Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space – Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
When I’m not well, I really struggle with self care. The difficulty is that it becomes yet another thing on my should list. I should take time out for myself. I should eat well. I should drink water instead of wine. I should eat food that isn’t beige. I should have a relaxing bath with candles (I hate baths! – wallowing in your own filth and needing to have a shower afterwards to wash your hair – but I digress). I should see friends. I should have sex with my husband. I should meditate, do yoga, practice mindfulness. Today isn’t a great day so frankly it’s a miracle that I’ve picked up my laptop. Netflix is still on and I can’t stop thinking about the crackers and cheese in the fridge but I’m trying.
Two issues with shoulds… I’m a slightly contrary sort of a person and I often reject automatically anything that I am told I should do. Anyone else every refused to read a popular book just because everyone else is, then read it months later and loved it?! The other problem is when I don’t manage to do the things on my should list it feels like a failure. Which then makes me even less likely to be nice to myself.
During one low episode, I wrote a ridiculous ideal day for myself which I aspired to. Which included waking early and doing some yoga and meditation; mindfully sitting and eating a wholesome breakfast; going out to work in a challenging yet enjoyable and fulfilling job; coming home and cooking and eating a nourishing meal with my family; reading several books to my lovely, freshly washed children before coming downstairs to tidy up, clean the kitchen and spend some time doing something creative before having a lovely relaxing bedtime routine and 8 hours sleep. Hmmmm. I have a husband, a two and four year old, a cat and a crazy springer spaniel, so how likely is any of this? I know that many of these things would be nourishing and would help me to stay level and would be good for my mental health but seriously who has the time. (I will discuss perfectionism, all or nothing thinking and having way too high expectations for myself another time!)
A challenge for me is that I know what will make me feel better but I often struggle with the motivation to do it. Then I beat myself up and feel like a failure/lazy/useless human being. Then I try to practice self compassion and be kind to myself saying there is always another day. Then the next day comes along and I still don’t do the things I should but I jump straight to the kindness bit. Which is progress of a sort but I still don’t do the things that would genuinely lift my mood.
So thinking about that lovely life described above…how much of it do I manage? When I am well I do OK. I love to cook and enjoy making good meals for us. I always read before sleep and tend to sleep quite well, so tick for bedtime routine. I have recently started painting and now here I am writing so I am managing to find a little bit of time to be creative. I’m less good at the cleaning and tidying even though I feel so much better when things are in order. Yoga and meditation remain aspirational, there always seems to be something else that feels more important to do. I joined a gym a few months ago but I haven’t been for a little while. Things got a bit much and it didn’t feel manageable. But I do plan to go back. And more importantly I’m not beating myself up about it. Sometimes the biggest thing I can do to care for myself is to talk to myself like I would someone else. And be nice. When I’m not well I struggle with this most of all.
So far I’ve been describing things that are good for me and help me to be well. One thing that I need but struggle to have, is time on my own. Time to just think and process and recharge. Life is so busy with work, husband, children, pets, running a home (I hate that phrase but what else to call it?!), family and friends, that carving out a little bit of alone time is really difficult. Especially as I tend to need it when I need it, scheduling is not that helpful. Often time alone ends up being hijacked by errands or jobs. Being by yourself in Tesco is not quite what I mean by alone time. I would quite like to go running but that definitely comes under should territory.
Perhaps I need to switch up those shoulds into coulds. I could go for a run. I could paint. I could sit upstairs and read for a bit while the kids are watching tv. I could do some cooking for fun rather than out of necessity. I could go for a walk. I could sit in the garden. I could go for a swim. Or I could drink tea and watch netflix. Which brings me back to today. I feel a bit crap so I am allowed to watch tv and just look at the blue sky rather than be outside. And maybe later I could go for a walk, or a run, or to a cafe for a nice coffee. Today is my day and having now written this it feels full of possibilities. But first tea.