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That time when I learnt the power of giving authentic feedback

Giving feedback can be a bit of a nemesis for a lot of people.

There’s a feeling of awkwardness when you know you have something to share but would rather run away from it. There were so many times in my life when I kept schtum and then later wished I’d said something. The times where you ‘learn’ six months later what you already could have called out at the beginning by simply being a little braver.

On realising this fact a couple of years ago I made a pact with myself to level up my ability to give feedback.

It’s just a skill like all the others; invest some time into learning it and practicing it and you get really really good at it. Promise. I can’t say its always easy, but I can say the dynamics of my relationships have improved immeasurably with the level of honesty I am able to bring to them.

So here’s my take on how I managed to get those awkward conversations right, whether personal or professional.

Good feedback starts from the place that should be the foundation of everything: LOVE.

In a recent blog, I shared a definition of love according to Scott Peck as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

If extending yourself outside of your comfort zone to give important feedback to someone isn’t love in action, I don’t know what is.

Right attitude

To give feedback effectively you have to care deeply about the person you are giving the feedback to.

That doesn’t mean that you have to know them super well, it could actually be your first meeting, the key is about caring enough to understand (and take responsibility) for the imprint that you leave on the humans you interact with day to day.

Even the smallest things that you present and project onto another can have huge ramifications. Becoming aware of this will hopefully bring a sense of responsibility with the nature of your interactions all of the time, not just in feedback conversations. Every moment counts.

Right energy

When you are considering giving feedback to someone, it’s worth checking in on your own energy and intention. Is the thing that you feel you need to share honest? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Is it a desire to support the other person or is it actually a patronising, condescending ‘I want to make myself feel bigger that you’ space. I’m sure most of us have experienced being on the receiving end of feedback given in the wrong energy; where you can come away feeling chastised and belittled. It’s completely avoidable.

What we are looking for here is an authentic drive to enable the growth of the other person; only you can be the judge of when and where that occurs.

Trust is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Will your feedback support the development and continuation of trust, or will it break it?

Right people

Once we have established that we deem the feedback is being presented in the right energy, it’s important to check it’s happening between the right people; is it your place to give this particular feedback?

In a work context, folks can sometimes be a little overzealous with feedback, and it’s common for people a couple of layers up to get embroiled in conversations that should be happening a couple of layers down. My general rule of thumb, is that the person or people closest to the thing (whatever the thing is) should be the ones discussing it.

Right place

I’m probably trying to teach grandma how to suck eggs here, but for the avoidance of any doubt, the right time and place for feedback is critical.

Feedback should almost always be given 1:1 and ideally in a timely manner so that the feedback conversation is close enough to the actual event itself. It should also be given in a place that the person receiving the feedback is comfortable with. That can obviously vary dramatically from person to person.

I was once given some rather challenging feedback by a former boss in a glass meeting room where I was facing out to an open office; I literally had nowhere to hide. It made an already tough conversation much much harder.

Right time

As I mentioned above, timing of feedback is everything. Some feedback becomes irrelevant if it isn’t given in real time. Other times it is more important to make sure that you are in the right environment to give it.

When it comes to timing though, it is perhaps most important that it occurs at the right time for both the giver and the receiver. If you are giving feedback; are you in your best energy? If you are even slightly out of sorts, the feedback could come out completely wrong and be misinterpreted. Meditation is hugely supportive for me here.

As the giver, it is you that is driving when the conversation happens in the main, so you have to dial up on your emotional intelligence to make sure that the timing works for the receiver also. If they are clearly having a challenging day, perhaps a kinder thing might be to wait and have the conversation later.

I remember a time when I gave some feedback on the fly, after being asked for it. My answer should have been; let me reflect and we can discuss this later. Instead I broke all of my own rules, and gave clumsy feedback that not only didn’t land well, it actually got completely lost in translation. I had to work much harder to reset that relationship to rebuild the trust than the effort it would have taken to get the conversation right.

