Today is Time to Talk Day, a day that is dedicated to having honest conversations about mental health. Today I would like to talk about the importance and the struggle of looking after number one.
When I was in my early 20s I worked in a PR firm, I thought it sounded pretty cool and I bought myself a flashy new phone (It was a flip open one with a Cat Kidston pattern… was that even cool/what was I thinking?)
Before I landed my job in PR someone warned me “It’s very bitchy in PR”. After a while in my new job I realised it was very bitchy. At about the same time I went through a difficult break up. I ended up ditching the job too.
Throughout all of this I did have a couple of lovely colleagues at that place of work. Heather was one of them and she had just been through a divorce. One day after chatting to her she sent me an email (yes people did that back then – they wrote and sent emails in their free time!).
The title of the email was “Looking after number one”. It was all about how important it is to be good to yourself. Looking after number one is very important we’ll all agree and there are numerous analogies, you can’t pour from an empty cup, put on your own life jacket first etc etc.
However, looking after number one ain’t as easy as it sounds. It can be about the little things yes, buying yourself a fancy cup of coffee, doing yoga or eating all of the chocolate. But what about the harder stuff, like accepting yourself for who you are, even those parts of yourself you wish weren’t there, that you think of as weaknesses?
The thing is, what you see as a weakness may actually be the very best, brightest part of you. For me, it is taking things to heart, my sensitive side. How I wish I didn’t do this and how I wish that my face hid the way I was feeling. However, because of this, because of my perceived weakness I am writing this post. By writing this post I am creating an opportunity for human connection for this to spark something in someone else, someone who may read this and think “That’s me!”.
I also think that being sensitive to others is actually a good trait and I strive to accept it in myself. If you take away caring and sensitivity from a person so that they are devoid of all feeling you are left with someone who is very similar to the outgoing president of the United States; Donald Trump.
I had written half of this post and then I stopped to attend @goodenoughmamas Mama’s Circle. This was a way to connect to other mums and to listen to one of Ali’s guided meditations. Imagine my surprise when I learnt of the topic for the evening – self compassion! In the meditation we were asked to imagine an indoor or outdoor welcoming safe space (for me under a large holly tree in a nearby field sheltering from the rain). Then we met a compassionate being. This being could be human, animal or a celestial being or a combination. This playful being was compassionate and understanding and supportive. As lots of people struggle to be compassionate towards themselves imagining a compassionate being is a much easier way in.
Looking after number one was difficult for me in my twenties. It can be difficult whatever your circumstances particularly and especially now, but I’m going to relate it to motherhood as that is where I am now.
When you become a parent you are presented with a perfect being, and as they get older they are still perfect in your eyes. Because they are so precious we want to show them a version of the world that is perfect too. We want to take them to theme parks, sandy beaches in the summer sunshine and teach them to swim, dance, ride… the list goes on. But the truth is that happiness and fun are just parts of a whole spectrum of experiences in life. The neon pink that stands out against a grey background if you like. We may not achieve everything on the list anyway that we think makes up a happy childhood (I know I haven’t). In life there is also sadness, boredom and a big one… disappointment. We cannot remove these things, but we can help and support our children through their experiences with cuddles and telling them it is ok to feel the way they are feeling.
So how do you look after number one as a mum or dad of little ones? Well, you tell yourself that you are doing a good job! The very best job you can. You listen when your kids say you are their world. You forgive yourself for feeling exhausted to your very core and like you want to give so much more. You say “not today, tomorrow” when they ask if you can bake with them or paint their fingernails or run them a bath with one of your bath bombs you were given for Christmas. Because tomorrow you will have your energy back and you’ll feel ok to do these things, and do them with joy.
And you make some time for yourself if you can. Run in the rain and breathe in the air and shake off the guilt that says they should be with you all the time. And if you have a little baby, or twins or more or just don’t ever get a moment away… know that one day free time is coming your way and for now just know that you are their world and although it may not feel like it to you, the harshest critic of you, you are doing an amazing job.