Self-care for beginners

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

And so the end of the summer drags on. It’s been a funny couple of weeks here. After the meltdown and sickness, things have been much better. It’s hit home a bit more every day: doing the right things makes a hell of a difference. Getting some fresh air is  number one on that list every time.

So whilst focusing on finishing the dissertation still has to be a priority, I’ve been making time to take an extra walk here or there, sleep an extra half hour if I can, try a new fitness class. Take some time away from the pressure.

It wasn’t easy, but once I could be convinced that the rest of the things I was hanging onto out of fear were only making things worse (but if I don’t keep working part-time I can’t get a job and if I can’t do that I’ll have to move home and live off my parents and I’ll get dumped and hate myself…etc), I’ve realised that a little focus and minimalism is no bad thing. In fact, I feel better than I have in a long time.

Another fear I’ve had for a while, other than fierce paranoia about becoming another graduate on the dole, is that when I finish up my counselling, I will be left adrift with no idea how to cope. Well, today I had my last session. For reasons out of my control I had to switch who I was seeing three sessions before the end of the course, but it’s proved very useful to have a different perspective. Taking a different tack from looking into why I do what I do, we focused on strategies to combat some of the things I was worrying about and worked out some things I could start incorporating into my day that would help start to prioritise self-care. So, here are a few beginning points for getting started.

1. Create Positivity Triggers. 

First I identified some of the things that I wanted to cultivate in my life, such as confidence, focus and calm. For each feeling, I then named a sound, smell, taste, colour and feel for each emotion. So, for example, my confident colour was brick-red, the fabric was silk (because I have a brick-red silk blouse that makes me feel a million dollars), the sound was LCD SoundSystem (because dancing is cool, yes?), the taste was black coffee, and the smell was my favourite L’Occitaine green tea perfume. The associations were made as naturally as possible and  as a result I found that most of these elements already exist in my life. Making conscious links just makes it easier to draw out the associated feelings.

So, once you’ve identified sets for each target emotion and written them down, you can purposefully draw on them more in your daily life. Now when I wear the red blouse I get an extra boost of confidence and my perfume reminds me throughout the day that I’m doing well and so on and so forth. Likewise, my calm list had the colour of my favourite hoodie and bedsheets and the smell of candles on it. So, when I’m winding down for the night, I make a habit of getting into my comfy clothes, dimming the lights and enjoying the smell of candles in the room, which triggers the feeling of calm in my mind both consciously and unconsciously. This process also makes it easier for me to know what to reach for when I want to conjour up any of these feeling specifically.

2. Create Lists.

This habit is an ideal way of turning my natural list-making obsession into a reminder of positivity. Basically, you start three kinds of list. One list is for things I have achieved, one is for things that I am, and I then keep a shorter, daily list of gratitude.

For the first list, note all the things that you’ve achieved in your life, no matter how small you think they are. In the second, list all the good qualities about yourself. Keep both somewhere visible, or at least somewhere you will check frequently, so that you are both reminded of these things and prompted to keep adding to them as you go. For the third list, think of three things which you are grateful for at the end of each day. Some days I can exceed three easily, some days I have to be creative and just be grateful that I painted my nails a pretty colour. Either way, it’s a great way to focus in on the ‘small’ joys in your life an remind you that you don’t have to write a book every day to be a valid person. In fact, those small moments of joy and gratitude are just as valuable as anything else you accomplish. Sometimes a cup of coffee at your favourite place, or a date with a friend can really make all the difference.

I found this technique the most difficult to start, simply because it goes directly against the ways in which I’ve taught myself to think of myself, but it’s easily one of the most instant ways to gain some perspective about all the good around you and in you, once you get the hang of it.

3. Think About Your Environment.

The third technique is similar to the first in a lot of ways, and is particularly helpful for anyone who, like me, has a lot of flexibility in their day. In the long, lonely tunnel which is dissertation-writing, I often spend the whole day alone at home, trying to slog it out with the writing. Now, it depends on what kind of space set-up you have, but I recently moved to a slightly larger house, which really helps this.

To help focus my day, spaces are separated into specific environments. The dining room is set aside for work so I try to keep my notes and laptop in there. The living room is set aside for my relaxation or social time and my bedroom is just that:  the space, just for me, where I go to bed and shut off. This will obviously be different for you, your space and your needs, but the act of separating spaces and activities really helps me focus. I would say that if you can’t create three spaces, at least make sure you’re not using your laptop or working in your bedroom, no matter how much or little you work, it makes it very hard to switch off.

