing a second blog post in a week, perhaps?  Haha!  I am, and I'm the one writing it.

It's Sunday morning - no, really, it is.  I'm writing this from the comfort of my bed, with a warm coffee and a purring cat on Sunday the 7th November 2018.  That probably sounds like a really lovely thing, doesn't it?  The blogger propped up on fluffy pillows, probably wearing cute pyjamas, sipping a coffee from the machine in the kitchen, hair looking like we all wish it would when we first woke up in the morning, with a contented cat.


In reality, while it is Sunday morning and I am writing this while still in bed, it's not that idealistic or romantic a picture.

* My "bed" is the sofa bed in the lounge - we haven't slept in our own room in months as we started work in there in the summer and when September hit just ground to a halt.
* The pillows are not fluffy and I'm wincing as I recall that they're probably 3 years old now when you're supposed to change them every 6 months or so (but seriously, who does that?  Do YOU do that? I can't be the only one who thinks 6 months is ridiculous, right?). 
* Cute pyjamas? ha!  Nope!  Old vest top that sometimes is used for exercise, sometimes for bed, sometimes for every day wear, and on my bottom half is my husband's onesie because I got cold and couldn't locate mine.   And also, who actually says "cute pyjamas" outside of the world of lifestyle blogging?  Cute pyjamas to me means Winnie the Pooh when you were a child, or Tatty Teddy nowadays.
* My coffee is imaginary.  As I started writing the blog and describing the scene, I remembered that I was meant to make a hot drink, got as far as filling the kettle, then wandered back in here in a half-asleep daze.  So I'm not quite lying, and I'm about to get up, wander into the kitchen, put the kettle on, then wander back out here to continue typing with the intention of going back out when the kettle has boiled. I'll probably forget.
* Hair - well to be fair to me I made no claims about this.  You imagined it.  It's "scragged back", as my mum would say, in a hair-elastic in the same attempt at a pony tail I managed yesterday morning.  A night of disturbed sleep means it's escaping and knotting, and a hot day in the dye kitchen yesterday means it, and my face, are pretty greasy and in need of a shower.
* Purring cat - yes, he is, but he's also purring because he's spent time pouncing on my feet until I've curled up in the most awkward position and he won the best bit of the duvet.
* Side note, I'm also pretty gross right now as I caught my husband's cold. Eugh.

Perhaps you're laughing now, perhaps you find the unfiltered honesty refreshing, perhaps you're shocked that the clean-living, polished blog post you were expecting is describing the reality - you didn't come here for this!  And that, readers, is my point.

We grew up with the notion of peer-pressure, and everyone universally agrees that this is a bad thing.  We talk to our children about it (I have regular conversations about it with the teens I teach), educate them about how to resist it, and feel proud of ourselves that, for the most part, our savvy offspring can resist the old demon that plagued us and pushed us to do things that we weren't comfortable with, or would regret.  Yes, that's brilliant - well done us.  But we've created a new problem.

This problem, readers, is personal pressure.

 I first came across the idea when I was about 13 years old, cleaning out my guinea pigs.  A story in the newspaper I was lining their hutch with caught my eye:  "surge in quarter-life crises predicted". "How ridiculous!" I scoffed, with all the know-it-all wisdom of a 13 year old.  The article explained that the mid-life crisis had changed and shifted, and this new phenomenon, that hit at about 23-25 was affecting adults in a big way.  These people had been taught to work hard, that the world was their oyster, that a glittering career and A-levels and a degree were needed.  These people duly did just this, and then found themselves at 23-25, unmarried, still living with parents or renting with mates like they did in student digs, no mortgage, nothing to show for all these years of stress and burnout and hard work but a massive student loan and a bit of paper that says you're quite clever, and that, realistically, people don't seem to care about in the workplace where you work your butt off for other people.  At 13 I felt this was ridiculous.  At 23, I knew exactly what they meant.

