You may be surprised to read this, but I can categorically state that this is the truth: before the age of 11, I had never read a book. Okay, maybe never is a slight exaggeration, but the truth be told, I did try every trick in the book to avoid the humdrum task of reading. I swear, even touching a book would bring me out in a metaphorical, hive-like rash. (Did I just make an unintended pun back there?)
Pun aside, I hated—no, wait—I despised reading. Books were boring with an extra side order of boring. They were the reason our forests were depleting fast. We needed to save our rainforests, not print more books, right?
Wrong. Go figure.
My mother, my ever-patient mother, would sit with me day after day, reading and rereading the same first page of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Five go to Smuggler’s Cove. She figured, since my sister loved them, then I would too: I know—nothing like a good bit of generalisation to kicked start a lifetime of self-doubt. But I didn’t. I struggled to read them.
My mother gave up, my father, well, he was never around.
And so I formulated belief number one: I am stupid.
You see, I love fantasy—magical fantasy to be specific—only I didn’t know it at the time. Not until secondary school English, where we had to read and review a book a week. Now, before I go on—I need a show of hands for this—who did their book reviews by reading the first and last chapter of the book, followed by the jacket blurb? Come on, I know I did. That was, until I just happened to come by Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Hell, why not? I liked the front cover. After all, I wasn’t actually going to read it, just look at the pictures as usual and guess what the story was about.
Only, page one turned into page two. And before I knew it I had read the entire book. I know: hallelujah right? Cue the holy music. I can still hear my mother’s sobbing cheers in my head.
And it was as simple as that: a bookworm overnight. My favourite hang out became the local library. I was a disgrace to many of my friends. How does one do that? That is the power of a truly amazing book. The power of a master storyteller.
And I wanted some of that. I began to write. I was a writer. Of sorts.
Only it wasn’t.
I left school with a plan. Study English. Write a book. Get published. Buy a mansion. Only creative writing wasn’t an option so I did A Level English Literature. I failed. Miserably. (Because let’s face it, creative and academic writing are not one of the same, no matter how hard you try to fuse them into one.)
And so I formulated belief number two: I am even stupider than stupid.
So I abandoned my love of words, gave up on my dream and went to Art School to train as a graphic designer (I am very arty as well, so I wasn’t exactly ditching my creative side). But no matter hard I tried, I couldn’t give up on my dream. I’m not a quitter. I wish I were sometimes; life would be so much easier. But I’m not built to quit. That was 10 years ago. And that was when I first met:
The Dark Side of Me
We all have one. The entity that takes great pleasure in collecting all the noise around us then it rolls it into one voice that’s too loud to ignore. You can’t escape it. It’s there every second of every day telling you why you shouldn’t, why you couldn’t, why you’re no good, why you’re kidding yourself, blah, blah…on and on it goes, never stopping to take a breath or a toilet break.
(FYI, The Dark Side of Me, is a heavy shadow on my left; it’s masculine in nature with a deep growly voice. Yours may be feminine in nature, a monkey or even a giraffe. Either way, it’s yours for keeps.)
But you need to understand one thing; The Dark Side of You is your ego, the younger you who took on those limiting beliefs. It may seem like it’s against you, but really, it isn’t. All it wants to do is to protect you. Keep you from harm’s way, from pain, from everything bad. It loves you, despite what you may think or how it treats you.
But we are not those children anymore. (I think the wrinkles, or crinklies as my youngest son calls them, staring back at me in the mirror is evident of that truth). I can handle rejection, pain, disappointment or even success (you’d be surprised how many people actually fear success more than failure; it’s a change thing). Okay, I may, on occasion have a hissy fit, cry and eats copious amounts of chocolate when things aren’t going my way, but I am an adult. I can cope. Only The Dark Side of Me will never realise this. We will always be one of the same.
So, why have I spent the last twenty minutes telling you this? Because our experiences mould us, make us into the person we are today. And sometimes that just isn’t a good thing. You want to be a published author? Yeah, me too. Well, it’s time to make friends with your inner critic and calm those negative beliefs.
5 ways of dealing with your dark side
1. Make friends with The Dark Side of You
Let’s face it, it’s just you, but with a coating of everyone else’s crap that’s been thrown at you throughout your existence (the opinions you’ve chosen to, consciously or subconsciously, internalise). So, do what you would do with an emotionally wounded friend. Talk to it. That’s right. Just talk. I do, all the time. I’ve had many an interesting conversation with The Dark Side of Me that’s led to many ‘A-ha!’ moments into why I think and feel a certain way.
Simply shining the awareness spotlight (as I like to call it) on a way of thinking can be all that’s needed to create a change in behaviour.
2. Understand that The Dark Side of You just wants to keep you safe.
The Dark Side of You loves you, it wants to keep you safe at all costs, even if that means standing in your way of success. Think of it like this: change = danger. Of course (most of the time) this cannot be further from the truth. Change happens every second of every day. Change is necessary for personal growth and the soul’s nourishment. But The Dark Side of You fears change. Know that it’s using the powerful flow of fear to stop you from making a change in your life.
Which leads me nicely on to point 3.
3. Be gentle with The Dark Side of You.
Every time it rears its head, speak to it in a kind and compassionate way, the way you would when your friend comes over in stress mode. Tell it that everything is okay and that you’ve got this covered. Reassure it. But most importantly, validate its concerns. You’ll be surprised how quickly those bubbling pangs of panic settle to a simmering point. I notice this is particularly rife when I have a billion plot strands dangling into the, ‘never going to get this plot to knot together’ abyss. Get use to keeping it calm and you’ll ebb and flow your way through most things. (Including a plot meltdown.)
4. Know that The Dark Side of You’s favourite coin of phrase is just that: an expression.
The, ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m no good’, ‘people like me don’t succeed’ (feel free to add your own coin of phrase here) is just an expression, a not-very-helpful-belief. Nothing more. It only has meaning if you make it so. It’s just a bunch of misinterpreted crap you’ve picked up while living your life. None of it is true. You’ve just chosen to believe it.
The simple truth is, if one person has succeeded in the way you aspire to, then it’s possible for you, me and the entire universe to do the same. A brilliant example of this is, Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile. Until he broke the record in 1955, it was thought impossible by ‘informed’ observers. Many athletes have surpassed this record over the years.
It’s worth throwing that The Dark Side of You and seeing if it can dodge it quick enough before it sticks in its throat.
5. On occasion The Dark Side of You is actually right.
Sometimes it may be telling you the truth (I know—who’d of thought, hey?) But the, ‘don’t do it’, ‘you can’t do’ may actually be a warning. Now that you’re friends, you can decipher which is which. (If you’re interested, my way is to reason with The Dark Side of Me, if it settles then it’s just whole bunch of nothing, if it doesn’t then it’s worth investigating.)
The coolest part of connecting with The Dark Side of Me, has allowed me to discover things about myself and what drives me to and do what I do. Like all humans walking the planet, I crave validation. I have a desire to be seen. It’s uncanny how my magical tween series is called The Unseen World of Makebolivia. What’s that advice again? Write what you know? All I know is: I have a need to be heard. So, what need is your writing fulfilling? And what are you allowing The Dark Side of You to sabotage?
I don’t confess to having a PHD or fancy letters after my name, but what I do know is this: we all have an inner critic, that voice inside our head that can either push us up or pull us down. It’s no one’s choice but yours.
So, to finish, I will leave you with the words of, Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, ‘Remember this: Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any others. No one controls your destiny.’
Now it’s The End.