As a sidenote, I’ve long been in the habit of physically switching off when I go to bed. Power everything down, unplug everything except your alarm clock, switch off your phone and just shut it down. A little tidy up of any clutter can’t hurt either, but perhaps that’s just me being a bit OCD…

4. Small increments.

The final point works for everything you’re trying to focus on, but particularly relaxation, if that’s a real challenge. Given half a chance, I have tended not to build any relaxation time into my day. Genuinely. Not even five minutes. The guilt of not doing something productive was overwhelming. Planning to spend just 15 minutes doing something relaxing in my designated relaxation space is a manageable goal (yet still the one I’m finding hardest to stick to). Plan it. Schedule it in. Don’t move it for anything. 15 minutes ‘off’ is not going to kill you. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll find it easier to take on half hour or longer periods of down time.

So, having said that it’s all still a work in progress. These are things I’m still trying to implement. But as things start to settle and slot into place, I can start to envision the kind of life I want to lead. There’s still a lot to work out but it’s more exciting than scary. And I really meant it when I said that I wanted to use this space to help things glow a bit more and I already have lots of ideas. Stay tuned.


Fight Face

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dear Thing With No Name,

You are fighting back because I am fighting you. That’s okay.

You can throw all the scary shit you like at me. That’s okay.

I will win.

Not Yours,

– L



August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

(As a preface, this story starts with a boy. It’s not really about the boy but it starts with one, as many stories do, whether we want them to or not. This boy isn’t the star of the story. A supernova, perhaps: dead light, travelling back in time to where I am now. But still, essentially, a vision of the past.)

– – –

So. There once was a boy. As strangers, we climbed a hill in a town a long way from here, but also overlooking the sea. We changed the lenses on his camera, adjusted the shutter speeds and attempted to control our visions of the smoky, grey sea below. We play-acted escape. Later, when we knew each other better and liked each other less, I told him that that day had shifted the ground beneath my feet. Now, I recognise that this was as much to do with my running as fast as I could from where I was stood as it was to do with his jolted appearance in my life. But then, I wanted him to know that this morning on the side of a cliff stood quite clearly in my mind as a defining day.

When he responded that he didn’t think the ground beneath his feet could be shaken like that any more, at the age of 21, it angered me deeply. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling for a person who cannot feel. But with this sadness also came the knowledge that I was deeply lucky to be able to let the world shake around me. In the years before and since that day I have, periodically, felt bitter about these tremors. The earthquakes that I can’t control and the sensitivity I feel to these shifts. Most people, I think, can accept the ripple of a seismic shift through their life. Some deal better with the aftershocks better than others, but most can at least let the change wash over them. (There I go mixing my metaphors again. Is this a supernova or an earthquake?) However, the chosen ability to hold tight with these tremors, and not budge and inch, is a sad thing indeed.

If there is a trick to weathering these storms he perhaps gave me the best advice: don’t forget in the dark what you learnt in the light.

If you can be shaken, it is true, that you can be shaken for better and for worse, but when it happens in the light, everything can be split open. Healed with vitamin D. The ability to be shaken open like that must be something I am grateful for, even in the dark, when I can’t see why it it’s happening, or which star has exploded.

On photocopying my hands

August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

August is ending. Being at my parents’ house for the first time in months, I walked on the lawn barefoot and felt the warmth of the sun for the first time I can remember this summer. Whenever I’m back in this house, I am compelled to sift through the detritus in my room. Of course, there are echoes of my past lives written all over this space. The notebooks I have managed to keep over the last couple of years remain as reminders of where the six years since I first left home have taken me. Much of what existed before that has long been destroyed. Photos and all. Overall, these notebooks show my getting lost, both willingly and unknowingly.

The echoes that reach out through the taped photos, postcards, rail tickets and scribblings show a split person. Someone who wants to remember it all, but not be reminded of it. I wanted to learn how to create a solid, timeless vision of it all. To see myself as a statue, a faded photograph. Wistful and sepia-tinged. It’s the reason I have avoided writing for so long. What you write in any given moment is true. There’s something more visceral and flesh and blood about writing. Which is both the appeal and the reason why retrospection calls at me to destroy everything of the past.

