breakfast as self care

Nitty Gritty Self Care

 

If there’s one thing I really, truly love in this world, it’s words. I am obsessed with words, with expanding my vocabulary, with using the right words to tell a story, to describe a situation, to ascertain a feeling. Words have been my solace for most of my life. They are my safe place, my shelter in the storm. So of course, I watch with interest when a particular word or turn of phrase ingratiates itself into the mainstream and becomes a widely used “buzzword”. Words like “privilege”, “intersectionality”, “humblebrag” and so many more seem to take up a position in the zeitgeist and represent a huge part of what life at a certain time was focused on. One of these buzzwords, or actually, a buzzphrase, if you will, which has occupied a lot of my brainspace over the last year or so is “self care”.

Because here’s the thing. The idea of self care, while pure in its original intentions, has become somewhat of a cliche. These days, it’s become very much bubble baths and scented candles (thanks in part, some critics argue, to Gwyneth Paltrow’s often criticised website Goop) but allegedly takes it’s origins from the Ancient Greeks. Allegedly Pythagoras was a big believer in taking some time each morning (a whole hour) to ground himself before engaging with other people, claiming it is essential for getting your soul in order,  while Plato’s self care was rooted in taking the time to find wonder in the world.

Depression

For those who live with depression, many of the self care suggestions we see online are a million miles away from firstly, what we need, and secondly, what we could ever feasibly warrant ourselves. I’d love to roll running a luxurious bath and filling it with Lush bath bombs into my routine, but more often than not, if I’m in The Dark Place™, self care is significantly more about brushing my teeth, hauling my monochrome-visioned ass out of bed, forcing myself into the shower and taking care not to listen to the negative thoughts using my brain as a trampoline.

One of my big self care rules is that I will eat breakfast every day, regardless of how I’m feeling. If I’m teetering on the edge of The Dark Place™ or I’m right there in the trenches, breakfast and lunch are one of the first things to go. I’m pretty sure this harks back to the days when I didn’t eat enough or look after myself very well. It’s not an easy habit to shake. But breakfast has become a key part in the battle with my brain and all of the drama that the aftermath of cancer treatment has brought my way.

The revolution begins at breakfast

Most days I just settle down at my desk with a warming bowl of porridge or my signature Breakfast Paste (an apple, sultanas, oats and a tablespoon of yoghurt – more delicious than it sounds, I promise) but other days – usually when there’s no milk in the house – I head out to my favourite cafe in South East London, Brown & Green’s in Crystal Palace for my favourite London breakfast, their Bircher muesli with cacao and sea salt. Breakfast has become a bit of a revolutionary act of self care for me. It’s so simple but it’s effects are widely felt – I’m less lethargic, my fatigue is less pervasive and I know that I’ve done a good thing for myself which can be momentous if I don’t feel like I deserve any of the good things.

Sometimes though, these things slip. Even with the best will in the world, there are days where I sleep in too long or I just “don’t get around” to making myself breakfast and boy can I feel it when I don’t.

But the thing about this breakfast routine for me is that it’s an easy one to stick to. I know that yoga can do wonders for me when I’m not feeling great. I know that exercise, while not a cure-all gives me time and space away from whatever negative self talk is burrowing its way through my skull and into my awareness. I’m aware that I should meditate and I know that I should make a gratitude list. Getting out of the house, or hell, even out of my pyjamas, is something that has the potential to make me feel better – but sometimes, they’re just not accessible.

Depression takes all of the things that you think you should be doing and uses them as a reason for religion free self-flagellation. When my blues are so pervasive I can’t see past the end of my nose, it benefits me to have a singular thing to focus on. A simple objective that helps me get up and start my day, even if it means I crawl straight back into bed afterwards.

the nitty-gritty

This is the nitty gritty of self care – not the “Goopified” (there’s another zeitgeisty buzzword for ya) version we see on websites that aim to make a buck or two from those who are struggling. For me, it is based around self compassion. Self compassion comes from the idea that we should give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. Food is my first go-to when it comes to taking care of a person, whether a friend or a loved one, and thus it has become my first port of call when looking after myself too.

