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From Social Numbness to Thriving at Life: an Interview with Ali

“I responded to dangerous incidents with no fear. That’s not to say I was courageous, rather, I didn’t care if anything happened to me. I didn’t think anyone would miss me if I was killed on duty. I didn’t wish for it, but it was a possibility in my line of work and it didn’t scare me.”

Struggled with:

Hello! Who are you?

Hi there, my name is Ali and I currently live in Ireland. Although, I’m Scottish and flit between Scotland and Ireland. 

Technically I’m still employed by the Scottish Police Force, but after taking time out on a career break I’ve decided not to return after serving for almost 17 years. In fact, I’ve just handed my notice in. I feel ready to cut the chord.

I’m scared, excited, nostalgic, and energized about this. I’m pursuing my freelance writing passion and I’m also an ultra running coach. I’ve had over 42 different jobs in my life in 6 different countries. Life is certainly never boring and I feel confident that I have a bright future and am excited about what’s in store. 

My fiance is my best friend. He helps me feel safe and valid. He supports me and loves me unconditionally. In many respects, we are ying and yang. But we complement each other beautifully and I can’t imagine a world without him.

I am a positive, kind, and happy person. I have created my own happiness and I am realistic in that I understand it is not a permanent state.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

It’s difficult to pinpoint what my struggle is. It’s not one thing necessarily but an amalgamation of things to create the perfect storm. 

I’ve always just been different. I don’t fit in. 

I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) and was brought up being told I was “too sensitive,” and my feelings were not validated. Family life was dysfunctional and chaotic, we lived in several different countries before I was seven years old and my parents’ relationship was fractious. Being one of four children diluted the available love and attention.

I now understand my environment caused the younger me to become hypervigilant about people, which can be exhausting. 

My parents separated before I turned ten years old. An acrimonious and messy breakup that obliterated everyone in the fallout zone and still has consequences today. 

I always thought my father just played a simple game of favoritism with his children. But I now recognize he is a textbook narcissist. I was the scapegoat child and my twin sister was the golden child.

The research on the impact of having a narcissistic parent is fascinating and in a strange way brought me a sense of comfort. My healing journey has helped me find a place of understanding and acceptance.

And then came boarding school. Between the ages of 12 and 18 years old, I went to a boarding school.

I hated the first two years, thought the middle two years were ok, and enjoyed the last two years. 

But boarding school is a strange environment. It instills a pervasive sense of abandonment in many who are sent. No family warmth, hugs, or “how was your day?” I’m still processing some of my experiences from this time of my life. 

I have known all my life I don’t want to have children, and this is another area that society rejects me. I have been pressured, pushed, and pulled to try and conform to societal expectations. I have been told I don’t know my own mind.

I now realize how common and normal it is to choose not to have children. But for a long time, the world was a very lonely place for simply yearning to wander a different path from the majority. 

Throughout the years I have harbored a pervasive feeling that I’m different. I don’t fit in anywhere. I don’t belong and don’t matter. I feel invisible and irrelevant. These feelings surface on a regular basis.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

I recall one particularly tough time many years ago. I hadn’t yet started to untangle all my threads and piece together the jigsaw of my past. Nothing made sense yet. All I knew was that I didn’t belong, didn’t matter, and that I was unloveable. 

At this time I was working as a uniformed response police officer. I responded to dangerous incidents with no fear. That’s not to say I was courageous, rather, I didn’t care if anything happened to me.

I didn’t think anyone would miss me if I was killed on duty. I didn’t wish for it, but it was a possibility in my line of work and it didn’t scare me. 

No one around me would have suspected a thing. I was a high achiever, outgoing, sociable, and popular. To an onlooker, I was confident, self-assured, assertive, and in control. Inside I was just hoping to make it through the day without anyone detecting I was a fraud.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

As an HSP we connect deeply with animals. A catalyst in my life came when my soul mate dog passed away unexpectantly. It felt like my whole world had caved in. It changed me as a person.

The intensity of feelings and emotions juxtapositioned with numbness and drifting through life, was equivalent to shaking my body around like a snowglobe and stirring up all past pains.

ali hall interview with dog

This coincided with a particularly painful experience with my twin sister, which resulted in our near estrangement. I don’t feel it’s fair to say much more as it is her story as well as mine. 