If you work with someone quite closely, it’s worth asking them how they like to receive feedback and take the time to understand what does and doesn’t work for them.

Putting in that kind of effort to understand someone has love at its core, and when things start from there, you have a much better chance of ending up in a good place.

That time when I learnt about the magic of Founders

“They are sane enough to know that every day is a survival against daunting odds and crazy enough to think they can do it anyway.” – Eric Schmidt

Amen to that Eric.

By the time I had landed at Shazam there was just one Founder still left as an employee of the company; Avery Wang. Internally we viewed him as somewhat of a god-like figure – he was the person who invented the algorithm after all. He himself was incredibly humble, and continued to work towards new horizons for the business.

I can remember the day I met Chris Barton; the guy that came up with the original idea for Shazam and who remained very much involved, though not day-to-day. When he was in the building you could sense it, and his energy and enthusiasm was infectious.

At Onfido we are lucky to have our Founders in much closer quarters, which has meant that I’ve had a lot more time to observe the special energy of Husayn Kassai, Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin.

As unique as they might be as people, as Founders they mirror a blueprint that I’ve been lucky enough to witness before, in the Shazam Founders. The traits and characteristics that enable them to operate as mavericks, as crusaders, as folks who give zero f’s about what the world thinks about their bold idea and do it anyway.

They don’t just do it anyway. They convince folks like me, with all my years of experience, to hop on board and start building alongside them.

That, my friends, is magic in the truest sense.

There are many who have the spirit of Founders, but who never harness the power of that magic to make their ideas turn into real things. The rebel hearts, the free thinkers, the challengers; I likely fall into that camp.

That’s what makes a little rebel like me the perfect ally to a Founder, because I’m already asking the big questions and have the desire to challenge the status quo; I just haven’t yet summoned up enough magic to turn my ideas into real things.   An innate maverick mindset means that it’s never going to take much persuading to get you to hop on the bus.

But back to the magic of Founders, and some of my observations of what makes them so special.

Heart and realness

To be someone that people want to invest in, we have to be able to see and feel your heart. We have to be able to connect to the energy within you, and feel an authenticity behind your mission. People may still get on your bus without it, but they won’t stay there for very long.

Love is the foundation of everything. Starting your business from a genuine platform of love will provide the bedrock that your business needs to grow.

Spirit and passion

You must have something that’s infectious about your spirit, something that lifts us up with you and helps us to do and deliver things that we never dreamed of doing before.

We will tell you ‘it’s not possible’, and you will keep telling us it is, until we find a way to make it work. That’s the spirit that made Shazam the magical app it became; Chris Barton badgering Avery Wang to invent the clever algorithm that made musical discovery dreams come true for millions of users.

Investment and commitment

I mean investment of self here. Of your whole life in a lot of cases, and certainly most of your time and energy. When we see you invest yourself fully, we are inspired to invest in you right back. It’s important to note, however, that we need to feel like you are invested in us too. We need to feel like we are important and valued, and that we have a voice in what we are joining you to achieve. Investment in the product is awesome, but you need to keep those that have hopped on your bus, on the bus.

Influence and persuasion

You have to be able to be the most persuasive person in the room. You have to be able to connect with people in a real way in order to influence them to adopt your way of thinking, or at least see hope in what you say. You will be smart enough to map out your argument and will have enough data so that we become inspired by your words.

You ideally will be charming. Or you will be great at recruiting charming people who can pick up the slack around you when you can’t be!

Flexibility and fluidity

To survive in startups, the ability to pivot is a must. If you get too hung up on the original thing that you thought you’d be, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. One thing that Onfido has done so well is the evolution of the product offering over the years to become the de facto identity provider to global businesses, and now making inroads with where we go next in the drive towards consumer owned identities.

Humility and groundedness

At Onfido our Founders are at the heart of most change initiatives. They are constantly striving for excellence and to “find a better way” of doing things; which is one of our core values.

