Beware. This is a ‘journey’ post.
Twenty-six days ago I was sitting in my psychologist’s office (not something I would have done, or admitted to a couple of years ago, but now I wonder how people survive without brain dumping on someone who can help you sort out all the brain mess). We were talking self care and how it would be good for me to try to incorporate it into my every day (instead of an extraordinary occasion) with the view to chat about it when we caught up again in 28 days. She was concerned that I had stopped writing, that I had given up on the idea of my words making any sense, and that I wouldn’t allowed myself to look at my manuscript I had saved all the way back in November last month.
So, being a listy kind of person I knew it would start with a list.
Day 1: I write a list of 28 things (as I mentioned in my last post) I could do for self care with the idea that I just pick one each day. I put in a cheat one, read, in there in case it is all too hard (I read every day and have for as far back as I can remember. I don’t know if I could go to sleep without at least reading one sentence over and over.). Then I pull out my writers journal and write three pages of crap (which is part of The Artist’s Way mindset – just write three pages every day) in the hope that I might remind myself that I’m a writer. The last entry prior to that was from over two months ago and involved a scratchy pen drawing.
Day 2: An awkward moment trying to think of what to do that would encompass self care. I ended up settling for going shopping in a tiny moment between things but can’t find anything I need or want. It’s an awkward space for me that I need to work at. I write my three pages of dubious standard words. Mostly whinging to myself.
Day 3: Make a real attempt at self care today as it’s also the anniversary of my mum dying. But all I end up doing is writing five lines in my journal as well as my three pages (which is five more lines than I had written for a number of months):
A year already
The day passed without incident
No new life
Day 4: I work a bit harder at this self care thing as I’m very aware of how crap I’m feeling. I’ve grieved too much over the last year and a half with Mum and then my son getting so ill and I am suffering from carer’s fatigue (if there is such a thing). So I bite the bullet and do two things! Yes two. I join the gym and have a bath. A nice long warm fragrant bath. I also write in my journal and do my three pages of writing whatever which turns into some distorted Cinderella story.
Day 5: I cheat. I move the kids bedrooms around (which involves moving almost every piece of furniture in the house) and make a note that rearranging the furniture is self care. In reality I can barely move at the end of the day and we have ended up with the three boys having a room each and we have lost a lounge room. As I lie in bed shattered at the end of the day and scrawl out my three pages I realise that every space I use is now full of furniture and belongings. I’m suffocating.
Day 6: Two things have happened in only six days. I now write three pages every day. I also write in my journal every day again. A tiny part of me has returned. I go out for lunch with a friend. It feels wonderful.
Day 7: It feels tough to find time to “do” a self care item. It’s my work day which consists of: get people organised for school, take child to school, go to work, work from the start to the end eating lunch at my desk, zip home via picking up child from school, prepare afternoon tea, clean up, prepare dinner, collapse. At the crucial moment of realising/giving in to letting the self care for the day go, a friend and neighbour texts me to see if I can go for a walk. Dinner’s in the oven. I have 20 minutes. I go, and tick my list.
Week 2: (I’m not going to torture you with a day by day story) By week two I’m getting into the groove of it. I start at the gym. I make a commitment that I’ll go three times a week and I quieten that anxious voice inside me that tells me I can’t. I visit the osteo for my shoulders that are too tight. I take a nice long shower. I make time to have a coffee with a friend, and to go for a walk with another. Most importantly I write. Everyday. Still just words that don’t feel creative, but I remind myself that it doesn’t matter. Just write.
Week 3: I’m on a roll now. Self care is starting to feel a little more normal. I head out to the gym Monday, Wednesday, Friday as soon as everyone has headed off to school. My mental health improves with me no longer needing to drive my son to and from school. It is a major milestone in his return to health as well as mine. It also feels like I’m jumping off a cliff knowing his health can go downhill again any time.
I go to an event. It’s an experimental non-fiction workshop and I’m petrified. It feels like a lifetime ago that I did this and I completely doubt my abilities as a writer (I’m not even saying that I am a writer out loud there). Everyone looks like clever creative folk. I sit in the back corner and hope that I don’t have to speak. I avoid it for most of the day, until we get to the workshopping. We take turns, I hang back. Then with a shake in my voice I share. Right then I am reminded of why I need to be in this environment; it’s supportive and encouraging. They loved it. I can’t believe it. I’m embraced by my community.
I go on a daytime date with my husband! Neither of us can even remember when we last did that. I put the lippy on and meet him for lunch, then leave him to go back to work and I go shopping. I feel like I’ve been let loose. I arrive home smiling, bags hanging off my hands and ready to tackle afternoon tea. I make time to get a haircut and find a piano teacher. I stretch my brain until it nearly bursts by learning jazz (I’m classically trained and need sheet music to play) on the piano (I’m a flautist and was sacked by my piano teacher at age seven as I was “too uncoordinated to play with two hands”). I hope that this will help to free up my writing, my creativity. I create. I make music of my own kind.
I write everyday.
Week 4: My new routine works. I feel better. I feel less negative about my words, my ability to create. I’m getting better at carving out time for me instead of leaving me to the end, when there is nothing left. I write a blog post and people read it.
I do sometimes feel like I’m cheating. The same old self care thing has becoming my new routine. Today started with the gym, because that’s just what I do now on Mondays. The other things that I do for my self care are also things that really just feel normal now, and it’s making me think that I have achieved what I set out to do: incorporate self care into my daily life and in doing so there have been some other wonderful benefits.
The best things that have come out of this experiment are the surprises: my back and shoulders are feeling a little more normal rather than blocks of concrete ready to shatter; I’ve recovered a sense of my own self again, which is something different to mum-me, wife-me, worker-me and carer-me; I’m prioritising my friendships, even if it means a possible substandard meal, or whatever else at home; I’m learning that looking after me isn’t a luxury, or decadence, but a necessity; I’m playing music, creating, challenging my cognitive flexibility; and, most importantly I’m writing everyday.
I still haven’t looked at my manuscript, but that’s okay. I know I’ll get there one day. In the meantime, it’s resting.