A few years ago, I did absolutely nothing for myself. Nada. In scenes that will be familiar to parents of young children everywhere, I felt I just didn’t have the time. Socialising was an add-on to a list that was already fit to bursting and reading more than a few pages of a book that wasn’t The Gruffalo was the height of luxury. The highlight of my social calendar was attending monthly Parent Council meetings, for goodness sake. I was busy with a voluntary role that I’d single-handedly managed to turn into a mammoth, beavering away for hours on end, entirely confident of the necessity of my role. I walked the dog every day, kept up with the home admin and made sure everything was running smoothly – running smoothly for everyone else, that is. Who has time for friendships, me-time or self care (yes that old chestnut), anyway? I was virtuous, I was busy, I was useful. Why on earth would that ever need to change?
Well it turns out that needed to change rather sooner than I expected. I got ill, you see, wracked with a horrible pneumonia that brought me to my knees for weeks on end. For about a year afterwards, I felt terrible on an almost daily basis – the result of an autoimmune condition seemingly worsened by the infection. Despite the smiles and jaunty blog posts, I felt miserable. Looking out from behind the fog, I realised something had to give.
I started reading books on mysterious ailments and fatiguing illness. One of the things that struck me were the number of sufferers who tended to have personalities like mine. People-pleasing, perfectionist types who were task-oriented, possibly anxious, generally very attuned to other people’s emotions. Could my personality actually be causing all my problems, I wondered? I kept reading, looking for techniques and tools that might help me to improve.
I came across some passages on things like CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – and found that a lot of the tools and techniques weren’t all that fancy. Ordinary things, like making time to do something for yourself came up repeatedly in fact. The novel idea of allowing myself a bit more ‘me-time’ seemed like something I could put into practice. I started having a 30-minute bath most nights, made doing yoga each morning a priority, instilled rules for myself around social media and phone use, went out for a coffee with someone maybe once or twice a month. I went to a writing retreat and joined a writers group, realising somewhere amongst all this that I had actually become quite socially isolated – talking to people on the blog just isn’t the same, you know. I dropped some of the ‘shoulds’ for a while and focused on trying to say ‘no’ occasionally (or at the very least, not putting myself in so many positions where I was likely to say ‘yes’).
And do you know what? The world kept turning exactly as it should.
The point is, I shouldn’t have let myself become ill before I gave myself permission to fill my cup up. I shouldn’t have thought myself selfish, or weak (or whatever it was I was thinking) for needing a little time now and again to set my own health and wellbeing straight. I’m not perfect, I still struggle some days – and I still look over my shoulder feeling that slight twinge of guilt for that five minutes of me-time.
But the truth is, I don’t think there’s anyone looking back at me.
A tip for January?
Please be kind to you.