Reuniting is the best Self-Care

Real life is returning

I am a little late updating the blog this week because real life is on the return. For now, restrictions have lifted a second time and we have been allowed to travel to see family outside and go back to shops. I have been busier than I have been for a while and had to work hard to get the balance right as I am still managing fatigue.

I think it is interesting to reflect on the very first things I wanted to do now that life can return somewhat. As well as getting my hair cut for the first time for seven months, I did wander into town. It was so busy and I had little desire to shop (a cardigan may have slipped into my bag, I confess.) But I did feel the need to see people I know so I visited my old work place to catch up with friends who work there. Reconnecting, even if it is just the casual trips to cafes or seeing a familiar faces, felt like such a tonic.

I recently took a self -care assessment from Therapist Aids. I could identify a few areas where I had a deficit at the moment but by far my lowest score was in the socialising category. There’s a great explanation on the Get Self Help website about how many elements feed into self-care, and interacting with others is part of the picture. It’s surprising but studies show that social contact, even if it’s the everyday pleasantries with people in your community, can improve your life. An article in the Washington Post about the studies show it is “psychologically protective” to have casual daily interactions. And all of this we have been missing a lot of the last year.

Socialising can be simple interactions (but with masks of course) Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Missing people has become a difficult part of the year. And so the most important part of the week were the two separate trips we arranged to see family. On neither occasion could we manage long walks, what with my fatigue and my son struggling to be back in a busy environment, but to be together as soon as we could was so important. Even though with kids around you can barely finish a sentence together, there is a calmness that comes with being around people who “get you”. I have always enjoyed visiting with my closest family members, but there is an added layer of appreciation after we have been forced apart for so long.

I think that given the busy week I would expect to be very tired this weekend but so far I have been alright. I think it reminds us that doing the things that nourishes us, boosts our happiness, really does have an impact even when there is an actual physical problem that causes our tiredness. In amongst I have managed two 45 minute sessions of writing. So not only does self-care allow me to manage my fatigue, it is helping with my creativity too. Despite it all, I really can see the glimmer of normal.

How to give your brain a break

Seeking soothing activities recently, I have found some things are much gentler on the brain than others

I was writing recently about how important audiobooks have been over the last year. It has been really important to give myself permission to ‘count’ these books as reading. It motivates me to have a reading goal but the realistic picture has been I can concentrate much less at the moment. Since getting ill in January, I have had post viral fatigue to manage. And this includes giving my brain a break.

In fact I haven’t had much choice about giving it a break as I often find apart from first thing in the morning, my brain is sluggish. Learning more about pacing to cope with fatigue, I am realising that this early morning burst of reading or writing is most likely impacting my ability to do more the rest of the day. Reading is an activity. Sounds such a simple thing to say but until you realise it has an impact on your cognitive functioning, you may not appreciate lying on your bed reading is doing something!

Another revelation that may be of no surprise to anyone else, you have to relearn how to rest. Again, at times, I have no choice but to rest. Lots of lying down at the moment! But we are so used to being busy, cramming in our friendships through social media, using any spare time to read or listen to podcasts to learn something. Stopping it all and prioritizing what you want to spend your energy on is a real skill.

Find What Soothes You

So, to give my brain a break, I am becoming very aware of what soothes me and also what takes too much brain power. Here are some ideas of my soothing swaps:

  1. Audiobooks: A lot of relistening. I have recently started the complete collection of Jeeves and Wooster read by Stephen Fry, not only do I know the stories, they are light fippery that I can enjoy without worrying too much about concentrating. Gentle humour keeps it light but means I am not bored.
  2. Classical music: there are a lot of soothing playlists readymade on Spotify and Classical Chillout has helped me relax. Sometimes even lyrics are too distracting. Short pieces of classical music often whisk you away somewhere.
  3. Short bursts of reading: where I can manage reading, I try to tead from my “comfort reading” list such as a Maisie Dobbs mystery which though often tender, have also a cosiness about them. It’s the perfect time to revisit old friends.
  4. Beautiful costume drama. I enjoyed the steamy romp of Bridgerton earlier this year, but honestly right now I am more in the mood for the gentler stuff. Rewatching, like relistening and rereading is very soothing because there are no suprises. You can’t beat the BBCs Pride and Prejudice or the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility.
  5. Doodling in a sketch book. I am even finding colouring in detailed patterns in a colouring book too much at times. I have been doing warm up drawing exercises in a sketch book, shading and drawing circles. Circles are actually a zen practice and I can see the appeal as you never truly know until you finish how well you have drawn it.