Long term Founder-ship will inevitably mean hiring smarter people around you to keep developing the even bigger dreams that you are cooking up. That means you’ve got to be great at asking the right questions and really listening to the answers. Hire ambitiously and act humble. Another thing that the Founders at Onfido get so right; hiring phenomenal talent to come in and see the gaps that we might be missing and defer to their expertise when it comes to making some of the decisions.

Bravery and boldness

Last but not least, you just have to be brave and bold. Brave enough to commit to it, over and over again. Brave enough to stand out from the crowd, live on nothing and keep stepping one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Bold enough to ask the cheeky questions, invite yourself to the right meetings and own your presence in the room when you do. Bold enough to make the decisions when one needs to be made, even when you have no real way of establishing likelihood of success.

So you see my friends, there’s a whole lot that comes together to create that magic dust that fuels Founders to create the perfect storm to successfully launch and sustain a startup.

Magic personified.

That time when I got to really understand my infrastructure

The human body is a magical thing. I feel phenomenally blessed by the fact that each and every year I am able to deepen my connection to self a little further, by learning something new.

The most recent ‘something new’ (though it might count as a ‘something old, since re-learned’) has been in the form of the chemicals we have in our bodies and the experiences we have as a result of those chemicals, aided by the Simon Sinek book, Leaders Eat Last.

As I have forged a path towards whole body intelligence (living from the whole of my body, not just my overthinking brain), I have become aware of the feelings that are created in my body when different things occur; the way my heart starts to bubble when I feel anxiety, the intense elation when I get excited, the flip in my stomach when I feel worried (and so on). I’ve learnt to map my reactions to things, what they mean, and for the most part at least, choose a better experience.

What I hadn’t really considered, was the ‘science bit’ that went behind it all, the physiological reasons that are behind the way our body reacts. In learning a bit more about that ‘science bit’ I feel like I have taken on an even deeper level of understanding of myself and my reactions, from that one of the most important F words; forgiveness.

So, now for the ‘science bit’, pay attention:

Why I get super excited by the discovery of new things

I’ve always been someone driven by the thirst of discovery; the latest thing, an awesome book, a new song. I put it down to my instinctive curiosity alone, without considering the chemicals in the body that were driving some of my behaviour.

We have chemicals within us that can conspire to make us feel good when we achieve something like a goal or in my case, a discovery. Dopamine is one of those chemicals: a neurotransmitter that can impact lots of things in the body that relate to well being, providing a little boost when we do something that makes us feel good.

It has helped to fuel some of my addictive personality behaviours (and there have been many over the years; whether sneaker obsession, art collecting obsession, music obsession, food obsession – the list is endless). I tended to climb to a peak of obsession on each one, realise what I am doing, pull back, and then find a new obsession to take its place. With my developing understanding of these behaviours, it’s become easier for me to call them out and act upon them, before reaching critical mass (or a ridiculous sneaker collection of 50+ pairs!).

The trouble with dopamine fuelled behaviour is that it is often insatiable. You will never be satisfied by landing the object of your desire, you will just start thinking about what the next thing might be. Learning to choose a more holistic, longer term kind of happiness has therefore been really significant for me.

Why I have strong willpower and drive towards achieving a goal

Endorphins are another kind of feel good chemical released during things like exercise. They can also be part of the reward the body provides when you achieve something, and are likely a big part of why my willpower has been so strong in the delivery of things against all odds, whether a course or a work based project. Achievement makes us feel good.

When I did Weight Watchers in 2008, it was like the waves parted, and suddenly I had a framework that provided the bedrock for a total re-education around my relationship with food. Both of those chemicals supported me in losing over 3 stone (22kg). Dopamine provides the big rush that we can easily become addicted to, but endorphins help us to stay on course and weather the physical and emotional storm of achieving something.

