This year, after years and years of pretty much flogging myself and wearing my poor body into the ground – from a heady and unhealthy combination of drive and martyrdom – I made a promise to myself. No more expecting more out than I put in. No more putting everything first before my own needs. No more perceiving self-care as selfish where I’m concerned but wholly necessary and important for everyone else. No ‘too busy’ or ‘no time’. No more ‘later’. No more ‘when the boys need me a little less’. No more of that.
No more exhaustion. No more overachievement at the expense of my wellbeing. No more holding on to a lingering sinus infection for weeks on end because I can’t quite find a moment to work out how to get well. No more avoidance and no more excuses.
I will take care of you, I told myself.
If you’ve been reading along for a while you’ll know my word for the year was a complete reflection of that. Tend. I will tend to all of your needs, dear Self of mine, not just when I’ve tended to everybody else’s first and there’s a teeny bit of time left to look briefly at my own and not just the ones that are shouting the loudest.
It’s not any easy shift to make, particularly as a mother, when somebody always needs something and there always seems to be something on fire. I’ve been making headway – changing habits and breaking cycles – but it’s so easy when life gets busy to fall back into old ways. I thought an update now and then might help me keep track.
I wrote before about how early nights are rocking my world. Seriously so good for me. And yet, I’ve fallen off the sleep wagon a few times and had to scramble back up before it went without me. Then there’s nutrition (mostly good and going well, but tiredness kills it every time), exercise (non-existent still apart from chasing the boys and a tiny bit of yoga), rest (hmm?) and wellness. All tangled up together and all a work in progress.
Then there are the things than run deeper. The things you do to fill up your soul, to top up your vitality, the ways you channel your necessary creativity, how you feel connected to what feeds you, how you stay grounded. The things that seem to make the most difference, yet it’s not always easy to work out how to reach for them.
January was a good month to work on figuring this out. Far from being the usual fairly simple month with not too much going on, as January usually is, my husband was away a lot and I had (still have) far more on my plate than I usually would. The easy option would have been to park the whole ‘tending’ idea, but not wanting to break my promise so soon, it made me focus more. Through the busyiness, I paid attention.
We sometimes expect the answers to be earth-moving. They rarely are. No one thing is going to bring along a bucket full of extra time and energy. No one thing is enough soul-food to sustain us. What I’m finding is, it’s the little things that go a long way.
Simple things filling me up this month are:
- Reading books again – yes, actual books! Ones that go deep but make me feel light and set off all kinds of magic in my head. I’ve ploughed through The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (for the second time because last year’s tired brain forgot the lot!), Bach Flower Remedies for Children and now I’m halfway through If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. I tried fiction but I just couldn’t get into anything. Too much I’m curious about and want to learn at the moment and that learning fills me up.
- Listening to audio books while I’m cooking or doing chores – yep, if I can’t read, somebody else can read to me! Particularly good for when I have jobs left over from the day to do in the evening; washing up or folding laundry are way more interesting with an audio book on the go. At the moment, having loved Sue Monk Kidd’s writing, I’m listening to a book she wrote with her daughter called Travelling with Pomegranates. Also, podcasts – though I only have a few favourites at the moment. I’d love some suggestions.
- Carving out time to get on top of my coursework – not an obvious one, but when something sits there not being attended to, as this has for months, it’s such an energy drain. After an inner tussle because I hate to miss weekend family time, I’m taking Saturday mornings to bash this out and it’s helped with residual stress levels massively.
- Taking steps forward on my journey back to work – oh how good it is to rediscover parts of yourself you’d sort of forgotten. Lots to say about this so I’ll save the detail for another time, when I’ve managed to wrap my words around it. But purpose is good for the soul. Particularly when it feels like work that’s coming from the heart.
- Adventuring at every opportunity – the easiest way to fill myself back up. My failsafe. I fall back on this time and again. Give me a wide open space somewhere in nature and the day, along with my energy levels, is transformed. Snowdrop hunts and coastal expeditions have been top of the list.
- Saying yes to things that take me out of the house, out of my comfort zone and out of my Self. There were a few things that came along this month that it might have been easier to say no to, but the yes was far more enriching and eye opening. Always grateful for that reminder.
- Simplifying as I go – Since we can’t make more time I’m all about questioning how I’m spending it. Simplifying meals, super-nourishing batch-cooking, decluttering, remembering our rhythms, giving the boys some small jobs to do now they’re more able. It’s all helping me claw back a few hours here and there for other things.
- Gathering with women – the simplest and most nourishing of soul-food. My friend began a women’s circle a year or so ago and I now wonder how I ever lived without it. Deep and true feminine support is so very uplifting and empowering – we need a whole lot more of it in our lives and I now understand that it’s easier to find than we think it is. I’ve a post brewing about this that I’ll share very soon.
The little and often approach seems to make a lot of sense when it comes to holidays as well. When Paul’s work is busy, the time and energy he gives to it is off the scale. We both end up depleted and sometimes, unhelpfully, cross with each other. It’s the way of this particular flavour of self-employment and since it won’t change all that much, we’re working on changing our ways. Small, regular, inexpensive short breaks to recharge are supportive of our lifestyle in ways that one big annual family holiday just isn’t. So rounding off a month of crazy, we grabbed the few days he had clear in the diary during half term and headed to Wales.
We couldn’t have chosen better. This time our half term fell on a different week to some of the country, so we arrived at Fforest’s Manorafon site to find we had much of that and the surrounding area all to ourselves. Blissful to us, in our then tired states. We explored beautiful wild bays with dunes, caves and streams, sharing them with just the occasional dog-walker. Went on long rambles, had lazy long pub lunches and nightly soup and stories around the camp fire, under the stars. Adventured-out boys ready for bed, then evening couple-time, sometimes with our books, no wifi and an owl hooting as we drifted off to sleep. Oh my, it was exactly what we needed.
A few of my favourite pics…
Arriving home feeling refreshed and restored to myself, I got taken down instantly by a tummy bug. Yes, I really did. The very day we got home. Such is life sometimes! Almost as a reminder of ‘don’t imagine you’ll ever have this fully sorted’. Ok, yep, I get it, re-fill the tank but it’ll always empty again. It’s not a one time event. More a daily choice. And as I keep on choosing it, so the self-care dance continues…