What I discover as I write a list of what helps me is that I am looking for comfort in familiarity. But also, that my brain is one that still has to be entertained. As I find this balance of what does and doesn’t work for me, I wonder if I will ever find I can just do nothing?

It may be time to revisit the Bored and Brilliant project again and consider Manoush Zomorodi advice that “Boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand.”

Do you ever just do nothing?

Pacing

My body can’t keep pace with life at the moment

I thought I knew tired because of sleep disturbance and anxiety brain etc. But I didn’t know fatigue. It makes me achy, it has me forgetting words and it’s got me lying down every afternoon. I am sharing this because I think life is also what happens to you.

I have tried to explain this before, to friends who were finishing their degrees and worried about what next. That question doesn’t get easier, nor does it always go to plan. I don’t mean we have to be passive, just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round; it means to expect life to throw you curveballs more often than not. My metaphors are so mixed there but I am going to put it down to brain fog and move on. Change is the only constant. And however ambitious you may be, you may have to change your plans.

So weeks on now since my initial infection of covid19 and I am still struggling to manage the fatigue. I had a giddy few days where I felt stronger and I gaily went a-walking across Richmond Park. A gentle walk with lots of stopping to read, meditate and chat on the phone. But still, a long, luxurious walk. And then a meeting. By the end of the same week I was done-in. Come Monday after, I was sleeping most the day. I full-on crashed.

So my body is demanding that I slow down. That I pace myself. This includes how I spend my time. Less writing, only short walks, maybe even fewer hours at work.

I have been listening to podcasts about slow living and gathering ideas here on Pinterest. Because of course I can’t just slow down, I have to do research too. So, I have started to gather all the advice to me. I have to focus on one activity at once. And prioritise where I spend my energy. I also have to be realistic that I won’t get the pace right straight away.

Fatigue is a metaphor for my writing life in some ways; sometimes you do go slower than others but because you have no choice. What is most important is to go at your own pace.

Living in Isolation

This week I got to be alone for once, it wasn’t as fun as I hoped.

It is not without irony that I note I have written many times about wanting time alone. Well be careful what you wish for because this week I have been almost completely alone. Like far too many, I have had covid since last week. I wouldn’t say I am completely out of the woods but I am hoping that I have got away with a very mild case. My family of course have been here too but I am in my room in quarantine and today is the first day I have had the energy to write about what it’s been like.

I haven’t the level of fatigue as yet that many have been reporting, though I am tired because it is hard to sleep when your chest is bad, but a malaise has settled over me and a dullness in my thought. I think my mood might be related to the fact that I have been so careful and cautious this whole time. And it’s happened anyway.

Shock was my first reaction when I got the result. I was lucky in a way that I had a pretty clear cough as many people I know do not develop this symptom and in the UK we can only test for loss of smell or taste, a cough and/or fever despite the fact it often presents with other symptoms. As an asthmatic I am pretty aware of that specific tight sensation in my chest and so I knew I was a little unwell but I honestly couldn’t imagine after all the caution, I would have got it.

Despite feeling quite lousy and worried I might pass it on I have done some things that have really helped in my first week of covid. I wanted to share my list in hope they might help others.

Preparing food. I have some jars of overnight oats in my fridge which is really good to get slow-release energy and filling too. Unlike the rest of lockdown, I have not been able to go back and forth to the kitchen. (I guess that’s one positive!) I have needed less to eat anyway but not having to think too hard has been a great help.

Going second. In order to remember to clean down in the bathroom or kitchen after using it I have contrived the routine to go second so that I clean up with wipes or zoflora every time I use anything. (Having a disinfectant habit has really come in handy!) We can’t be a hundred percent sure that my boys won’t also succumb at some point but we are doing our best to follow the cleaning advice and kept my towels separate. It’s given the day structure which helps when you are literally hours in the same room.