Why I have been so led by obsessions at times of my life

Whilst for the most part I now live in a world where I have successfully nurtured love inside and outside of me, that hasn’t always been the case. When I have been lacking in love, the void has been filled by the kind of obsessions I mentioned above. The dopamine hit of a social media like, or a new pair of sneakers was what I used to sustain me.

The more I have been able to develop love within myself and for myself, the less my obsessions have been able to take hold. I believe oxytocin has played a big part in that. Oxytocin is often called the love hormone, as it is something that can create a feeling of connection to others and help reinforce trust. Love is something that makes us feel whole, and in doing so, the urges for instant gratification can be allowed to ebb further away.

Why I like doing stuff for other people

As human beings, we are driven to form connections with other people by oxytocin, but also by serotonin. Serotonin is often called the happy chemical, it makes us feel good. It also helps the body find a rhythm with things like your body clock.

These are the chemicals that drive us to do things for other people, because it feels good. Serotonin also enables us to feel the weight of responsibility on things; we don’t want to let people down, we want to make people proud. This is also why we care what other people think of us; I am no different in that sense.

Why I work hard to create community around me

Wherever I go I have this urge to connect with the people around me, whether in a shop or in a class. It’s not a consciously calculated thing, so I’d previously just put it down to me creating the kind of experience I want to have in the world, one that is founded in love.

I feel good when people are happy to see me, I feel good when I can see a person feels seen. I would suggest this drive may be down to something a little more primitive, I am serving the needs of my chemical brothers; serotonin and oxytocin, my need to feel like I am part of something.

Why I have had such a physical experience of stress in my body

This is down to the stress hormones our body produces, with the primary one being cortisol. It actually also plays a super important role in the body, managing how we process food, our sleep rhythm, our blood pressure. When we wake up in the morning it tends to be a little higher, then decreases throughout the day.

For our body to function correctly, it has to be in balance. When we experience stress, our cortisol levels spike. This can provide important messages to us to get out of the way of harm, but a prolonged increase is horrible for our body.

The only way to circumvent this is by either removing the stressful situations from your life, or by finding a way to better control your responses to stress. My approach has been a blend of both. I completely reinvented the stressful life I chose in my 20s, built a new one and learnt how to develop stillness in my body through things like meditation.

Now I have a much better read on when something has been triggered within me, and I can choose what my response is, most of the time at least!

Why I have stayed in situations that are bad for my health

Whether personal or professional; I have been great at holding fast to situations that don’t serve me. I can now see that I was in the hold of my chemical reactions. Looking specifically at my unhappy marriage in my 20s; my stress levels would be triggered daily, and then smallest good thing would happen, and it would calm me back down. I was a whirlwind of dopamine and cortisol, never in balance.

I managed to fool myself that the tiny dopamine hits were enough, that that was what love felt like. I can’t tell you how thankful I have been to discover the heady effects of oxytocin in my 30s. I have been lucky enough to find the right configuration of things to forge a path towards true joyfulness.

Why I feel able to be fully me in some situations and not in others

Have you ever noticed how in some situations you can speak eloquently and freely and in others you can stumble over your words? How you can sing like a rockstar in the shower but your voice falters around others? This can largely be down to a stress response. In situations where we don’t feel safe, our stress response is triggered and that impacts our ability to belt out that Broadway number: our bodies are simply too busy dealing with/processing cortisol to reach those notes. This is also why we can feel a little off with some people and not with others.

In my 20s, I spent a lot of my time triggered; at work and at home, and didn’t feel safe in either. I wasn’t living in anything remotely close to balance. I wasn’t taking care of myself in any sense, or giving my body the chance to produce the chemicals it needed to thrive, serotonin to boost self confidence, oxytocin to relieve stress or lessen cravings. I was all cortisol errrythang.