All this said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a self care ritual that involves a monthly massage, a hike in the woods or de-cluttering your room. These are all incredible tools – but I think there’s a risk that these suggestions aren’t inclusive of the people who need them most. Self care doesn’t have to be Jo Malone candles that cost a tonne and facemasks that purify, refresh and hydrate your skin (though they’re good too). It can be something as simple as putting a delicious, nutritious and heartwarming meal into your belly.

For me, the revolution against my brain and it’s negative tendencies starts at breakfast time.

What’s the nitty-gritty act of self care you turn to in times of need?

My Grandma Constance

My beloved Grandma Constance died on 24th February, four days after her 93rd birthday. She was an incredible woman and I am exceptionally proud to have called her my family. Here are two pieces of writing that I put together before and after her death. The first, I read at her funeral, the second I wrote as she was on palliative care, towards the last days of her life. I saw her last on her birthday. The final thing I said to her was “I love you”. The final thing she said to me was “I love you”. I will hang onto that forever.

My Grandma Constance

My Grandma Constance was a tour de force. I have admired her for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if she ever realised how responsible she was for shaping me into the human I have become.

I have been moulded by her love of words and reading. This made me into a voracious devotee of the written word myself and an avid writer. She bought me my first thesaurus when I asked her what another word for “kerfuffle” was. I think I was about six.

Her intense attention to detail when it came to spelling and grammar made me a total pedant when it comes to accuracy. She taught me to spell and she taught me the right place to put a comma for both practical and poetic reasons.

Her insatiable curiosity fed my innate need to ask questions. I want to know more, to experience more, to live life in a state of constant inquiry because of her. I remember the time she read Harry Potter, because she wanted to know what all the fuss was about. She never got past The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third in a seven book series because the Dementors gave her nightmares. But her need to know meant she had to find out why everyone was talking about “this Harry Potter boy”.

Her baking taught me to love the attention to detail required to make culinary delights, but I carry it with me in my every day life too. I used to sit on a stool in the kitchen as she pottered around and watching her make delicious treats out of raw ingredients seemed like magic to me. That’s not even mentioning the results of her time near the cooker – my favourites will always be her Smartie topped chocolate buns and the crunchy, rich fridge cake she’d rustle up from a hand written recipe. I’d live on the fruits of Grandma’s labour in the kitchen until I turned 93 myself, given half the chance.

I have acquired her fiery streak, her sharp tongue, her cold hands and her warm heart and her love of daffodils. Chris jokes that I am going to bypass turning into either of my parents because I am already my paternal Grandma.

She was the very best of the humans. Kind to the core, compassionate, brilliant, determined, warm and fierce. She was stubborn and she was witty and she was effortlessly intelligent. I often wonder what she would have done with her brain had she been born 60 years later.

Losing my Grandma has broken my heart. But in losing her, I’ve taken some time for reflection, time that we’re all guilty of not granting ourselves often enough. I have sat back and looked at our whole picture together, a picture spanning almost 30 years. It is a beautiful picture. Full of love, laughter, joy, goodness – and chocolate buns.

I loved her very much. I love her very much. I will miss her immeasurably. But I am so very grateful for every single minute I got to spend with her.

Grief

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years grieving. Cancer takes so much from you that with every piece that is removed, there is a process of grief. I have grieved for my hair, for what my body used to be and all of the phases it has been, I grieve for the time when I didn’t worry about cancer reappearing in my life, and the times when I hadn’t confronted my own mortality head on. I grieve for the career I might have had, the things I might have achieved. I have become very familiar with grief in the almost three years since they told me it was cancer.

But I had forgotten how it feels to grieve for a person. I had forgotten the all encompassing, enveloping heartache that comes with losing a person you love. I had forgotten the breath-snatching feeling of getting a call to say that someone you’ve had in your life, for your whole life, is fading. I had forgotten that even though you spend your whole life preparing for your grandparents not to be here, when one of them begins the process of leaving, a world without them in it seems inconceivable and ugly and harsh.

