Tag Archives: Self-care

Love after love [and birth]

 

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott, Love After Love

 

It’s that last line I think about at 11pm. However hard I try, it’s never earlier than that. I load up her night’s bottles onto a tray, take off my day’s sick-spattered clothes and sit down in front of the mirror. I find the skincare pots and tubes I’ve been using since Imogen arrived, and line them up carefully in front of me. Cleanser. Toner pads. Hydrating serum. Moisturiser. You’re supposed to cleanse twice and I only do that sometimes, in the mornings, when it’s been a rough night. Even so, this routine is about seven light years away from Take Off Makeup Most Nights; Use Cream When Feeling Fancy, which has been my go-to for oh, the past fifteen years.

I sit, I exhale, I rub fresh-smelling things into my exhausted face, and I think: sit. Feast on your life.

It is entirely possible that when you have a small baby – say, less than six months old – that you will feel close to madness at times. Your other children, if you have them, still need feeding and clothing and relationshipping; your spouse would probably like a conversation every now and again; your baby thinks any moment not being held is a moment wasted. And partly you crave those connections, and partly you want very much to run away to sea, where you might have to climb rigging but at least it will be quiet.

I have felt it, tickling away at the edges of my consciousness: the growing suspicion that a padded room would be a nice place to spend a long weekend, provided they gave you a book.

I have to remind myself all the time, so I’m reminding you too: this. is. totally. normal.

Since the padded room isn’t a serious option, I’ve tried hard to be exaggeratedly gentle with myself over the past few weeks. There are things that fill me up, and I’ve tried to do them whenever I can. You will find me opening the fridge and cupboards on food shopping day, because looking at our shelves crammed with fresh food – that I will use to feed them, that will do them good – makes me feel competent and satisfied.

At lunchtime I set the table for one, fussily, folding a single napkin under my knife and fork.

I write tick lists on my phone every morning, and include things like ‘Shower’ and ‘Dry hair’ so I have lots of easy wins.

I’m making huge efforts to exercise. I buy only my favourite ice cream. I downloaded a meditation app. I spent a little money on clothes that fit better.

I signed up for a creative writing course I didn’t have time for, and insisted on making the time. I write at the desk once a week, with the door closed, gently turning away all comers, and Tim brings my dinner on a tray. It feels odd, and good. I think maybe I haven’t taken myself seriously for a while, but I’d like to, now.

Give back your heart to itself. Sit. Feast on your life. 

Save the rigging for another day.

Seven little things that have made my life better in 2016

 

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I’ve been spending my nights mostly not asleep this week. I’ve had a couple of imagine-all-the-horrible-ways-you-could-lose-your-children sessions (MOTHERHOOD, THE BEST) and then last night, somewhat more prosaically, I spent hours seized up with fear about not having put the bin out.

I dunno what’s causing it. It’s new to me. Brains are great, sometimes.

Anyway, today – having woken up too early, too tired, too cross over nothing – I have been practising self-care. I went for a run this morning, though I hate it as much as I ever did, because even I know that endorphins are a thing. Then a hot shower. Then clothes as close to pyjamas as I could wangle. Then I put on makeup carefully and with both hands while T watched Cars. Then Heinz tomato soup and a buttered crumpet. Then I took the damn nap.

This evening I feel a little more like myself, thanks to all those little things. So in that spirit, I thought of seven other little things that have been making my life better so far this year, and wrote them down. None of them are putting the bin out on time, though I managed that too, eventually.

 

1. A laundry basket with two compartments, no, seriously:

We saw this little beauty in TK Maxx on a day in which we were decidedly not in the market for items larger than our youngest child – we’d come on the train; we were about to head off for a cheeky Nando’s – but we couldn’t say no to this. A laundry bin with two compartments is essentially self-sorting, and you don’t even need a robot. Do you know how much time I save not tossing urine-sodden underpants and ancient sweaty lycra into white and dark piles? I could eat a bacon sandwich in that time. And I have.