How I have been able to choose something different

Chemical balance on all counts is supported and maintained by that good old fashioned toolkit of:

  • REST: Making sure you develop a steady and enriching approach to sleep and recovery. Your bedtime routine is everything. Read more about that here.
  • NOURISHMENT: Eating foods that are in accordance with what your body truly wants, at a time it really wants it.
  • QUENCH: Drinking water, and other non chemical altering beverages. I avoid caffeine and alcohol altogether.
  • MOVEMENT: Moving your body in a way that feels right for you. Some days that is a walk for me, others that might be barre, others that might be yoga.
  • LOVE: Creating fulfilling relationships with others that truly serve you, and that build and reinforce the psychological safety you need to thrive.

“This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. If we have strong relationships at home and at work, if we feel like we belong, if we feel protected in both, then the powerful forces of a magical chemical like oxytocin can diminish the effect of stress and cortisol. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security inside a Circle of Safety. We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.” – Simon Sinek

That time when I realised that I will never stop looking for things that look like love

Haters look away. This blog is unapologetically about the thing that most of us crave and spend our whole lives hunting for even though we all have a limitless supply of our own to give: LOVE.

Have you ever thought about the fact that as humans, love is truly the thing that drives us? Level with me; What’s the thing most likely to drive you loopy? What’s the thing most likely to push your buttons? What’s the thing that evokes the biggest emotional reaction when you feel slighted? What’s the thing that is abundant when you feel most joyful? That’s right: LOVE.

We hunt for it far and wide, often thinking that love is just the thing that can happen with our closest people, and search for ‘the one’. We also seek it in a less overt way, in the form of acceptance, admiration or respect – think about those internet likes. When we boil all of those things down, in our many different ways, we are still just seeking: LOVE.

The real truth about love though, is that – “plot reveal” – it’s within us and all around us at all times. We are literally brimming with the stuff. Each and everyone of us has an infinite resource of love to call upon, we just have to choose to see it that way.

For love is the community that we live in, not just within ourselves or our own immediate community but the global community of humans that we are all a part of. All of us. Pretty much most of the time, if you take the time to look around you, you can find love in abundance, whether in the way that we interact with one another or in the details of how we live.

I fall in love on an almost daily basis; in the beauty of an interaction, the smile of a fellow commuter or even sometimes at the goofy look on my own face in the mirror.

Now I’m well aware that there is plenty in the world that is not love, but I hold firm in my belief that we are all from love and therefore just have to find our way back to it, to ourselves and to each other. Not all of us make it, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

I too am guilty of getting caught up in the whirlwind that is life, disconnecting from my limitless loving resources and forgetting the simplicity of what really matters.

So here’s a little reminder for you and for me, for the days when we get caught up in the grind, of some of the day to day places we can always find it:

  • In the eyes of the person sitting opposite you (even if they are looking at their screen, and watch as they sparkle as they receive a message from a loved one).
  • In the eyes of the child who truly sees you and connects with you (you know the looks that make you feel goofy and awkward, before they are old enough to have learnt to look away).
  • In the heart of the person who lets you skip the line when you only have one item (love those guys).
  • In the soul of the person at your favourite coffee shop, who remembers your order before you walk up (and what might you remember about them in return…?).
  • In energy of the person who sees someone struggling to carry something, and offers a hand to help (I try to be that person as often as possible, as long as it is within my capabilities!).
  • In the way your friend keeps a stash of your favourite tea in their cupboard, just in case you stop by (you know who you are and you are loved).

Lastly, please remember that the most important place of all you can always find it is within you; whether to shine it on yourself or the world around you. Remember; it’s the one thing you can give out and receive back in multiples.

This stuff is just as fabulous in reverse; just think about the difference you feel when you know you have been awesome to someone, and you can bask in the light of their love and gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m in a deficit, I bring my best loving game to all of my interactions, and greedily fill up my tank with all the love I get back.

Love can change the world my friends. Start with allowing it to change yours and sit back and marvel as it starts appearing everywhere like the miraculous life source that it is.

Ps. I love you.