And while this falls under the same umbrella term of “grief”, the two are worlds apart. There are oceans between the feeling of losing yourself and losing a loved one. The number of capital cities between the two is overwhelmingly high – there are vast continents stretched out between the state of Self Grief and the feeling of saying “I love you” to someone for the last time.

I had forgotten what it was like to grieve for a person. But this week I am remembering as my Grandma lies and fades in a hospital bed, 53 miles away. But I am remembering her chocolate buns – my favourite baked treat, the fluffy Easter chicks on her April cakes, her jokes about feeding me boiled eggs, her insatiably curious mind, her warmth and her love of words. Her stubbornness and her fiery streak, her sharp tongue.  The blurry days of my childhood when she sang “I thought I saw Puddytat”.

I had forgotten what it is like to grieve for a person. But I had forgotten what it is like to sit back and see our whole picture together too. And what a beautiful picture it is.

Perfection Paralysis

My Dad has always told me that “procrastination is the thief of time”. It’s something he told me a lot when I was growing up, and something I think about often in my working life. I’ve always been guilty of procrastinating. I often put things off for as long as possible, waiting until the absolute key moment to get things done. I’m the typical journalistic type in that I work best when I have a deadline, because then there’s no dallying. And it’s best if that deadline is set by someone else, rather than me. Because if it’s set by me, I’m much more likely to put it off. This sounds like a terrible quality for someone who works for themselves and is expected to figure out and control their own workload, but I actually think that’s part of the reason being self employed works for me.

But I’ve had a revelation recently. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or because I’m more self aware or a combination of the two, but it seems that I have quite a lot of these revelations these days. You see, as well as being a procrastinator, I’m also a perfectionist. You might not think it if you were to see the way I bake or the presentation of food on my plate, or the disarray of books next to my bed, but when it comes to my work, my writing in particular, there’s a strong part of me which feels that if it’s not perfect, it’s not worth doing at all. So often I find myself with something to write or an idea that I need to pitch and I stop. I end up paralysed by the idea that I’ll never be able to make anything as perfect as I’d like it to be, so why would I bother even beginning? Obviously, I’m able to give myself a kick up the backside more often than not (ALWAYS if there’s a client or a work project involved) – but there are definitely things, primarily ideas I have, that linger by the wayside as I procrastinate them off my agenda.

This is something I have really found with Life, Lemons and Melons over the months since the Kickstarter finished. This is one of the easiest things to procrastinate off my agenda that I’ve ever worked on. It’s a balance for me, at the moment, between doing work that I’m making a living from and work that is essentially going towards a passion project, not to mention the fact that putting a massive piece of my heart and my soul on the line feels like a gargantuan step. How on earth am I not going to screw this up? I suppose it’s no surprise that I hold incredibly high standards for myself. I have done for a very long time in pretty much every aspect of my life. I must be the best daughter, sister, wife, employee, writer, cancer patient, survivor, mental health patient I can be – not being those things, and the pressure I put on myself to do them, is a big part of what sends me into a tailspin that results in my prolonged periods of low mood.

Procrastination, perfection and paralysis are three words that sit together very well, and not just because they are alliteratively pleasant – but because one often leads to the other. When a hearty dose of self doubt is thrown into the mix (and everyone has at least a dollop of this thrown into their genetic makeup), it’s easy to see why people find themselves in a vicious cycle of trying to get things done, freaking out that they won’t be exactly how they want them to be, aborting the thing they’re working on and then repeating the whole cycle when they try to confront the task at hand again. It is exhausting. For such a long time I thought I was just lazy, but it is SO not true. I mean, I obviously am lazy sometimes (what would Sunday mornings be without a lovely long lie in?), but I’m not lazy when it comes to my working life – just sometimes I am incapacitated by my urge for everything I put out into the world to be perfect. Do you know how many half written blog posts I have saved on the back end of this website? Too many. Do you know how many half-written pitches I have for features I’ve been considering and then suddenly decided they’re definitely not worthy of sending? Countless. I have a whole spreadsheet. I have semi-written stories, opening paragraphs of stories and a notebook full of wild and wonderful ideas that may never actually see the light of day unless I break this habit. And I’d bet my bottom dolla that I am not alone.

