My inability to rest

I’m on holiday. Since starting my holiday I have written 2 blog posts, signed up for an antiracism education course, created a list of my publications to date, and entered numerous in-depth discussions on – among other things – sexual representations in gaming, the impact of lockdown on mental health and body image, queer appreciation and allyship versus appropriation, navigating public spaces post-pandemic.

Not really what you’d consider resting.

I was ill in June with a fairly nasty kidney infection and while still on antibiotics and having only felt somewhat ‘better’ for 24 hours, I went back to work for a full day. That ended in a migraine and my recovery being set back. In reality, I’m still recovering. I lost a lot of strength from several weeks of little activity and eating. My endurance has plummeted – a 4 mile walk on Monday had my hip flexors screaming halfway through and the backs of my knees are still pretty grumpy with me for making them go so far on my first proper trip out in a month.

My last conversation with the mental health advisor I meet with at uni went something along the lines of “Your professionalism and work ethic are some of your biggest strengths, but they can also be your biggest weaknesses when you let them become more important than your wellbeing”. It’s safe to say I cried a lot on that phone call.

It’s absolutely true that I don’t know how to rest. My time dealing with the kidney infection was pretty miserable – on top of the pain, nausea, side effects from the medication and generally feeling low, I was unbelievably bored and guilty. I didn’t know what to do that wouldn’t drain what little energy I had. Trying to find shows that weren’t overly energetic, bright or brain-heavy was a challenge. In 3 days I watched 2 seasons of QI. Even then, I caught myself analysing the tired jokes, the (lack of) representation on the panels, just how bland a show it is. Easy watching? Absolutely. An exemplary showcase of comedy talent and diverse panelists? Not so much.

See? Even when I was sweating buckets, vomiting daily and crying pretty much every 40 minutes after I’d nearly drowned myself in another bottle of water, my brain was still picking things apart. It’s exhausting.

There’s also a firm hand of guilt gripping me when I even think about taking time off. Which I recognise is entirely hypocritical because I always preach that rest is revolutionary and it’s impossible to give to others if your own cup is empty. But internalising that, not holding myself to an impossibly high standard because I Should Do Better, seems somewhat unattainable. It’s pretty narcissistic, really. I’m not sure why I consider myself more special. I think it’s partly a worry that I’m not doing enough – that there’s so much more I could be doing to use my privilege and power to support those who need it. I can’t help everyone, but I can surely try – and in doing so reach more people than I would otherwise. It’s flawed logic, but it’s a hard belief to shake. I live with an abundance of privilege. It feels wrong to not do everything I can with that privilege to even the playing field for others where possible. It’s not healthy or the best motivation. I’m working on it – and in doing so, I’m adding more to the mounting pile of Things To Think About, but what’s the alternative?

I don’t know how people do it. Rest, I mean. Enjoy things for enjoyment’s sake. How does ‘switching off’ even work? I don’t know how folks sit and watch a show or read a book and not analyse the creative decisions and characterisation and wider social and political contexts or implications in real-time. That sounds ridiculous and makes me uncomfortable to admit (probably because I’m worried people will read it and take it to mean this is somehow better or more than when I don’t mean that at all), but it’s how my brain works. It has been a long time since I just *existed* without the wheels turning at a hundred miles an hour. Honestly, I don’t remember what it’s like to not think, overthink and get a little dizzy from the constant thoughts.

None of my usual pass-times or hobbies at the moment feel like rest. I haven’t had the motivation to get back into embroidery but I’m going to try and force myself to give it another shot this week. I have a week and a half to get myself to a place of understanding what rest means and how I achieve it. Hopefully it’ll be bubble baths, face masks, podcasts and other grossly stereotypical “self-care”. Honestly, I’m not sure I have the energy for the harder stuff at the moment.

It was important for me to blog about this so I don’t forget how I’m feeling down the line when the stress levels do ease off and my brain calms a bit. I’ll wonder why I made such a drama out of feeling this way. But it’s okay to be realistic and frank about how what I’m experiencing right now, even if it seems small, unimportant, cringeworthy or too self-absorbed later.

Friyay Feelings

There are a lot of them…

It’s finally the weekend!

This week has been a bit of a doozy at work. I’m battling a cold for the fourth week and it’s made everything seem a little more stressful.

