Creating a life worth living, Self Care

How to Self Care

Articles on Self Care are nearly always accompanied with pictures of luxurious bubble baths, reinforcing the belief that Self Care is all about taking time to relax and pamper yourself. And sometimes it is, but it’s also so much more of that. It’s taken me a long time (until this long!) to realise that Self Care isn’t just about indulging yourself and doing things you enjoy, or treating yourself – a lot of Self Care is about making yourself do the things you need to do to stay healthy both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Not all of that feels like fun or a pampering treat!

A healthy breakfast outside

(Sometimes Self Care looks like a healthy breakfast eaten in the garden!)

Self Care looks a lot like going to the gym, or for a run or even a daily walk, when you’d much rather stay on the sofa. It looks like making the doctor’s appointment, or arranging the blood test even though you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not important. It’s setting an alarm to remind yourself to meditate, or a bedtime reminder to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s referring yourself to a counsellor or therapist instead of ignoring your problems and telling yourself that you’re fine. Investing in your ongoing education or personal development. Cleaning your house so that your environment doesn’t drag you down. Tackling the To Do list and avoiding procrastination on the tasks you’re anxious about – as the longer you leave it, the more anxiety you’ll have to deal with. Eating sensible meals instead of skipping them and grabbing snacks. Asking for help. Making time for hobbies, crafts or reading even though it means turning off the TV or stopping scrolling through Facebook.

None of this sounds much like fun, or luxurious pampering. It’s about creating healthy routines… then making yourself stick to them as much as possible. It’s not about beating yourself up, but supporting yourself to make better choices. We live in a culture that increasingly tells us not to bother, not to force ourselves into doing things we don’t like or don’t feel like. Yet we have to do things we don’t feel like every single day, otherwise dishes wouldn’t get washed and the laundry hamper would overflow while the wardrobe empties. When I remind Lily that it’s her turn to wash up, she crinkles her nose up at me. “But Mum, I really don’t feel like it.” As if somehow that’s going to get her off the hook. Oh, okay, if you really don’t want to wash up then you don’t have to.I understand. No, my answer is usually along the lines of Tough. It’s your turn, I do it every single day and I never feel like doing it either.

Increasingly I’m realising that Self Care looks a lot like a traditional English Nanny, who simply isn’t going to put up with any nonsense. It’s about telling yourself Tough, you need to do it, like it or not. Realising that as the day ends, you’re going to feel so much more positive if you’ve pushed yourself into doing what needed to be done, rather than convincing yourself that it was fine to take it easy because you didn’t feel like it. Of course, it’s not about beating yourself up, pushing too hard or being hard on yourself. It’s not about turning to productivity gurus and accounting for every single minute of the day. It’s about not giving in to yourself when you know you need to make a better choice. And maybe that looks a lot like Mary Poppins standing over you, arms folded, one eyebrow raised, reminding you that you’re worth taking care of.

  • Set an alarm to get you up on time – not too early, not too late.
  • Start your day with hot water and lemon, or a herbal tea.
  • Try a short meditation session such as the 10 minute Daily Calm (Calm App) to put you in a good frame of mind.
  • A few yoga stretches are a great idea first thing.
  • Take enough time for showering, washing, and dressing in a way that makes you feel good about yourself. If you feel better wearing make-up, take the time to put it on.
  • Avoid watching/listening to The News first thing – play some uplifting music instead.
  • Throw some laundry into the washing machine. You deserve clean clothes.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Make yourself something nourishing to start the day off right.
  • If you can, sit outside in the early morning sunshine while you eat breakfast or sip your drink.
  • Plan your day. Take a few moments to remind yourself what your priorities need to be. Work out when you’re going to fit in some exercise or a daily walk.
  • Fill your water bottle. Do it in the morning rather than waiting until you get thirsty – if you’ve got it with you then it increases the chances that you’ll sip your water rather than opting for another coffee.
  • Tackle the work that you need to get done. Don’t procrastinate over difficult or unpleasant tasks as they’ll just be hanging over you for even longer, making you anxious and stressed. You’ll feel so much better when you can cross them off the list.
  • Limit your availability as necessary. Check emails a couple of times a day instead of constantly, switch your phone off if you don’t want to be interrupted.
  • Remember to take a break when you need to. Stretch your legs, refill your water.
  • Feed yourself. Make lunch nourishing. Try to sit outside, and read for a short while, preferably from a book or magazine. Don’t eat at your desk or while you’re trying to tackle emails etc.
  • Go for a short walk every day, preferably through a green space. Put your phone away and look around you, start appreciating the beauty of the sky, the trees, the plants and flowers. Take a moment to breathe deeply.
  • Dinner. With vegetables. Home cooked.
  • Take time to wash up and quickly clean up the house. It’s depressing to live in a mess and you’ll feel so much better in the morning if you wake to a clean house.
  • Unwind purposefully in the evenings. Choose how you’re going to spend your time rather than mindlessly watching TV. If your favourite show is on and you want to watch it – great! But don’t sit there watching any old thing – you’d be better off spending time doing a hobby or a craft project. Creativity is brilliant for mental health.
  • Turn screens off an hour before bed time. Avoid anything too mentally or physically taxing as bedtime approaches.
  • Get to bed at a sensible time, make sure you’re getting enough sleep or life starts to feel very difficult.
  • Jot down anything that’s on your mind before bed, anything you need to remember for the next day. Remember to schedule in any healthcare appointments, don’t put them off. Try to write down three things you feel grateful for.
Home