After being splintered into tiny pieces following Jasper’s death. I slowly began to rebuild myself. I stopped trying to please others and dance to their beat and I learned to move to my own rhythm. This wasn’t so much a conscious choice, but more of a lack of energy for pretense. I no longer had the spark or willingness to serve others and perform. 

Over the years I’ve read many books and research papers and had open and honest conversations. I’ve decluttered my life as much as possible from toxicity. I’ve hacked my way through a lot of rubble. But I still found myself unable to break through. I was stuck. That’s when I turned to a therapist for help. 

It took me 40 years before feeling ready to seek the help I needed. 

Working with a therapist has helped me make sense of chaos. Together we are unraveling a very tangled ball of mind yarn.

She is compassionate and perceptive. She provides a safe space to explore feelings and memories. Most importantly, she sees me, listens to me, and validates me. No more gaslighting and wondering what I have done wrong.

Doing my own reading and research got me 50% of the way. But engaging with a therapist and putting the work in has taken me another 30% of the journey. I still have a way to go – but haven’t we all!

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I started being kind to myself. I’m a kindness advocate and write regularly about kindness. But it’s taken me a long time to understand that kindness isn’t necessarily self-sacrificial. 

To others who suffer, my advice is to recognize that you are worthy and you deserve love as much as anyone else. You deserve happiness and joy.

You deserve to have a good life with good health. You deserve laughter and authentic friendships. You deserve to be treated with respect. 

Once I finally found the strength to let down my guard and be vulnerable, the universe presented me with several opportunities to heal. 

It’s helpful to understand who we are and what makes us tick. While I’m not necessarily a fan of labels, I appreciate how labels can help us understand our experiences of how we function.

For instance, by knowing I’m an HSP I can stay true to myself and take measures to protect my energy. I can push against the experiences of being gaslit as a child.

Similarly, I don’t use the word narcissist lightly when describing my father. But by understanding how a narcissist functions and what drives them I have learned to accept that what I thought was my burden as a child, really was never my fault at all. 

Working with a therapist helped me find compassion for my inner child. I learned to watch some of my childhood experiences both from within myself and as an observer. I am now able to see the world through my own eyes. My therapist is helping me befriend my inner child and teaching me how I can provide myself with reassurance, comfort, and love. 

Learning how to use boundaries has been instrumental in directing my own life and taking ownership of my world. I am no longer in the passenger seat of my life. I’m holding onto the steering wheel, the windows are down, the music is blaring and the scenery is spectacular! 

I have to give a big shout-out to running here as well. I’m an avid runner, it is the one time I feel most like myself, and it’s freeing.

Running has been a constant throughout my struggles. It’s my way of releasing pent-up feelings and emotions that can get trapped in the body. I owe running enormous gratitude.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I am an open book with the friends I have in my life. I am blessed to have about 10 really good friends. We have honest, nourishing, and interesting conversations. I can be vulnerable with them. I consider my friends my family. 

I am happy to talk about mental health and personal struggles with acquaintances. But I gauge their response or their level of interest or intrigue before giving too much away. I actually attract people who are on some sort of a journey in life and I welcome raw conversations. 

There are some people who I now love from afar. These are people by whom I have never felt seen or understood. Nor have I felt that I mattered to them. Trying to resolve things through communication was futile. Instead of trying to change the situation and change them, I have found a place of acceptance. I do not seek their validation or understanding. I use boundaries to protect myself and find strength in the space I have created. 

Sometimes, we need to hold people at arm’s length to step out of their shadows and feel the sun on our faces.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

You are not alone. And the way you feel is perfectly normal. Perhaps we are all abnormally normal. It can take courage to speak of our struggles.

But often, when we do, we connect with others in a more meaningful way. When we share our suffering with others, we invite them to understand us and often, this results in an exchange of vulnerabilities.

ali hall interview snapshot 2

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Following on from my own experiences with feeling on the outside, I’ve started a newsletter called Abnormally Normal on substack, which is for everyone who feels like they don’t fit in. A community of misfits and wonky souls. 

I also write regularly on Medium

I have two Twitter accounts. AliRunsWrite follows my musings as a reader, writer, runner, and thinker. And a second account called ChildfreeByChoice, to help reduce the stigma of those who choose to be childfree.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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