There have been some highlights, though, and I thought I’d share them with you to end this week on a bit of a high.

Firstly, I’ve been keeping super hydrated! My water bottle is getting a bunch of laughs from colleagues (which is fair – it’s bloody massive), but two weeks with no dehydration headaches is testament to how necessary a purchase it was. Having 1.5 litres of water in front of me and being able to sip away while I work has been so useful. I’m terrible at remembering to refill my water bottles. And I’m not really missing out on the steps to the kitchen and back because I’m making twice the number of trips to the loo! You can grab your own from Primark for £4 – bargain! My skin is really thanking me for it, too, and the stress break-out I was suffering from on my face and chest has really calmed down.

Yup, I’m cute and like it when things match

Speaking of skin, I’ve treated myself to another Smoothie Star breakfast scrub body smoother from Soap & Glory. My legs are so smooth and it smells delicious. It’s a bit pricey (£8 for a 300ml tub at Boots), but I find a lot of other scrubs are too harsh for my sensitive skin. This one gives just the right amount of exfoliation, without ripping away layers and layers of skin. Which is lucky, because I need to be well buffed in the run up to my holiday!

Today was a long one. Like, reeeeaaaally long. So long that I ended up indulging in a bit of retail therapy. I’ve purchased 3 new outfits (2 dresses and a playsuit) from Zara and I’m so excited for them arriving tomorrow!! I’ll post an update with pics and thoughts once I’ve tried everything on, but if they fit they’ll be going in the holiday suitcase (with the occasional outing beforehand if the weather gets any better).

On the topic of holiday shopping, I’m struggling a bit to find a pair of sunglasses I like. I need a deeper frame, but it can’t be too thick or I’ll end up getting lost behind them… I like a classic tortoiseshell, but I’m seeing a lot more block colour in the shops already, so maybe that’s an option? What do you think? If you have any suggestions, fire them my way!

My last sun holiday (I don’t count Lisbon because it rained almost everyday…) – how do you top these sunnies?

Going on holiday is really exciting. This will be my first sun holiday in 2 years, and my first time going away with my boyfriend. While I can’t wait for the holiday itself, I’m really succumbing to the gossip-mag-mentality of not being Beach Ready. It’s infuriating knowing that I have so many internalised body-negative views – and if anyone else was to peddle that rhetoric I’d shake the negativity out of them until they were only filled with self-love and joy.

The problem is that I’ve not been happy with my body in a very long time. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and holidays only exacerbate the issue. Being more exposed – literally and metaphorically – is daunting. That vulnerability is prime breeding ground for negativity and my anxious brain has grabbed onto the self-loathing vibe pretty strongly this time. I’m trying to remind myself that my enjoyment on this holiday won’t come from my size or shape, only from the fun I have. Nonetheless, to try and assuage some of the fear I’m feeling about my current weight and the social implications (although I know technically there are none), I have promised myself to eat better and exercise more.

Exercise has never been my friend. My asthma and joint issues make that difficult. I’m not going to start gymming daily, but I’m making an effort to be more active. I’m walking 1.5-2.5 miles extra a day. It’s not much to some, but for me, with my sedentary lifestyle and desk job, it’s a big step. I’m hoping to up the distance as the evenings get lighter and warmer, too.

I’ve also committed to cutting out junk food. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a crisp fiend. I love salt and vinegar crisps more than just about any other edible thing around. But, for the purposes of feeling better about myself and promoting a healthier lifestyle, I’m saying goodbye to them for two months. I’ve been at it for just over two weeks now and it has been really hard. I am surprised at how much energy I’ve had on some days and just how accustomed I had become to snacking. I’m hoping to break a bad habit, however difficult it is.

Today’s lunch from Rocksalt Cafe was incred
For me, this is less about losing lots of weight, and more about becoming healthier. I don’t want to struggle to climb the volcano or play on the beach when this holiday is such a big one for me, and for us. I want to get there knowing I’m a little fitter and healthier than I was a few months back. That I’ve made steps to ensure I’ll enjoy myself and not worry about how I look in my swimwear.

