I took this shot on a walk with Rob and the kids just a few days before Christmas 2018. It’s a beautiful scene, but I shot it because I took it as a sign that something was very wrong with what I was seeing. Summer blooms and the remains of a rape field. In winter.
Fast forward to 2020 and you really don’t need me to recap what a year that was. A moment when our planet and our physical and mental health was in absolute crisis. An unstoppable pandemic swiftly reminded us that we weren’t superhuman. Nature sent us messages in the wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes. It showed us what happened when we slowed down in the dolphins that returned to Venice for the first time in a long time. It was our wake-up call.
While I normally like the first post of the year to be a reflection on the last and a plan for what’s ahead, this year is a little different. Our mental health will have taken a bashing – being separate from family and friends for so long. Varying degrees of cabin fever setting in. Perhaps you’re not feeling yourself. And that’s completely understandable. So I say this.
Be kind to yourself.
I’ll let you in on something. In 2019 my mental health was possibly in the worst shape I’d ever experienced. I was burnt out with work. Struggling with my identity as a dual heritage woman and dealing with crippling health anxiety brought on by an ear condition. It reached a point where I was composing letters of goodbye to my kids in my head, worrying that I’d suddenly have to leave them behind if what was wrong with me was terminal. I started to think I ought to write letters for each milestone in their lives, just in case. I felt bereft of the Caribbean heritage I missed out on in my childhood and how much of a fraud I felt, brown-skinned and no connection to any of it. I was out of control.
In the latter half of that year, I spent an hour a week with a brilliant black CBT therapist who helped me retrain my thoughts and help rediscover myself. She helped me see that I could relate to my blackness in my own way, that it was just as valid as anyone else’s experience. I was stumped when she asked me
And I couldn’t answer. I genuinely couldn’t remember the last time I did a single thing for myself. Aside from sitting in the bath with the lights out (I still totally recommend that by the way), I’d lost myself in a cycle of work, parenting and daily routine. The proverbial cup was empty.
Self Care Takes Practice.
So, she sent me away with a task for the week. Find one thing to do every day for me. And at first, it was hard. SO bloody hard. But, like anything else, self-care takes practice. Start small if it feels better to. Make a date with yourself for a coffee break. Sit quietly and read for 30 minutes. Start a new skincare routine with gorgeous products just for you. You deserve it.
Self Care Isn’t Selfish.
Never feel guilty for taking time out. The number of times I felt I had to explain myself for doing it. Just don’t. You don’t need to make excuses for buying yourself that lipstick. For ignoring your socials and email. Going on a solo walk. Because if you don’t take the time to feed yourself, you can’t expect to have anything to give back.
Spend some time outside in nature and move your body. Run if that’s your bag. Try a fitness app and try to do a ten minute workout a few times a week. Anything that takes you out of yourself, gets you breathing and boosts your mood. Me? I love a good kitchen disco.
Give Yourself A Break.
By this I mean wear the PJs all day. Eat the chocolate. Drink the wine. Watch every single episode of Mad Men back to back. Let the kids play on the ipad that little bit longer. If it means you can stop giving yourself a hard time, do it.
Allow Yourself To Feel.
Every feeling you have is valid. Never tell yourself you’re being over the top or too sensitive. Check in with yourself and ask why you think it is you’re feeling this way. What would help you to feel better? Cry if you need to. Shout. Sing. The release of emotion is so very important. Which leads me to my last point…
Don’t Forget To Ask For Help.
When life gets on top of us it’s very easy to close off. We forget to communicate with the people around us and before we know it, we’re arguing and misunderstanding each other. So talk. Ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Or reach out for external advice such as NHS Talking Therapies (which I couldn’t recommend enough) or Samaritans who have a 27/7 helpline.
I like to think I’m a bit of a pro when it comes to self care now. But it’s a constant work in progress. Our needs and circumstances are constantly changing. So, whatever 2021 has in store, try to go with the flow as best you can. And I’m always here if you need a good rant.
Just a side note – I’m completely fine now. My health worries weren’t unfounded and having an ENT consultant verify them did the world of good just to feel heard and understood.
Photography © Tiffany Grant-Riley.