WAVING, NOT DROWNING

Dear Viv: How do I stop my mum complaining that she doesn't have grandchildren?

In this week's podcast, Viv discusses family pregnancy pressure, self-sabotaging at job interviews, negative thought patterns, and when your friend becomes an instagram bore

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

I’m 31 and have been married for 5 years after being with my partner since we were 17. Last year, I had a breakdown. I feel I am on the road to recovery and have stopped taking anti-depressants. I do still see a counsellor, and my husband has been supportive throughout, although our communication wasn’t great for a while.

My question is around having children. I don’t feel that I am in the right place for this at the moment. I am still a bit fragile and I still see a counsellor because I don’t feel totally confident in my recovery - it hasn’t been that long and I do feel that the anxiety and inability to cope could return. However I feel the weight of expectation from our respective families and friends. This includes my mum telling me that she announces to her friends that she will show them photos of our dog as she doesn’t have any grandchildren to show off. Whilst I’m sure friends and family do want the best for us, I also feel that they want us to have children for their own reasons. None of them really know the extent of my breakdown.

I’m not under any pressure from my husband, but I do worry that I’m being selfish and I worry about my age. I genuinely do enjoy my life now, including my work, and I’d like a bit of time to carry on with that. However I’m not sure how long I’ll feel like that and I worry about leaving it too late. I think I probably do want children in the future but feel a bit trapped between becoming too old to conceive but being ready and more able to cope.

Am I being selfish by concentrating on myself for a little while? And how do I deal with the questions and comments about our lack of children? Every time I am asked, the feelings of selfishness and worries return.

Dear Not-Selfish-At-All Post-Breakdown Correspondent, This is addressed not to you but to the world: where on earth do people get off on making massive hints about other people having children? It’s so unacceptable. And yet it happens all the time. If this were the Oprah Winfrey Show circa 1987, I would tell you to kick these people to the kerb, including, I’m sorry, your mother. It doesn’t matter how little anyone knows about your mental state (and evidently they know nothing or are just incredibly crass), no-one has the right to make anyone feel as if they should have children. In fact no-one has the right to make anyone feel as if they should do anything. It’s your life and the best thing about your letter is that you are very clearly taking charge of it and doing a fantastic job of looking after yourself, your relationship and your recovery.

Seriously, you have been through an incredibly tough time and anyone would be impressed by your commitment to getting better and to putting yourself first. But there are two important things you say here: “I feel the weight of expectation” and “none of them really know the extent of my breakdown.” These are both key and they’re linked. The fact is, even if all these people, including your mother, did know the extent of your breakdown, they might still try and burden you with their expectations. Because there are so many reasons why people say crazy things. Because they don’t know what else to say. Because they feel sorry for you. Because they wish you were better. Or sometimes because they are just completely tactless.

In short, you could guess forever as to what people are really trying to say when they say insensitive things. But the most healthy thing to do is to indulge them and ignore them. They’re entitled to their ill-informed opinion. Just let it go. I think the reason you’ve let them get to you is because they’re echoing something you believe yourself: that you should hurry up and have children. And I will be quite plain-speaking here and say that at thirty one years old, this is really not true at all. You have loads of time. Hell, you probably even have ten years at least before you worry about this seriously. You are not being selfish. You are being the opposite of selfish. You are being sensible. You know what they say in the safety advice on aeroplanes: put your oxygen mask on first before you put anyone else’s on. They don’t say: beware toxic middle-aged wannabe grandmothers bearing dog pictures. But they should. Keep on looking after yourself, you’re doing a great job.

Dear Viv,

I’ve been trying to get a new job for a couple of months now, and have had no luck so far, although I’ve been invited for interviews at four different companies. I think, in some part, my lack of confidence is really holding me back. I’m not good at selling myself, and my self-deprecating sense of humour comes across badly in interviews (it’s what I do when I feel nervous or put on the spot!) How can I stop myself from self-sabotaging in interviews!?

Hello Self-Saboteur! Ah, I know how you feel. I know it’s impossible to imagine that I’ve held down a job anywhere -- and that’s because for the past fifteen years, I haven’t, I am too much of a free spirit, dear listener -- but back in the day when I used to go for job interviews in my early twenties, I was a total idiot interviewee. I went for one job on a magazine where I interviewed so badly that the editor wrote about it the next month in her editor’s letter. My face burned hot with shame when I recognised myself in her words. She said one particular interviewee had “more degrees than you could shake a stick at” but she got so flustered in her interview that she slumped onto the table with her arm in front of her so that she looked like an elephant talking out of its trunk. So not so clever after all, huh, even with all those degrees! Oh God, I feel sick even remembering this.

I am not making this up. This absolutely happened and the editor absolutely wrote about it exactly like this. We were the only two people who would have known about it. It wasn’t true about the degrees, by the way. I only had one degree like most people but the person interviewing me didn’t have one at all so we all know what that was really about.

Anyway. What I am saying is that interviews are horrible and it’s only one person’s opinion of you and their rejection of you may say more about them than it says about you. Maybe none of these jobs were meant to be. Don’t take it personally. 

On the other hand, though, you are right to investigate this pattern. It’s great that you are getting the interviews - and four in a row. That’s pretty impressive. Maybe you’ve had a run of bad luck and you are destined to nail it in interview number five. Or maybe there is a mismatch between the person they’re shortlisting and the person they’re interviewing. Have you asked for feedback after these interviews? Be brave and do it. Make yourself. I know it’s totally hideous but you need to know the objective truth about how you came across. It might be something to do with the self-deprecating tendency you mention. It might be something else. You can’t take action until you get some more information.

I’m going to suggest that you get this feedback and go through it with a friend or with someone you’ve worked with who you trust. Does it seem constructive? What’s useful? Can you find a way to work with someone the next time you’re preparing for an interview: practise your answers and practise working with your nerves (which are totally natural by the way -- job interviews are the most unnatural dehumanising situation ever). You can do this thing. Be open to home truths from the people who have already interviewed you and be ready to improve. And once you’ve done that practise not slumping onto the table and turning your arm into an elephant’s trunk. Good luck.

You can hear the answers to these and the following questions on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

I know deep down that I'm being irrational, but every time I'm enjoying something - say, a meal out with friends - I end up analysing the situation over and over afterwards until I'm drowning in negative thoughts.

At a party last night, I had a great time; I talked to old friends, introduced myself to new people, danced, but all I could think once I had left was "what's wrong with me? Why does no-one like me? I'll never find a boyfriend". I'm probably insecure because my friends spent the majority of the party talking about their sex lives (and I’ve been single and sex-free for two years), but I still can't help but beat myself up. I hate that I can't just enjoy things for what they are. How do I break these negative thought patterns?

Dear Viv,

My friend is becoming an instagram bore. She’s always been interested in photography, but now she’s decided she wants a “personal brand” and constantly posts smug photos of exercise classes, brunches, hanging plants, street art, coffees, and all the other classic instagram clichés! She hashtags everything to within an inch of its life and is always checking up on her feed to see how her posts are doing. It’s making spending time with her a total pain, because we always have to go to “this restaurant with the great food”, or “this bar with fancy cocktails” or some other kind of hip spot. Argh! Should I just stop seeing her so often? I can’t stand it!

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can now subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes

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