Transformation

I’m ashamed to say that this was the landing not so long ago. A plastic crate of toiletries that landed here soon after the move, a chandelier that came with us from The House in the Sky but which needs an electrician to install, a bag of Christmas gifts that hadn’t found a home, a soft toy that Ivy was throwing out, a bag of old toy cars that Lily had finally agreed to get rid of, and several large samples of wallpaper purloined from B&Q for future use. A mess, in other words – but a mess that I had gotten so used to that I’d stopped actually seeing it. Is it just an ADHD thing? My mind is very capable of cataloguing clutter and then completely ignoring it, as if it weren’t there at all, particularly if the items are destined for elsewhere like the tip or charity shop. It’s only when something else intrudes into the domestic chaos, like knowing a visitor is about to descend, or -god forbid- deciding to put the house on the market, that suddenly the mess reveals itself through fresh eyes.

Panic.

The timescale of getting the house onto the market and selling it was pretty tight. Having only made my mind up in early March, it was clear that the house would have to be sold before June in order to complete all the legalities and move in to our new home before the September term started and Ivy begins her GCSE courses. Of course, we couldn’t move out before mid-June either, as Lily would be taking her GCSEs. The house would have to be on the market by early April to stand any chance of making the deadline.

More Panic.

Truth be told, every corner of the house contained a scene like the one above. We were still adjusting to living in a house less than half the size of our previous home, a house bought on the understanding that the kids would only be spending half of the week here, with half of their possessions stored at Simon’s place. Home-making had fallen victim to a court case in the first year here, to stress and mental health challenges, to Lily’s increasingly worrying behaviour and Ivy’s depression and anxiety. At times, I would beat myself up for not having managed to create the lovely home that I wanted, for failing to give my children the home they deserved. And yet, it was all too easy to forget the progress that I’d already made, despite the obstacles in my way. When we moved in, every single room was piled high with packing boxes. I joked with the kids that we’d be renaming the place Box Cottage. The washing machine didn’t fit under the counter and sat in the middle of the kitchen, boxes piled on top of it. A wardrobe wouldn’t fit up the narrow stairs and had to be abandoned in the garden, where it stood slowly rotting. We didn’t have a sofa, or beds, or wardrobes or any storage at all. Oh, and I had clearly underestimated the amount of space that the piano would take up in the living room, or wildly overestimated how big the living room actually was.

Panic Overload.

Single-handedly I chiselled out enough counter-top to fit the washing machine beneath, planned and built large IKEA wardrobes, found a secondhand sofa in a charity shop that would fit our tiny living room. The piles of boxes were gradually unpacked, even though some of them sat untouched for a full year before I was ready for them. A log-burner was paid for by instalments and fitted that first Summer, paying me back in the next Winter when the boiler broke and we had no heating. A ridiculous amount of flat-pack furniture was hauled up the stairs and assembled, our existing furniture heaved into different rooms. A new home was found for the piano with a local family. Pictures were hung on walls. A garden began to take shape, a log store was built from pallets. A rudimentary cabinet was built for a gap in the kitchen, shelves and hooks put up where needed, power tools and DIY gear beginning to overflow from the box I was keeping them in. If I stopped and assessed the situation, I had made so much progress from how things were when we moved in. Overwhelmed by how much still needed to be done, it was all too easy to forget how far I’d already come.

So much needed doing before the house could go on the market – the shower needed replacing, the back porch needed a leak fixing and a new ceiling, the render on the front extension needed some patches filling and repainting, the hall needed decorating, the broken decking out in the garden needed fixing or demolishing… not to mention the vast amount of decluttering, tidying and general prettifying that was desperately required. Nothing focuses the mind quite like a deadline though, and so suddenly workmen were hired to do the jobs that had been lurking for ages, while I scrambled to tackle the rest; trips to the tip, painting, tidying, cleaning, painting some more, weeding and strimming, buying light fittings and plants, taking bag after bag of donations to the charity shop or listing things on eBay. A month of sheer hard work and the house has been transformed.

Part of me couldn’t quite believe how capable I was proving to be, having only just turned the corner from severe depression. There was just no other option than to crack on with it, so that’s what I was doing – while also handling simultaneous EHCP and PIP applications for Lily. The other part of me couldn’t believe how much of a transformation was possible in such a short space of time. The house has begun to look and feel completely different. For the first time since we’d moved in, it feels like our home, comforting and sweet. Yes it’s small, but it does the job. We have all begun to appreciate it in a new way, enjoying the calmer, nicer atmosphere. Even the smallness feels cosy rather than cramped, with an awareness that living in such proximity has brought us closer. But it wasn’t just the house that has transformed. Many people have pointed out the link between our external spaces and our state of minds; a cluttered house is a sign of a cluttered mind. The hard work I’ve been putting in is rebuilding my confidence and strength; I’m proving to myself that I was capable, despite the lingering voice of abuse telling me that I’m useless, a failure. Decluttering is bringing a fresh clarity to my mind. Even just having made the decision to move has brought with it a newfound sense of hope and purpose rather than the fear and stagnation that I was stuck in. Can’t has become Can. And while it’s terrifying to leap into the unknown, leaving the lives we’ve created here behind in order to start over, I’ve already proven the basic fact to myself; I can do this.

