Self-Care

For some reason I have been a bit reluctant to write about self-care, perhaps because it is well-documented already? I don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t always been brilliant at it and I have had to work at seeing the importance of it (for me). I suppose it can seem like quite an abstract, self-indulgent concept.

More recently the penny has finally dropped. Self-care is essential. It is not a pleasant add-on or luxury. It is crucial to our good mental health and to us being able to manage the myriad demands thrown at us in our day to day lives. I think when I spotted ‘Looking after yourself’ as one of the blocks in Kim Golding’s House Model of Parenting (an essential block, without which the house would fall down and upon which many other vital blocks sit) I got the message.

Self-care is a subject fairly widely bandied around by adopters (with good reason) but I truly believe it is a necessity for everyone. We are all busy, under pressure and juggling many-a-ball. If we are not mentally and emotionally well, we can’t function to the best of our abilities. We can’t support those around us who need us and we leave ourselves open to illness.

With my professional hat on I have been working with a young person who is currently under a lot of exam stress. A diligent and bright pupil, they are working extremely hard, leaving little to no time for rest and relaxation. As a consequence their stammer has worsened significantly. My main therapy has been around teaching the need for self-care, much to their surprise.

We are not designed to be under permanent stress, though modern life does tend to lead to it. We know, because of our children and how they have been impacted by their adverse starts in life that Cortisol (the stress hormone) wreaks havoc. A quick Google indicates it can impact on blood sugar levels, cause weight gain, suppress the immune system, affect the gut, damage the heart and even impact on fertility. Cortisol is meant for special occasions when we really need it, it is not something our bodies should be flooded with all the time.

We can juggle all the balls, work hard, play hard, look after others and achieve all we want to but, crucially, only if we look after ourselves. If we don’t make time for self-care activities, take the breaks, listen to our inner wellbeing voice, the consequences can be dire. A close friend experienced just what can happen when you forget yourself. I’ll let her tell you, in her own words:

“Self-care is life-saving. I do not say this lightly. Around ten years ago I had a very severe mental health crisis, resulting in me being in hospital for 7 weeks. It was horrible. It was caused by depression and exacerbated by me not taking care of myself. Forgetting myself. Putting everyone above myself. I worked solidly, because I felt so sad. If I was at work I was busy, if I was busy I wasn’t thinking. There is only so long you can do that, and then you crash. I crashed. When I was well again I had to make dramatic changes to my life, and the major one was how to actually look after myself.

The most life changing aspect of self-care for me has been learning to say no. Knowing my own limitations and not being afraid to voice them. You are not a bad person because you put yourself first. If you cannot take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Also, keeping lines of communication open. Keep talking to those around you, even when it’s a difficult conversation. Silence is a killer. When I was ill I was the most scared I have ever been, and had to have hideous conversations with people, which ultimately led to me getting the help I needed. It’s ok not to be ok. There is something incredibly freeing about being so open and honest. It was so hard to talk, but ultimately has only improved my relationships with everyone around me.

Baby steps. Find what makes you happy. Do it a lot. It sounds simple but life is hectic. Work, family, kids, school runs. But you know what, that ironing pile will still be there tomorrow. The house looks like a bomb hit it but you’ve kept your kids alive and fed and so now you are going to watch strictly come dancing and admire the, erm, dancing skills of Gorka, and just relax. There will be time for the ironing. It is not tonight. Equally, if ironing is your happy place, then good luck to you!”

I’m very proud of my friend for being brave enough to write this for me and letting me share it. Having visited her on the mental health ward, hidden away down the interminably long corridor, I can vouch that it is not a place you would want to end up (though my friend did feel safe there for which I am grateful).

Self-care is life-saving. It is essential. But how the bloody hell do you do it? If it was that easy and straightforward, people up and down the country wouldn’t be ending up in crisis. I suspect the first challenge of self-care is knowing what you need. After that, you need to value yourself enough to allow yourself to have it and then actively make it happen.

Grizzly has recently moved to a more senior post which is highly stressful with long hours and quite a bit of travel. He shoulders a lot of responsibility at work. Thankfully, this was acknowledged during his induction and he was warned of the need to manage his timetable proactively to ensure it contains time for self-care. It is an ongoing challenge for him, as there are only so many hours in the day, but he is good at knowing what he needs at least (half the battle) and as long as he can run several times per week all is well. Running is not a negotiable activity: it is an essential part of his week.

Whilst running works its magic for Grizzly, I personally can’t think of a less desirable way to spend my down time.