[Title inspo from Raymond Antrobus and his magnificent poem; “Things That Look Like Love”]

That time when I truly embraced my individuality

At the age of 12 I made a conscious decision never to be the same as everyone else. I set about creating the young Penfold in many different ways, believing myself to be a true individual, and that the clothing choices I made truly exemplified that.

The truth though, was that I was merely trying to ‘belong’ to a different collection of humans, though I didn’t see it that way. I tried to identify myself amongst the sub cultures and not be a part of the main stream, largely governed by music choices. I manifested things like:

  • The Goth Era – black lipstick, tasseled skirts, ripped tights and tie dye
  • The Metal Era – army clothes, para boots, stripey tights, shaved half my head and dyed the rest red
  • The Raver Era – record bags and bomber jackets
  • The Rude Gyal Era – started out with hair in braids, then had my hair cut like a member of TLC, complete with kiss curls.
  • The Garage Raving Era – dresses, heels, big hair.

I showed my musical affiliations like badges of honour in my appearance, throughout the whole of my teens. I believed myself to be unique. And indeed I was unique, but not in the way that I thought I was then. I was (and am) Ruth Lesley Penfold – and there can never be another like her.

But I couldn’t see that then. I didn’t realise that these many disguises were tools that I was using to take myself further away from the real me. I met my ex husband at the age of 19, and slowly lost any desire to stand out whatsoever, so took myself even further from the real me than I had ever been before. I gradually succeeded in making myself invisible. The butterfly became a moth.

What I have experienced since leaving him has been a ‘second adolescence’ of sorts. I’ve used elements of my physical appearance of attire in much the same way, to stand out, to show the world just how different I am. This time though, not seeking to belong to a specific group but more so to create a whole new group of my own, with a population of one, so that no one else could get near me.

I wore my diversity like a badge of honour once more, making sure, albeit subconsciously, that people could learn everything that they needed to know about me from just a glance. Throughout this time, I seldom met with anyone who displayed any genuine romantic potential. I made fabulous friends, that span far and wide, but mainly kept at a ‘safe’ distance.

You see, I WAS sending them the message that I wanted to display at that time. That message was one of; ‘don’t get too close’ or ‘have teeth, will bite’. My appearance became my body armour. The biggest part of this was my hair. And it worked. That’s because on some levels, I still saw (and sometimes see – we all have those moments, happily mine are just becoming more fleeting) myself in the unloveable light that I had done so for much of my adult life. I had developed a new kind of invisible, just one with flashing lights and sirens.

The change in me now has been brought about by a change of perception of me and my place in the world. I realised that, by denying the world of who we truly are, we are doing everyone around us a disservice. But no one more so than ourselves. If we allow ourselves to live to our fullest potential, who knows where we might end up. Through deepening my connection with me – through leading a supportive lifestyle filled with love, movement and meditation, the body armour has started to break down.

I worked hard to project an image of toughness, of resilience, of independence. And I am all of those things, but I am also so much more. I know that the real me is soft, feminine and vulnerable – probably a little at odds with what many of the people that know me would describe me as.

I deserve to allow myself to be loved by another, in just the way I have chosen to love myself, but I need to make it possible for people to see, hear and feel me as I truly am, and what I am is truly just one thing – love.

I am finding my inner light – pure and delicate – and allowing it to unfurl. My hair is growing. My edges are softening. I have kept myself in suspended animation in many forms over the course of my life, but now is the time to live a little differently. I move through the world with an increased gentleness, and an increased commitment to bringing all of me to every situation.

I’d like to view my body armour as a cocoon of sorts, a necessary rite of passage to allow me to finally unfurl as I truly am: one of a kind, truly magnificent and capable of spreading light and love wherever I go.

I make that my mission.

I know many people who live as paired down versions of who they truly could be, but I know very few that are living in a true expression of who they really are. If you had spoken to me two years ago about this, I would have sworn I was living in an abundantly truthful and expressive way. And if I had it wouldn’t have been a lie, I’ve just now discovered the means to go a little deeper, and I can’t wait to see where my unfolding takes me next.

