My word for the year in 2021 is self. Self is a loaded word because people can take it to mean “self-absorbed” or “selfish”, so I first hesitated to choose it. Like all previous words of the year, this word kept forcing itself to the forefront of my consciousness until I realised it had to be the one for 2021.
There’s a thing that can happen in motherhood where you are so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs, they can edge your own needs out of the picture. A little habit of self-sacrificing leads to depletion in energy and spirit, which then leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms (numbing) that only leaves you feeling worse. You can end up in a place where you don’t have the energy to take proper care of yourself.
That’s the tricky thing about actually looking after yourself. It requires a lot of energy. I’m not talking about the superficial self-care activities like taking baths and remembering to apply moisturiser. I’m talking about the most important aspects of self care: quality sleep, moving your body, and eating well.
Getting to bed on time is very simple, but very hard. I know exactly how I need to eat to keep my body and mind in a good place: lots of fruit and veg and make sure each meal or snack has good quality fats, carbs, and protein. There are no crazy diet rules to follow. It is very simple, and yet so hard to stick to. My current postpartum exercise plan is to do 3 half-hour resistance workouts a week and walk the dog every day. Again, simple, yet hard!
My old perfectionist and all-in tendencies don’t help me in this respect. In my 20s I would start going to the gym 5 days a week, go on some restrictive diet, lose a bunch of weight, buy new clothes and thrive off people telling me how great I look. It didn’t work long term, but it was exciting and therefore much easier to do for the short term at least. Consistently making minor improvements is boring. I catch myself thinking, “what’s the point?”.
Now I’m 34, with a baby and toddler, that sort of thing doesn’t even work short term. It leads to immediate burnout. I want to keep up with my kids in to their teens. I want to be able to keep up with my grandkids if I should ever be lucky enough to have them. My dad died at 51 from Bipolar Disorder and my mum at 56 from Brain Cancer. Even though I have no way to prevent such a terminal illness, if I’m lucky enough to miss out I don’t want my behaviour to stop me living my best life in to my 80s.
And so I plod along, prioritising my most basic needs with great difficulty.