Thinking about what works for me has been enlightening. I think it has taken me quite a long time to figure it out. However, it turns out that I’m a right unsociable so and so and find nothing more restorative than a day alone. Interestingly I don’t tend to stay at home for a self-care day (probably because it is good to escape the washing pile). I tend to find a coffee shop, sit with my back to the other customers (I know, miserable!) and read, write or draw, while consuming a massive cup of tea. I’ll generally write a blog post – in itself an act of self-care it turns out. Sometimes it isn’t just that I want to write but that I need to, just as Grizzly physically needs to run.

Blogging has certainly helped with keeping my adopter/ parenting worries in check – it gets them out of my head but doesn’t involve the discomfort of having to actually explain them to someone face to face (though I do a bit of that too).

The main self-care challenge for me has been identifying when I need it. Sometimes I can do a million and one things at the same time and be fine. At other times, one small thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have had to listen harder to the little voice inside that tells you when everything is getting a bit much. It turns out it is much better to heed the whisper than to allow things to get on top of you, as you will undoubtedly snap and lose your temper with the children. I don’t like to shout at them so I have had to get better at identifying the times I might (otherwise you get the joy of dealing with the guilt afterwards). I have to be particularly mindful of my hormonal state (see PMS and Adoption) and be a little kinder to myself at those points.

I think Mum’s in particular (sorry Dad’s and everyone else, I’m allowed a sweeping statement once in a while) are adept at ‘getting on with it’ – pushing through the home and childcare duties, work and the never-ending to-do list whether they feel like it or not. Things would quite possibly collapse around you if you didn’t. However, there is a skill in knowing when pushing through is ok and when you are rapidly closing in on your limit. I’m still working on it but after a busy few weeks of going from work to sorting out the builders who have been re-doing our bathroom to the children (especially Little Bear’s growing Christmas-related mania) to making Christmas decorations and selling them at craft fayres to Christmas shopping to planning & liaising over our next project (a pod in the garden since you ask) as well as a few other things, today’s yoga class felt like one ask too many. I usually love yoga but after a lot of rushing about and being in specific places at specific times, my little inner voice was asking in a stage whisper for a day off. There are times when I would have just made myself go anyway, ignoring that little voice, but I feel so much better for having listened. A whole day off, being unsociable, having some peace. Just what my inner wellbeing guru ordered.

As well as the crucial self-care we all need, there are also acts of self-kindness: finding ways to spoil yourself a little; ways to make life easier; adding things in just because you like them or they make you happy. Here are some of the things that work for me:

  • Wandering around my garden. It is not a big garden but I love looking at how my plants are growing, watering them in the summer and generally enjoying my little bit of outside.
  • I also like going to look at the fish in our tiny pond. I have no idea why that is so relaxing but it is.
  • I seem to be getting quite into the indoor gardening too. I also wander about the house tending my indoor charges.
  • I feel particularly happy when the sun shines in on the melon seedlings and I think they might just grow some melons.
  • Shopping. Sometimes you just need to buy yourself a little gift. I have to be careful though, shopping can lead to guilt.
  • A little taste of something carbohydrate-y as I’m not really eating them at the moment but a girl needs a treat every now and again.
  • All snuggles with my boys are lovely. Giving up on all jobs and lying on the sofa for a whole afternoon of snuggly TV can be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Any sort of gift that arrives in subscription form. My friend got me a Papergang subscription from @Ohhdeer so beautiful stationery landed on the mat every month. It was amazing.
  • A good book on the rare occasions I manage to read one. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a very wholesome and uplifting read.
  • A good rummage in a charity shop, especially if there are retro coffee pots to be found.
  • Low-maintenance hosting. I rarely bother killing myself preparing a fancy meal to impress people with. You are just as likely to get a takeaway here but I will sit and chat and pay you my full attention. I’d rather give my energy to you than to the cooking.
  • Ditto children’s lunches. No slaving over packed lunches every night – school dinners all the way.
  • A cheeky lunch out with Grizzly when he is working from home – dating without the need for babysitting.
  • When all else fails, putting on my fluffy onesie, lying on the sofa and watching an episode of First Dates.

 

I wonder what other people do to be kind to themselves? Feel free to share.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Self-Care

The Building Work is Finished!