Doing my best: Those who have had this horrible condition may be surprised that I have worked. As I said, I haven’t had anything like the levels of fatigue I thought I would, as yet. I had been working from home as much as I can anyway so had taken on some different tasks than usual, swapping out some tasks that are based in the office. This week, I have been working slowly through the grunt work of spreadsheet and record-keeping that inevitably comes with working with children’s health records. I haven’t done that much, but having a methodical task has been good for my dulled brain. I have also asked to stop early on both days so that I don’t take it too far. Work have been supportive and there is no question that if I felt worse that I would take leave.

Being mindful: I have decided to do what I can, when I can. So the first morning when I felt rough I took a shower in case I got worse and couldn’t. Probably a mix of the steam that released my cough and the fact I was looking after myself- it really made me feel better. The biggest area that I have been mindful of is enjoying my food. I have many friends now whose taste or smell has been affected and so I have been trying to appreciate the joy of eating when I could, in case this happens to me too.

Meditation and audiobooks: My concentration is shocking which may be the brain fog others have spoken about but I think probably more to do with my anxiety brain trying to work on overtime. All this time alone has given me chance to do an hour of a guided meditation, dozing a little no doubt. I have also listened to audiobooks in short bursts. Belgravia with its sumptuous Regency setting has washed over me as I lay here. There something about romantic escapism that soothes you.

Reaching out: I have told friends and family many of whom are checking in with texts. I have accepted help from people dropping off prescriptions, to knowing who to ask to get milk. I know a lot have felt they can’t do anything because they are far away but knowing they are checking on you and thinking of you helps.

Accepting uncertainty: We have all had to deal with uncertainty this year much more, or at least been far more aware that this is the state of life. You really don’t know what life will throw your way. As such, I know I don’t know the long term impact of covid yet but I think that as always, taking small, positive steps has helped me and I can only take it day-by-day.

I hope everyone out there is well, being ill as always helps us remember not to take our health for granted. And also reminds us most to rest and take it very easy on ourselves.

How to organise a messy life

Being a hot mess sometimes, I have learnt a few ways to simplify life…

Hold meetings with your partner

It has been a tough few weeks and little things always get missed, dates in the diary creep up on me or I forget to email back. When life gets messy I know I have to be a bit more structured to help me through the chaos.

Diary management is the touchstone of an easier life. After many times where I have been wondering where my husband got to, he now gives me a rundown of his whereabouts each week on a Sunday. I would do the same back to him if I ever went anywhere. While we are combining our calendars, I jot down meal ideas on a food planning pad and make the shopping list.

This may seem like a simple step to be organised but he knows if he wants a shopping list and to eat during the week, I need to know how many meals are to be made. It’s not a difficult thing to do but I find whenever we wing it, things go wrong.

Listen to your body

I have become very mindful of my need to rest. I’ve been more tired with changes at work and a few busy weekends and sometimes that means I need time to zone out. Although I see escapism as a sign that I am not coping well, there has to be a place for trash tv or rewatching an easy comedy.

I have a certain amount of pain, in addition to surviving on little sleep. Forgiving myself is important because like many people I have bought into the idea of productivity. If you want to achieve, you have to hustle. That may be true, but if I fail to listen to my body then I know I won’t get anywhere.

Keep it routine

The need for cleaning my place on a schedule has become paramount to my well-being. I know which days I do certain tasks so if get through these things as well as my daily routine, I can feel on top of things.

Leaving the odd post-it note of what I need my partner to do is not a bad idea either. What I find is if the basic stuff gets done around the house, I am much more likely to pick up the faffy jobs that need to get done. It’s a form of self-care to at least achieve those set things and I often find I do more by starting the basic tasks.

Write a Little

There is no limit to how little you can do. On weeks where I am just keeping the basic stuff together I might only dip into my work-in-progress a little. But I do something. I have written before about the importance of Morning Pages for my creative process. So on some days I just write these but end up highlighting something that is a new idea.

On other days I manage to type up something on my phone. Or I see a snippet of a story in an ordinary day. A man running full pelt behind an oblivious teenager who had dropped her card; parents trying to get their toddler to walk along, though their legs kept crumbling beneath her. If nothing else, watching people around me, keeps me curious.

And I suppose in all these ideas for simplifying life, I am saying sometimes you have to let go. Lower your standards!

This is the opposite of advice I see all the time to increase productivity, how to write everyday. I am not dismissing these ideas but in a tough week I say KISS (keep it simple, sweetie).

How has your week been?