So, while it has been a long week, it has also been a fairly positive one. I’ve taken lots of time for myself. I’ve not overcommitted to plans outside of work. I’ve slept lots, indulged in good skincare and haircare products, enjoyed watching my new tulips bloom, and eaten really well. I feel better for it. I’m starting to feel a bit more on top of things, and accepting that sometimes I have to let the chips fall where they may.

(I’ve written the word chips and now I’m back daydreaming about S&V McCoys…help me!)

Pamper night is in progress

The Cost of Kindness

I recently saw a Tweet about compliments:

I responded, saying that I get this a lot, but I also enjoy complimenting others. I also said that I reckon compliments should be free – “don’t expect thanks/gratitude/compliments in return and then you lose nothing by putting yourself out there, just the good feeling of the compliment giving”.

My last comment, I realised later, was a little glib (which I now feel hugely embarrassed about) and it didn’t really consider times where compliments (or kindness more generally) cost the giver a great deal.

How much does kindness really cost?

I suppose the answer to this is context-dependent and a bit complicated.

When interacting with strangers, I guess kindness costs the emotional toll of the potential embarrassment or upset of being ignored or a poor response.

When interacting with loved ones, kindness costs the energy you put into cheering them on or propping them up.

Kindness can cost people physically – by doing something tiring or strenuous to help a friend out. It can be a mental endurance test, too. For example, spending time with a toxic person as a show of solidarity to a loved one. When interacting with loved ones who are emotional leeches, kindness costs a hell of a lot.

Then there are acts of kindness you commit for yourself.

Acts of self-kindness

When being kind to yourself, the pay out is all the more complex. You might weigh up self-kindness against social expectation or cultural norms or external pressures or internal biases. You might pit self-kindness against your own expectations or goals or dreams.

Self-kindness should be a ritual; a habit instead of a fad. Unfortunately, we live in a society of infuriating oppositions.

Be the best – you’re not worth it.

Find your inner strength – you’re meant to be weak.

Be open – vulnerability is unattractive.

You deserve better – you’re the reason you’re not treated the way you want to be.

Nothing can stop you – why would you aspire to be something unrealistic?

It takes a great deal of courage to block out the negativity perpetuated by our society. It’s even more impressive when that negativity comes from the people who are supposed to lift you up.

Lora Mathis (a favourite artist of mine) talks extensively about self-care. I’ve written before about her concept of radical softness as a weapon – whereby living authentically; emotionally, is a form of political protest and you are weaponising your feelings in a positive way.

She is currently writing an essay called “Setting Boundaries as Self Care” (according to her Insta Stories) and I for one can’t wait to read it. Boundary setting is something I’ve been consciously trying to get better at. There are people I love, and those I don’t, who are negative for my wellbeing. I do my best to avoid putting myself in situations where I have to deal with that, now.

A friendship break-up two years back made me realise just how important it is for my wellbeing that I not put myself in positions where I know I’m going to be hurt, made to feel uncomfortable, or be surrounded by toxic negativity. It would wear me down and take days to fully recover from, because trying to make all that negativity bounce off you and not latch on and wear you down is bloody exhausting.

The value of kindness

Kindness is an invaluable, but not unending well. It’s a finite resource and you need to save some of that for yourself. I tried to come up with an equation to estimate the cost of kindness. This is overly simplified and definitely flawed, but in the broadest of strokes, I think the true cost of kindness is this:

the cost of kindness

If you find the toll to be much greater than the energy required to be kind, then you should evaluate whether that act is a necessary one to perform.

Finding ways to cut back on kindness is hard. Prioritising those you hold dearest may not actually reduce your emotional toll deficit by much, especially if a loved one is struggling through something right now.

The best way to ensure you don’t completely burn yourself out is to prioritise yourself. Use up all the energy you need to take care of yourself, first and foremost. You’ll probably soon find that you have more energy to spend on others, because you’re fully concentrating on yourself. We let ourselves take the brunt of our kindness deficit far too often. Self-care is not selfish, it’s absolutely necessary to ensure we’re performing to the best of our abilities as often as possible.

Be kind to yourself, and you’ll find it easier to be kind to others who deserve it most.

Personal Space – The Importance of Self Care

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week and social media was abuzz with hashtags, conversations and motivational memes on the subject.