Here’s the thing: I can’t think about sensible, important things all the time. It’s tiring. I don’t watch the News because it’s frankly terrifying, though these days you can’t really escape international acts of terror or crazy world leaders or snap elections even if you try. I usually focus my brain space on important things happening closer to home: my family, the children’s education, any adoption-related issues we are having etc. But even then it can be hard work analysing and cogitating and wondering all the time. If I’m honest, and at the risk of sounding shallow, sometimes I just want to think about making things look nice…

I love colour and pattern and genuinely believe that if I wear things and surround myself with things that I enjoy the look of, I will feel happier. It’s not a vanity thing; it’s a creativity thing I think, especially as I’m not bothered what other people think of my choices. As long as me and the other Bears like it we’re all good. I think that thinking of outfits and decorating choices is probably actually a form of self-care for me.

This week has been a bit topsy-turvy as everyone has been feeling poorly and my brain just fancies a bit of making-things-look-nice self-care, so what better time to share the pictures of our FINALLY completed building work?

We have been working on the house pretty much constantly since last summer. You can read about the first phase of building, when we cut a bit off our L-shaped living room and knocked the kitchen wall down to make an open plan family room here: July at Adoption: The Bear Facts. This work left us with a brilliant family friendly living/ dining/ kitchen space at the back of the house. It also left us with a weird miniscule room at the front of the house that wasn’t in any way practical or useable. It was mainly used for storing bits of furniture and tons of boxes of books. We applied for planning permission to extend out the front of the house to fill in the space between the tiny front room and our porch which used to jut further out.

Building work on the second phase started in October/November and has really only just been fully completed. Although the work to make the family room was more major and affected our living areas more, it only took 6 weeks from the beginning to being completely done and it was fairly stress free. The second phase has in comparison felt like it has taken FOREVER and been a marathon. Towards the end of the project, I was feeling quite stressed and wrote about it in Juggling. It is therefore a massive relief that we are done.

For those of you out there who also love looking at stuff here is what it looks like now:

IMG_7114

The tiny front room has become a second living room and office area. All the books are out of their boxes and happily residing on shelves. I am VERY excited that I now have an ‘office’ (what I actually mean by that is ‘a place to keep my extensive stationery collection’!). I also love having more shelves that I can display my collections on and fiddle with and make look nice. So far I have mainly only managed to LOOK at my office and definitely need more time to be in it, working.

As part of the work we also decided to fill in our open porch. This has made our hall bigger and meant we had to re-decorate it. I was pleased about that because we could finally get rid of the tester patches I had painted all over the place in a fit of foolhardiness several years ago. Everywhere is now quite grey but is very much brightened up by our new mustard front door.

We used the space from the porch to create a cupboard. That sounds ridiculously dull but it has changed my life because we no longer walk straight into a wall draped with hundreds of coats and there is no need for shoes to be scattered ALL over the house. I did also paint the cupboard fuchsia pink and put yellow hooks up so it is a very happy cupboard.

IMG_7119

 The last few weeks have involved a huge spring clean and sort out while we have been trying to move everything back around the house again from the places we had been temporarily storing it in. I am still striving for whole-house order and tidiness but I’m not sure it will ever be achieved in a house full of boys. Apart from that, there is one last job to be done. We need a new carpet for the stairs… Obviously I have set my heart on a bright patterned one to lift the grey walls and it sadly doesn’t seem to exist. Well, it does, in the form of the most expensive carpet in the shop that unfortunately does not have any redeeming features such as being impervious to dirt. If anyone knows where to get a manmade pink spotty carpet that will not break the bank I will love you forever*.

IMG_7115

 

 

*By the way I totally realise that this is a “first world problem” and that there are far more important things that I should probably be concerning myself with, but it would look fabulous.

 

 

The Building Work is Finished!

A Grown-up Weekend Away

I can’t honestly remember the last time Grizzly and I went away for a night without children. Certainly not once in the 17 months Little Bear has been with us and I think we had only been away a handful of times before that. Grizzly is away fairly frequently with work (though I’m not sure that really counts) and I have had one night away for a friend’s wedding reception.

The main reason we haven’t been away before now is because asking the grandparents to have our boys feels like a big ask. We know they don’t mind but we also know how much energy is required to look after them and keep them entertained. Little Bear’s behaviour can be unpredictable and if he’s having a bad day he can be really challenging to manage. Also, Little Bear tends to test the boundaries more with the grandparents so there is every likelihood that his behaviour could escalate when he is with them. Having never been away we also didn’t know how he would cope without us being there and whether that in itself might cause some issues.

