We’re living in strange times and have been for about a year now. It’s weird; everyone’s talking about ‘going back to normal’, but I can’t even truly imagine normal anymore. These days, ‘normal’ feels like staying home, seeing maybe one person at a time and making sure you’re home before nine, when curfew starts. So, I can’t say that I’ve been up to a lot lately. Nevertheless, I felt like writing another of these ‘What I’ve Been Up To’ posts, because I wanted to talk about my mantra for this year for a bit.
Now, ‘mantra’ is not a word I would typically use on a regular basis because it just feels a little iffy to me, but that’s how I’ve come to think of it over the past few months. You could also call it my intention for the year. Whatever you want to call it, it’s this: I want to be kind to myself. That’s it. Simple as that. But I’ve noticed in myself as well as in a lot of the people around me, that it’s gotten increasingly more difficult to do just that in a world that demands so much from us, even during a pandemic.
When the pandemic just started, all of these posts started to pop up on Twitter and Instagram, saying things along the lines of “Shakespeare wrote three of his most famous plays during an outbreak of the bubonic plague; what are you going to do during lockdown?” These posts suggested that we could all see the pandemic as an opportunity to be more productive. Nothing was supposedly stopping us from writing that future bestseller now that there wasn’t anything else to occupy ourselves with, like working or hanging out with loved ones.
This is utter bullshit, of course. We might have more time on our hands (though that’s not the case for everyone), but that doesn’t mean we have the mental space for being productive. There’s a global crisis going on, for crying out loud. Apart from the fact that there’s a lot to worry about (which takes up so much energy), it also doesn’t help that we can’t see our loved ones in a carefree way. It’s just a sucky situation, and I feel like sometimes people (myself included) lose sight of that, which causes us to be too hard on ourselves – which in turns leads me back to my mantra (nope, really don’t like that word).
I learned a lot about myself during 2020. Not just because of the aforementioned global crisis, but also because I was in therapy for most of the year. I’m not going to go into details besides telling you it was a heavy year, but I will tell you about one of the most important things I learned. I think you can already see it coming, but it’s this: I need to be kinder to myself. Over the past year, I’ve come to realise that I can be excessively hard on myself and that I’m very good at expecting too much from myself. This realisation changed so much for me because it enabled me to finally start focusing on what I need instead of on what I think I should.
Over the years, I’ve often struggled with accepting the fact that my mental health issues mean that I usually don’t have the energy levels of a ‘normal person’ (whatever that may mean). I’ve regularly beaten myself up over the fact that I had to cancel plans or completely opt out of certain activities, like going on a trip or staying the night at someone else’s house. And although I’ve been working on accepting that part of myself for years now, I really needed last year’s breakthrough to see that I could use some more kindness and acceptance from myself. It’s such a simple thing, but just realising that I would never treat my friends the way I was treating myself made a huge difference.
So, that’s what I’ve been working on over the past few months: being a better friend to myself. What does that mean in practical terms? I’ve been trying to listen to my body and my mind when they tell me to slow down. In November, I took almost a week’s worth of sick days from work because I felt that I desperately needed some rest. That was probably the best decision I made all year, even though when I made it, it felt a bit like I was failing. In the end, though, it made me feel so much better and it helped me to process a lot of the things that happened in 2020.
This year, I’ve taken to repeating ‘be kind to yourself’ to myself whenever I notice that I’m being too strict with myself again. I’ve also started telling my friends to do the same thing because I’ve noticed that so many of us are in the habit of listening to that negative voice, telling us we’re lazy, we need to do more, we’re not good enough – especially during the pandemic.
If I’m like that, and a lot of my friends are like that, chances are some of you are, too. So, I’m taking this opportunity to tell you the same thing I’m telling myself every day: be kind to yourself. Cancel plans or call in sick when you feel you need to, take a nap, go for a walk, spend a day in your PJs watching your favourite films or series, read a book, cherish the small things, write down your feelings in a journal, call a friend when you’re feeling alone. Take good care of yourself and be kind.