A Year to Heal, Creating a life worth living, Self Care

Building up and slimming down; weight and image post-abuse.

One of the exercises we did together on the domestic abuse recovery course was to create an image of a victim of domestic abuse, sketched out on the flip chart by the facilitator. Our cartoon woman wasn’t necessarily covered in bruises, after all not everyone is a victim of physical violence, it was more about capturing the effects of living with long term emotional and psychological abuse. She was, we decided, either underweight from chronic stress and not being able to eat, or overweight from comfort eating. Bags and dark circles under her eyes from stress-related insomnia. Her hair was a mess, her clothes frumpy as she couldn’t justify spending any money on herself – even if she had any money to spend. She might be missing a tooth after not taking care or herself, or maybe she was grinding her teeth at night. Her shoulders were constantly up around her ears, stiff with stress and anxiety, causing tension that gave her migraines. Her expression was a rigid mask of fear, always worrying about what was going to happen next, scanning the horizon for the next attack, or frowning as her mind replayed what had already happened. She might well have developed an ongoing health complaint; as well as migraines and insomnia there could be IBS, panic attacks, hypertension, eczema as well as even more serious issues. She wasn’t looking good, in other words.

At home the decluttering continues, and it seems to be time to tackle the photos. As well as boxes of unsorted prints, CDs, memory sticks and folder after folder of digital shots, there are now several albums of unwanted memories. What do you do with your wedding album now that you’re divorced? Burn it? Keep it for the kids? Going through the pictures I’m struck by how unbelievably pale I look – some kind of iron supplement intervention was surely required – and how thin I am, my dress being taken in to a UK size 10 for the big day. Happy too, so very happy. In those days I had no problem posing for photographs, could look in the mirror and smile at myself. Now I shy away from cameras and tend to avoid mirrors, my reflection usually making my heart sink. Who is that woman? I don’t recognise myself – the extra weight, the thinning, frizzy hair, dull eyes and resigned expression. She feels so heavy, this stranger in the mirror, not just her bloated belly and aching legs but her spirit too. Can she possibly be the same person as the beaming young woman in her wedding dress? It doesn’t seem likely. She’s the woman from the flip chart, self esteem eroded and replaced by self-neglect, health suffering, defeated.

Body positivity seems to be a new trend, with fashion models ranging from what can only be described as normal (rather than seriously underweight) to curvaceous to overweight now being called body activists. I’m all for a healthier depiction of female bodies rather than only young, skinny, flawless forms being shown in the media, but frankly? Fat is fat. Right now, I’m overweight. Fat. Not a body activist. I’ve gone up from a size 12-14 to a 16-18, perhaps even larger at times. Most of my clothes no longer fit. And while I could embrace body positivity and learn to love myself the way I am, that’s not going to help my arteries, or my pre-diabetic state. Being overweight isn’t healthy. Being underweight isn’t healthy either. And while we shouldn’t be shaming each other over our weight, let’s not pretend that being obese is good for you, no matter how lovely your Instagram posts look. I hate feeling this way, heavy and bloated and tired, no energy or enthusiasm, no shine in my eyes. While I will never be that skinny girl in the photos again, it’s time to change, both inside and out. I need to lose around 4 stone – 4! – to get down to a healthy weight. I want to wake up in the morning feeling energised rather than exhausted. Above all, I’d like to be able to look into the mirror and smile at myself again. The mission; building myself up inside, while slimming down the outside.

Progress is slow and it’s hard not to rely on sugar as an emotional crutch, particularly when Lily is is giving me a hard time – and generally Lily is always giving me a hard time. A couple of times previously I’ve tried to start losing the weight, only for life to crash and burn around me; out came the chocolate again. This time I’ve lost maybe two pounds, but the scales seem to already be stuck, not moving any further down. But I have to go gently, have to trust that this will work, that I’m capable of succeeding. After years of hauling myself through a marriage devoid of affection, after living with a husband who never reached for me, after enduring the emotional and psychological torment of the past few years, I’m not willing to put myself through more. No more abuse, no beating myself up, no blame, no shame. I reached for food rather than the bottle during a time of unbearable stress, even while knowing there would ultimately be a price to pay. But now it’s time. It has to be. My journey back to wellbeing has to come from self-kindness rather than a form of self-hatred. To make healthier choices out of love for myself, wanting to heal my body, rather than punishing myself or feeling deprived. And to do it while loving myself – or learning to love myself – rather than hiding from my own reflection.