However, recently I’ve been craving a night off. I have friends who do it all the time and I was getting a bit envious of the peace and quiet and lie-in they would be having. I find first thing in the morning the most challenging part of the day with the boys. I’m not a morning person and ideally need 5 minutes to lie in bed quietly before I get up and face the world. However, Little Bear always wakes me before my alarm and always with incessant chatter. He begins work on trying to get me out of bed immediately and if that doesn’t work makes other insistent demands such as asking me to get something or make something speak. I try all the tricks to get him to entertain himself for a few minutes or just lie quietly with me but I know that in reality he will keep this up, without pausing for breath, until I get up and feed him. Though I love him dearly the thought of one day off, one morning without the incessant chatter, was becoming increasingly appealing.

My birthday is in January and I made my wish to Grizzly that all I really wanted was 1 night off. Grizzly didn’t mention anything until a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he had booked a hotel and started to make arrangements for the boys and that we would be away on the day of my birthday.

It was difficult to know what the best arrangements for the Bears would be. We plumped for splitting them up – Grizzly’s Mum would have Little Bear and my parents would have Big Bear. Big Bear would have a sleepover and Little Bear could stay at home where everything is more familiar. This should lessen the load for the grandparents though I was worried that Little Bear might be very unsettled by being away from us and from Big Bear. I felt he might pine for Big Bear but nobody lives far from anybody else so the grandparents could bring them back together if needs be.

I was also concerned that the boys might be upset that I was choosing to spend my birthday away from them. With that in mind we decided that we wouldn’t stay out long on the Sunday and would come back in time to have a bit of a party afternoon together.

My plan for the week leading up to the Big Weekend was to make the most of getting ready. I wanted to spend time trying on outfits, getting my nails done, having long pampering shower etc. It sounded idyllic and I’m sure it would have been had things gone to plan.

The week started ok. Both boys returned to school after the holidays and though I had a cold and felt under the weather I spent a productive day ticking things off my to-do list. On Tuesday I lost my temper with Little Bear before school as we were in a rush and he wouldn’t co-operate. I then went to meet a friend and the 5 minute journey took me 50 minutes. When I got home I attempted to wrangle with our intermittent internet connection to do an online shop when the phone rang. It was school. Big Bear had been sick could I come and get him?

As soon as I saw him I knew there was nothing wrong with him (daft look on his face) but it was the Head sending him home and as we went out the door he reminded me of the 48 hour rule. Bloody brilliant. I’m totally down with the rule but not when your child scoffs all their meals and is clearly fine.

On Wednesday I had to clear the front room ready for the builders. Later on, Big Bear and I walked the long way round to pick Little Bear up from school. The cat decided to follow us. At the furthest point from home she decided to stop following us. Figuring that her cat skills would lead her home we eventually carried on to school. What ensued was a missing cat situation and several hours of increasing concern, especially as the weather was awful. Grizzly and Big Bear finally found her much later, exactly where we had last seen her: clearly she has no cat skills at all.

On Thursday the shower broke.

What on earth was going on?! Would we even get away for the weekend at this rate? There certainly wasn’t going to be much pampering or trying on of clothes.

By the time I had packed for myself and Big Bear, got his football things ready and organised Little Bear for the party he was going to, made lunch for a friend and dinner for my brother, I was wondering how I would sustain enough energy for the weekend.

Saturday morning began badly because Big Bear’s football match was cancelled which apparently meant his weekend was ruined before it had even begun.

We were finally organised and child free by about 11 am on Saturday. I have to say that it was brilliant. We couldn’t really believe we were actually out together, on our own and we could do anything we wanted. We definitely made the most of it, including staying out past midnight. That last statement shows how little I get out!! I won’t bore you with the details, have a photo montage instead:

I loved every single second of it. I don’t think you realise how much you need some grown up time until you get it. I missed the boys though and enjoyed picking them some little treats and looked forward to seeing them in the afternoon.

Big Bear had been absolutely fine all weekend but his greeting to me was “the weekend has been awful!” He was fairly miserable all afternoon and unusually prickly with his brother. Little Bear had coped really well and behaved well too. Seeing us again seemed to unlock something though and he seemed a little overwhelmed. He was clingy and emotional for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t exactly the party atmosphere we had planned! I think perhaps that had been the wrong plan and maybe they just needed some closeness and 1:1 time with us.