I wasn't alone, I am part of an entire generation of strange societal nomads.  We found ourselves with these impressive degrees and an even more impressive amount of debt, which was OK because it wouldn't count against you getting a mortgage, unable to get a mortgage because we have no savings and have to pay extortionate amounts of rent to live near where we would find work, mostly unfettered and rootless, clutching our BAs and BScs.    My friends seemed to feel the same.  We were working our butts off in these careers we'd been told we had to have, feeling empty and pointless. Found ourselves longing for the traditional things that society had told us we didn't want anymore.  I'm starting to ramble now but, I do have a point.  We then put ourselves under pressure to achieve those things, to have an impact, to have something physical to show.  Marriage, home, children were all things many of us wanted.  We craved meaning.  But the internet had been gathering strength and this brought with it a way of achieving meaning.  It also brought with it real pressure.

Facebook launched when I went to university.  In the summer of my first year, I caved in to peer pressure and set up an account.  13 years ago.  It was great, at first.  An easy way to procrastinate from study, to arrange meetups on campus, to see who else was awake in the wee-small hours of the morning, to store photos of our fun nights out.  It was also the domain of university students only.  You had to put in your university when signing up.  By the end of my university days, my mother was on Facebook.  Zuckerberg had seen the dollar signs and opened up Facebook to the rest of the world.

Suddenly, I had to filter what I shared because my mother would see it.  I'd also gone through a really awful breakup and the "relationship status" thing changed from being a source of pride to a source of pain.  Not that the problem was being single - no, I could cope with that, if it was what was right for us - the problem was the pain of having to switch that status so our whole world and their friends could see our relationship had come to an end.  What is a private thing was now very public.  I'd said to my ex that I wanted a week or two before changing it, not because I was in denial, but because I needed a bit of time to myself to process things before the inevitable wave of comments etc.

 I am still on Facebook, it's become a useful tool for my business.  I had intended to get rid of my account last year, but when  I found myself expecting my daughter, off with depression and needing to start a new career, I realised Facebook would be necessary.  The thing is, then, people know.  People knew we were expecting a daughter.  We had discussed at the start of the pregnancy what we wanted to do and we'd agreed that we would not have a social-media baby.  We wanted this to be private and not online.  However, after a few scares during the start of the pregnancy, we decided we wanted to announce that we were expecting "Splodge", as we'd affectionately called her in utero.  We were aware of the charity SANDs and how close we'd come to needing their support, and we wanted to raise money and make a difference.   We also wanted to announce her because we needed her to be real, to be known about.  At 21 weeks we announced that we were expecting her and said we'd be running a charity game to raise money for SANDs, based on guessing her name.

Three weeks later I was in hospital again, being told my daughter would likely be born within the fortnight.  Four months prematurely.

We didn't put anything online.   I posted a vague status explaining that I was in hospital so the business would be quiet but not to worry.  I shared that I'd be postponing the knitting course people had signed up for until I was better.  On the 10th February, we decided we'd share what was going on.

Lara came into the world the next day on the 11th February at 25+6 weeks gestation, 3.5mths early.  We didn't announce her birth online until she was 2 weeks old. We didn't want to put her online when her life was so precarious.  We waited for 2 weeks, until we were out of the real danger-zone.  With pride and delight we shared our tiny daughter with our online worlds (obviously our immediate friends and family knew already).

Two and a half weeks later, on the 15th March 2018, she left us.

Immediate family and closest friends knew, of course, and were with us.  But it took us until almost mid-April to share the news online.  I had posted a simple "The Project Bag will be closed until further notice." on the business page and left it at that.  But people were starting to send messages asking after Lara and we knew it was time. We didn't want to.  We'd said she wouldn't be a social media baby.  But we'd done it for good reasons and now we had to say the truth of what had happened.  It was so bloody painful.  My husband left Facebook completely after we'd shared the announcement. I'm still on it for the business, but also for the benefit of Lara's Legacy - our soon-to-be formal charity in Lara's honour, working to improve neonatal care and to fund research into fetal medicine.  And that's just it - social media can be a force for good, but it can also be a place where, unless we lead filtered lives, our pain and difficulties can be amplified.