There are inscriptions and notes I wish to destroy. But I don’t want the reason for my destruction to be that I can’t stand that I was honest and vulnerable. I am proud of that. What makes me uncomfortable more is seeing past desperation, weaknesses that settled for the wrong things. Seeing myself reach out of the page wanting. (And on one occasion, my hands, photocopied. One for each side of the sheet of paper, grasping for a palm to mirror them.) The writing I want to keep are the notes to myself, the quotations, recordings of Good Days, art, inspirations. Adventure. Always back to adventure. Perhaps because I’m sure I’ve forgotten how to have one.

And yet, this is the thing about writing. It’s always there to haunt you, whether it’s yours or whether it’s just addressed to you. Whether it’s a record or recording a lack.

What I want to remember from all these notes is that I was someone who reached out. Who put it down in words, whatever it may be, and wasn’t afraid of retrospect. That I am that person. That I am becoming that person. That I am writing that person.

It’s always easier to write yourself out of the lows

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

A couple of good days, followed by a terrible one. (How many times have I typed that now?)

Two nights ago, I worked a very long day after a weekend of illness and found the energy to grease up my bike chain and cycle. Everything was instantly better. I slept until after seven am two days in a row. I knitted, ready my book and cut myself some slack. With these good movements comes so much resistance.

Nausea ran through me at lunchtime today. All out of energy again. You mustn’t think it’s because I’m depriving myself, I’m just worn out. A colleague asked me if I had nervous exhaustion and I felt justified in falling off the wagon.

Drifting in an out of sleep on the train this afternoon, I caught my mind falling into the same loops. Judging, chastising, chattering endlessly, endlessly. It’s a strange sensation to at once know that something isn’t true and believe wholeheartedly that it’s all you deserve.

For the first time in a long time I thought seriously about giving in wholly and cultivating illness.

It’s taking all my energy to fight that feeling at the moment and yet I can still feel that it’s wrong. It’s not what I want or need. And yet, I wish to be sucked down into it and consumed.

So, it’s easier to write yourself out of the lows. I want this all on paper (in type, e-ink) because these truths are not true, and there is so much more I am doing to cling dearly and desperately to the side of this ship. I will not sink. Not with Margaret Atwood novels still in my hands.

Getting to the bottom of it

August 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

I knew it was coming. An increasingly frustrating week, unreasonable demands made of myself, a weekend on the move and then a wave of viral sickness. Nausea and emptiness is not a pleasant combination, I can tell you.

Two days of lying and sleeping and my stomach cramping around not a lot, I realised this was the third time I’ve been this sick since the start of the year that I can think of off the top of my head. My knitting sits abandoned where I left it. Same goes for the Vegan cookery books I bought in excitement. I couldn’t be bothered to take my big camera to London for the weekend. I haven’t been abroad since 2009, or on holiday for over a year.

I don’t believe in ‘click’ moments for a second. But I had a slow realisation over the weekend. I am doing this. I am grinding myself into the ground for reasons I am not quite sure of, other than not really knowing otherwise. All this might be the only thing I know but it’s not doing anything for me. I am not having fun.

So. Seriously. Hit the bottom and escape. (And I was there, that was the kind of thing I used to do when I was a teenager: run off to watch my heroes draw me to tears in then unknown cities with then unknown friends) Whatever I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Nothing is fluorescent yet. But it will be. It’s time for more of everything. Including whatever this is.

After a night of thrashing nightmares, I awoke early and drank my way to the bottom of a green smoothie, my stomach still too sore for the usual cup of black coffee. A good way to start letting go of all those old handles I cling to so hard.

Love v. 2

August 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Only writing will make you a writer.


Only loving will keep you loved.

Sometimes it all seems so certain that I could sign on the dotted line today. Yes. This is it, right now, here forever.

Then I start to doubt and it really is a struggle to convince myself that loving the uncertainties is not only possible but desirable. I can’t even guarantee how I will stay with this. So there’s certainly no guarantees about anyone else. The thought of loving someone so ferociously, like I’m not afraid of being hurt or let down by them, whether it be myself or another, seems almost too large a task at times.

But, as they say: love, love is a verb. 

Love is not one thing, that consist of rainbows and puppies from the moment you take the decision to be in love until the day you die. It is doing, it is work. Whoever you apply it to (and right now, the work of loving another and loving yourself seem intertwined and of inextricable importance to me), it is constant.

More and more, I realise it’s the showing up that makes anything happen. Just decided to do this one thing now. Be kind now. Be disciplined now. Work had now. Rest now. Just now.

Suddenly, you write. Often. It becomes something you do.

Suddenly, you love. Often. It doesn’t mean you don’t doubt, but it means all the more because you do.

Where Am I?

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