***

2. Not weighing myself anymore:

At certain times in my life this pestilential thing has been necessary – when I had weight to lose, for example, and needed to track it. Other than that, though: why. Ever. Why. I have spent so many years tailoring my feelings to that unfeeling box on the ground. Weight fluctuates daily for many reasons: how much water you’ve drunk; what kind of exercise you do; the details of your loo expeditions; if your hormones are up, down or have run off to sea. Your body changes as you do, because you are mysterious and expansive and full of hidden depths. If you’re making effort to treat it well, why bother sticking it on a scale like a slab of meat? I have decided to end the tyranny of the weight box, and I LOVE it.

***

3. Housework + audiobooks:

Imagine being in the bottom half of a giant egg-timer, like Jasmine at the end of Aladdin, only instead of sand tumbling ceaselessly onto your head, it’s toys. And dirty plates. And biscuit crumbs. That’s basically what it’s like keeping house with small children. Now imagine if you did all your washing up with Stephen Fry sat on the counter, talking to you about Harry Potter. Much better, eh? I never do any housework without an audiobook. The HP cycle is my old reliable, though it’s a bit disconcerting when I go straight from the end of Book 7 to the beginning of Book 1, and shriek HARRY YOU ARE MARKED FOR SLAUGHTER STOP WORRYING ABOUT HOMEWORK in the middle of the laundry. I have a couple of my favourite novels on audio too; and the BBC Radio app, especially the drama section, especially during Agatha Christie season (!!!), is a cave of wonders.

***

4. A proper weekly planner app:

Do you know how long I have been searching for a week-to-view planner app? My whole life. I just want to know whether to schedule something for Monday or Thursday without having to flick through seven screens. It’s not like it’s the holy grail. Finally, this month I found one. It’s called Weekly Planner, helpfully, so perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Guys. My productivity has been OFF THE CHARTS. I also use a thumbs up emoji to tick stuff off, so it’s like a Roman Emperor decided to let me live because of my unstoppable efficiency, ten times a day.

***

5. A store-cupboard, thirty-minute crumble recipe:

Sometimes you need crumble and custard very much indeed, but you don’t have crumble topping, or enough apples, or the time and leisure to take the skin off your knuckles coring them. This is a problem I have frequently, and never more so than in January. Recently I hit on the idea of tinned fruit crumble, because it takes no time at all to cook and you can keep in the ingredients for emergencies. You can have it on the table half an hour after your initial hankering if you have a food mixer, I kid ye not. Here you go:

  • put one tin each of peaches, pears and mangoes into a dish
  • whizz up 150g flour, 50g sugar and 100g cold butter in a food mixer/processor (or your hands are fine; it just takes a bit longer)
  • put crumble mixture over fruit in dish
  • bake for 20 mins in a hot oven (220 ish)

I hope you always use twice as much custard as crumble, because this is the route to happiness.

***

6. The 10pm alarm clock:

Let me say for the sake of honesty that I am awful at this one, but when I do it I feel so much better. I am a terrible, terrible fiddler in the evenings, and can spend literally hours soaking in the experience of looking at Twitter without being jumped on. But late nights make me feel gross in the morning, and not taking the time to wind down properly also takes its toll. So I have a recurring 10pm alarm, with the idea that when it goes off, I stop whatever I’m doing and go upstairs. I can have my own bedtime routine for half an hour, and then go to sleep at a decent time, properly switched off. It’s a blooming miracle.

***

7. Trying to get better at things:

You know what always makes me feel more satisfied, more hopeful? No, not Netflix (YES NETFLIX). Making progress. Some kind of progress, in something. Much of the labour I perform is manual, repetitive, quickly undone, and though I know it’s not, it can feel pointless and stagnating. I need to feel like I’m making progress. Last year I tried hard to read more and to let the boys see me reading – both for my own enjoyment/sanity, and so I could show them that reading is a thing I do for pleasure. This year I want to carry on with that, and I’ve started baking new things more regularly, and trying to practice the piano a little more. By which I mean, a little more than the none I was doing before. It’s totally doable.

***

Photo 20-01-2016, 9 22 59 am (800x600)

What are your little sanity-savers so far this year?

 

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