Be kind to yourself every day 🤗💗 #MHAW17

A post shared by The Young Women’s Movement (@youngwomenscot) on

With my hyper-active brain, neverending list of projects to get stuck into, reliance on lists to keep some semblance of order in my life, whacky sleeping pattern and a bunch of other quirks you all associate with my kookiness, I often get run down. Like last week, which put publishing this post on hold until today. Kinda ironic.

But now, I’m feeling brighter and more on top of everything, I’m going to take a bit of time and run through my self care routine.

Self care is something I started intentionally practicing about eight months ago. Far from a social media soundbite and tool to get more love on Insta, this has become a necessary part of my health routine and often saves me from slipping down the rabbit hole and ending up in a dark spiral leading to exhaustion.

The usual candidates in a self care checklist do exist on mine – a decent amount of sleep, an abundance of vegetables (I love making myself a Greek-inspired mezze platter of raw peppers, olives, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a variety of dips when I feel depleted and in need of a clean, fresh boost to the system) and an indulgent shower or bath.

Some of my other self care activities are maybe slightly more obscure, but important to me nonetheless.

Firstly, I cut my nails. It’s a chore I am forever pushing down on the to do list until my poor nails can take no more and snap painfully close to the nail bed. So, when life is starting to get on top of me, I make sure to spend some quality time giving myself a speedy mani.

Usually just cutting them down, a quick file and a thirst-quenching moisturiser. One of my nervous ticks is picking at the skin on my fingers, but pretty nail polish is a great incentive for me to leave the poor skin alone.

This self care technique requires enough concentration to distract me momentarily from any outside stresses and is a productive use of time so I don’t feel guilty for procrastinating from the ironing pile. Double win.

I also write. It might be teen angst inspired, embarrassing awful poetry, a to do list or an overview of what I’ve done that day.

As my blog posts indicate, I’m a good rambler. I purge my thoughts until I cry, sigh or reach some other state of release. It’s incredibly important for me to get my thoughts and feelings out in the world by writing or typing away until I have fully purged.

Usually I reach a solution by writing, or can reach a place where my rational side negotiates my emotional mess down from teetering on the edge.

Another self care love of mine is colouring in.

While my doodles don’t tend to end as violently as Deadpool’s, I do own 5 adult colouring books, 3 sets of colouring pencils and a steadfast opposition to venturing outside the lines.

Snuggle puddles are also a total self care necessity.

Teddy (original, I know) and Piglet have been with me since birth, Alaska Bear was a slightly later addition.

Bunny, Toothless and Rocky flopping after a long day of whatever it is toys do.

I am currently sharing my bed with 9 teddies of all shapes, sizes and animal types. Some are as old as me, others are more recent additions. All are equally adored.

Apart from my raccoon, Rocky, who has been through the best times and the worst times with me. A dear friend of mine who understood my trash panda obsession gave me him when I was 16 and have rarely gone a night without him in my bed ever since. He even comes with me to my boyfriend’s sometimes.

Rocky and a lizard friend he made at Tam’s, along with Mr Fox and an equally foxy hot water bottle.

This bunch of cute and cuddlies are the perfect counter-offer to human contact, when I just want to be left alone but am in dire need of affection. They are the real deal.

Sidenote shout out to my boyfriend who makes a great substitute to the snuggle puddle on nights that I do want human contact. That boy is a hot water bottle load of snug – seriously, his body temp runs higher than most saunas.

Finally, the most important ritual of my self care routine is self-acceptance.

I often find myself buried under a mountain of guilt, frustration and a slew of other negative feelings when I start to get run down and feel low.

Reminding myself that the low point isn’t going to last forever and that the world will not end if I can’t make myself smile once that day is really important.

As a perfectionist, I get caught up in my own head, obsessing over everything, especially my perceived shortcomings and what I think others expect of me. I take this time to acknowledge that I’m not feeling 100% and realise what I expect of myself.

Whether that’s getting myself into the shower, socialising or just enjoying my own company; it’s a vital exercise I need to keep myself feeling more grounded and less like the world is slipping through my fingers.

Self care is exactly that – for yourself. You might read my list and scoff. You might run or bake or cry or knit or host a dinner party as part of your self care. Those are all legitimate forms of looking after yourself.

We all have different aspects of ourselves that need a little more attention than others. Recognising, accepting and acting on those needs are what keep us happy, healthy and able to live our best lives.

Look after yourself, you deserve it.

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