This might not resonate with you at all, and if it doesn’t? Fabulous; we are all benefiting from your light already.

For those of you, however, that are thinking about whether they are limiting themselves, by even asking yourself the question you already know the answer. You know there is so much more of you than you are showing us all right now. What might it take for you to show us a little more of your light? How might you break down a little more of your body armour?

I am, and can only ever be a work in progress, and proudly so. But work I shall.

 

That time when I wanted to call out two very special people

This is a very special post this time folks. I wanted to take a moment to devote a few words in celebration of the wonder that is my parents; John and Tricia Penfold.

These two humans have taught me to love without prejudice, forgive instantly and with a full heart, and to shine that love out into the world upon the people I come in contact with.

My parents, however, have not always had such an easy ride with me. As a young person, I was incredibly challenging. Fiercely independent and intent on growing up way ahead of my years; the adolescent Penfold was a force to be reckoned with.

At that age, I saw my parents as a hurdle to get over. Sure, I loved them. But they were the thing standing between me and the rest of the world, the freedom that I craved so mercilessly.

So I lied. A lot. I gave little care for the impact of my behaviour on these two beautiful souls; getting suspended from school at one stage, alongside general drinking/smoking and other slightly suspect (largely nocturnal) teenage activities.

Strange then, that a creature that craved and chased freedom so fiercely, ended up landing herself in a prison of her own making, and one she the chose to serve 12 years hard time in. When I met my ex husband, my parents could see how wrong things were, and tried hard to steer me in the right direction with a big dose of tough love.

Sensing their challenge, instead of heeding to their age and wisdom, I chose to create a false existence that I hoped they could be proud of me for. I fabricated a happy life, a balanced existence and a loving husband; when in truth, I had none of those things.

What did my parents do about that? They simply loved me. Without judgement. Much as it broke their hearts to see their beautiful daughter fail to feel the joy that it was her true destiny to experience. They supported me with their love, and continued to do so no matter how hard I tried to cast them adrift.

When I turned 30, and finally left my ex husband, I finally found my parents. It was them in fact, early one Saturday morning five years ago, in late November 2010, that came and collected my dog and I from the house I had shared with my ex husband. My mum helped me to make the decision to leave early that morning, as I was in complete turmoil. They then drove for six hours to collect me, before driving us all the way back to Hartlepool, where they lived at the time. Passing that five year milestone this past week feels incredible, much as it all feels like a lifetime ago.

By finally letting them help me, I finally let them ‘in’. The sense of relief within me was palpable, and I allowed myself to love them as abundantly fiercely as they have always loved me. It broke their hearts to learn the reality of the world I had chosen to exist in, but it equally filled them with joy that I had been able to break free from it, and that they had been able to support me in doing so.

They are truly exceptional people, and I am thankful every day to have them in my world. They not only helped me physically break free, they also emotionally propped me up through the torturous months that were to come, each day presenting a new challenge. They helped me to make small steps and not just freak out at the enormity of the change I was making, they helped me to stay present. Between them and my Aunt and Uncle in London, they also managed to make sure I ate every day – which was no mean feat!

Aside from the obvious help, love and support they have given me, I am also thankful to have had this beautiful demonstration of love, acted out to me and my siblings over many years and in many different roles. I use them as my example when it comes to the love and care I give others, even when that love isn’t reciprocated, in the way it wasn’t always with me. I let my love set an example for others, in much the same way they have done for me.

They continue to love me, my sisters, my brother and all of our respective people, in the same indiscriminate way. Celebrating our successes and holding us steady when we face our battles, helping us move, helping us generally sort our lives out, collecting us from airports… I could go on and on.

So; Mum and Dad, this is my love note to you. Your love continues to inspire me each and every day. Thank you for never giving up on me. You have created the most magnificent blueprint and I hope to make use of your beautiful parental road map one day. In the meantime I will continue to hone my hard loving skills on you guys. I love you to the moon and back.