Their reaction reminded me why we needed a break in the first place. We adore them but parenting is hard core and requires a significant commitment of physical, emotional and psychological energy. I don’t think I’ll wait another 2 years for a night off. Now, where’s my diary…

 

A Grown-up Weekend Away

Resilience

Amongst adopters it is a well-known fact that Adoptive Parenting or Therapeutic Parenting requires a truck load of resilience. You need to be at the peak of your game, have a full quota of patience and the ability to dig deep to overcome whatever challenges might be thrown at you on any given day. I would argue that any parenting requires resilience, but adopted charges do tend to need the supercharged version.

It is unfortunate therefore, that, being human and in this case a woman, I cannot maintain this level of resilience. It’s my hormones’ fault. There are certain days within my monthly cycle that I am a little less than serene. For ‘less than serene’ read ‘completely ragey’. Think furious before you’ve even got up. Think highly irritable to the point of being annoyed by your husband’s breathing. Think too hot, too achey, too hungry. Think totally uncomfortable for no obvious reason and mega grumpy. Think extremely short-tempered and pretty much devoid of resilience. This is how I feel when alone so interacting with others in a civilised manner is pretty difficult. It’s an actual affliction and very much not my usual character.

The way forward on such days is to take things as easy as possible – let Little Bear run off steam in the park, let him play on the Ipad more than I really think is appropriate, let him watch a lot of TV, or even better, let somebody else look after him. And make sure I eat plenty.

However, a BIG problem arises if I’m having an aforementioned bad day, I’m on parenting duty and Little Bear is experiencing poor resilience too….

Little Bear had generally low resilience when we first met him. If he couldn’t do a task IMMEDIATELY he became furious and would not try again. I can remember trying to engage him with Duplo but because he couldn’t get the man to sit in the bus in the first second of trying, the Duplo was kicked/ thrown and that was the end of that. Over time, his general level of resilience has developed though and he can now persevere pretty well with toys and tasks such as dressing. However, a bit like me, the stars need to be in alignment and various factors need to be in place for Little Bear to have his full quota of resilience:

  • He needs to have had a good 12 hours sleep
  • He needs to have eaten well. A hungry bear is a grumpy bear, a full of sugar bear is a wild bear
  • He needs to have had his daily movement. A constipated bear is also a grumpy bear.
  • He needs to have had enough exercise and sensory input, without having been tipped into over-stimulated territory
  • He needs to be feeling well and not under the weather.

Too great a variance in any of these factors = poor resilience. Mostly we know him well enough now that we can tweak things for him to keep everything at an optimum level. However, sometimes circumstances are out of our control.

One day last week, Little Bear just could not get to sleep. The reason became apparent when, at 8pm, a good hour after he should have been asleep, he needed a poo (I’m sorry for the oversharing but you know people poo. And they have monthly cycles). Evidently the change to bowel routine affected his ability to get to sleep afterwards and it was far too late for him when he did eventually settle.

The next morning I woke having one of THOSE days and over-tired, over hungry and bowel all to pot, Little Bear was too. DISASTER.

Evidently, because he was feeling rubbish, Little Bear upped the ante with his behaviour, forgot how to listen and didn’t do anything he was told. In my delicate state I had no patience whatsoever and was quick to rebuke, slow to employ therapeutic strategies and lost my temper several times (something which I can usually go weeks without doing). Little Bear had very low resilience and could not cope with being told off (especially in a shouty way) so his behaviour spiralled.

Somehow we made it to the end of the day without me causing him any physical harm and although when I tried to repair the situation at bedtime by stroking his head, he told me to “get off” I was mainly just relieved that the day was finally over.

Later on, I washed my hair, put on fresh pyjamas, made a cup of tea, watched house programmes and ate an elicit Yorkie (I usually try to avoid sugar to improve the hormone situation but desperate times call for chocolate) and thankfully began to feel more like my usual self.

Resilience is paramount in everything running smoothly. That’s why Self Care is so crucial to us and developing our children’s resilience is such an important part of preparing them for real life. Parenting with resilience at a low ebb is painful, unpleasant and guilt-inducing. I don’t recommend it.

Thankfully I am lucky to have a fabulous husband and support network who will unquestioningly give me a break if I ask. I am also thankful that days such as these are few and far between and getting fewer as I become more experienced at remaining calm no matter what – this is definitely a skill and one that can be honed with practise. But you do need a full quota of resilience behind you. And we need to allow ourselves the acceptance that there will be days when we get it wrong, when our parenting is less than good enough, when we do shout and do not act Nurtured Heart at all. We are human. And tomorrow is another day.

Resilience