All this to say, people do filter what they put online.  Yes you get the odd idiot that likes to share that they're eating a sandwich on Facebook, but by and large you get an edited version of your friends presented to you.  My friend said to me a couple of years ago: "You see the front of house of everyone else's life but the only back-stage mess you see is yours" and this is so true!     It's got even worse since the launch of Instagram and the popularity of blogging...(yes, I appreciate the irony here).

You're presented, constantly, with polished, edited, filtered, staged images of people's lives, where every adult other than you seems to have their s**t together and you judge yourself in comparison.  When I started the blog, I read up on blogging, on what people want, on what is popular.  I was presented with "ideal" blogs:  clean lines, modern fonts, brightly lit staged pictures with stationery at jaunty angles.  It wasn't very "me" but it was what I needed to do, right?  OK. 

Instagram was the same: you'd see these filtered clean shots with yarn and coffee placed artfully together, perhaps a book with an interesting front cover.  You'd see hands knitting that were perfectly manicured.  Perhaps someone had baked a cake and there was an arty shot of the cake on a stand, with the background blurred but you could tell it was a garden.  Let me tell you, lovelies.  It's not real.  It takes time to balance the coffee cup in such a way that you can see the contents of the cup but also the cuteness of the cup itself, and still get a focused shot of your knitting. Let me also tell you, that you might have a pretty picture of a cake BUT what they're not showing you is the pile of dishes in the sink, the flour on the floor and themselves and the cat, and the eggshells that missed the bin.  But I didn't think about this, all I thought of was that I needed to present the same polished exterior.

I was seeing these filtered edited shots, and don't get me wrong, there's a place for them, and seeing a well-placed coffee cup with beautiful knitting and a vase of fresh cut flowers makes me feel good and happy as I scroll through my friends' feeds.   but we need to remember that they're not completely totally real.   What I had started to feel was, oh I wish my life were that organised, I wish I were that put together, I wish, I wish I wish.  The key word here is "I".  The pressure isn't coming from other people, it's coming from me.    Admittedly since losing Lara I've given far less of a damn about what people think of me and perhaps this has helped me break free from that personal pressure to compare myself to the edited shots that people put out and finding myself coming up short.

It's also true on the Podcast.  I suddenly find myself putting myself under pressure to have enough creative content to share.  I wear lots of makeup when filming (not through vanity, but because I look like I'm about to keel over under the studio lights otherwise) and feel under pressure to get the podcast out at a set day and time each week (we all know how that goes!).    I should be knitting more, doing more interesting things, using more interesting yarn, making more progress yadda yadda yadda.  I'm not alone here - Amy of Stranded Dyeworks said the same thing on her podcast 2 weeks ago.  She feels that as an indie dyer and a podcaster she should be doing things with her own yarn, but she likes other yarn too; she should also be using more interesting and unusual patterns than just ones from the top 20 on Ravelry.  Listening to her I realised how silly that was - she should do what makes her happy.   But I also understood where it was coming from as I felt the same.

And that, dear readers, is pretty much the point I'm coming to.  Life is tough enough as it is, without us putting ourselves under pressure to meet deadlines or achieve targets that really don't matter.  I've adopted a #nofilter policy on my instagram feed (black and white photos don't count because I didn't want to reveal the colourway in advance haha!) and I'm going to try to be kinder to myself about not having my s**t together.   Because, if there's one secret to adulthood that I've learned lately, it's that pretty much all adults are just as lost as one another.  Very few of us really have our s**t together and that's part of a big adult conspiracy!

So readers, next time you're scrolling through IG or FB, and find yourself looking enviously at the front of house of other people's lives, remember that in reality, they too wear their underwear under their jeans, and that their back-stage is probably just as chaotic as yours.  Appreciate the beauty in the every day, as captured by these photos, and enjoy them for what they are - beautiful and inspiring, but don't use it as a stick to beat yourself up with.  You're doing just fine, you've got this.

And now I'm going to take my own advice, grab a shower, ignore the ironing that's waiting to be done, and head into town to teach my lovely knitting class.

Yes, I probably should have written this post earlier in the week, prettied it up with photos, and spent hours editing it and checking my wording and expression, but you know what?  This is just fine.


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