So what can we do when Perfection Paralysis strikes? That’s a bloody good question my friends, and something I think Liz Gilbert touches on perfectly in her book Big Magic (if you’re at all creative and haven’t read it, beg, borrow or steal to read it).

I keep coming back to Big Magic in times of creative distress . She describes her creative journey as a “road trip”. Those present in the car are Gilbert, her creativity and of course, the unavoidable Fear, who’s main purpose appears to be to tell us that what we are doing is not enough. She goes on to describe the welcoming speech she gives to The Fear before the trip gets underway. She accepts that fear is coming along for the ride – but she sets out definitive rules for it if it insists on coming. She says:

There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way“.

Gilbert goes on with the analogy which perfectly nails what it is to be a creative person who is trying to combat The Fear. Her closing words to The Fear?

You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive“.

I’ve learned a lot about acceptance over the last few years – I’ve had to accept my body as it is now, I’ve had to accept my experience of cancer and I’ve had to accept my brain for the gifts it gives me. I suppose combatting this Perfection Paralysis is just another part of that – accepting my brain for the gifts it gives me, but not letting it run the show.

And here’s the thing. What is perfect? Who decides what’s perfect? And why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to achieve that unrealistic standard? As with most things, it’s time we gave ourselves a break. So I’m creating a new mantra for myself: “imperfectly finished is better than perfectly unfinished”.

AND HOORAY! I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT WRITING THIS BLOG POST FOR ABOUT 6 MONTHS AND I’VE FINALLY DONE IT. It’s not perfect, but it’s DONE!

Here’s a song by Fairground Attraction. When it comes to love, perfect is pretty nice

Future Islands – Brixton Academy, Review

While the lead singer of Future Islands, Samuel T. Herring, looks distinctly like a GP with his sleeves rolled up in preparation to perform a prostate exam, the sound that spreads through Brixton Academy from his voicebox and the collective sounds of the band are quite different.

Future Islands do not look how they sound. Quite the opposite in fact – the cool demeanour in their sound is not represented by their image. Had you only heard these guys on the radio, you’d be surprised to see the four men standing on the stage in front of you. They look more like they’re about to teach a geography lesson than rustle up a heady collection of songs that set Brixton Academy alight with a thrumming atmosphere and make feet tap to the rhythmic beat of the heavy drums and synthy keyboard sounds. And this is something which only seems to add to the magic of their live shows.

The intensely feeling lyrics, such as “People change, You know but some people never do, You know when people change, They gain a peace but they lose one too” from the hit song Waiting on You, enable Future Islands to balance dreamy, futuristic riffs, guitar sounds and the haunting language of the songs with meaning that lingers long after the song has finished. There’s something about their lyrics which speak to the millennial audience gathered. The crowd is hooked on both the sounds and words of each song as if it is an addictive drug, but rather than seeking nothingness from its clutches they are seeking guidance from the wisdom of the song lyrics and escape from the real world with the harmonious melodies. Every song can be related to the real lives of the audiences – we all hear a part of ourselves as Herring performs, throwing himself dramatically around the stage and giving attention to every word he sings.

Herring is a showman like no other, eliciting the full spectrum of emotions from the audience looking on to his performance. From the guttural roars of his low-end vocals to his theatrical, crowd-pleasing dance moves, dazzling high kicks, Cossak moves (yes, really) and overwrought chest thumping feeling of the lyrics, it’s as if every moment of the show is an exercise in exorcising his internal demons. Were it not for his regular interaction with the audience – singing directly to those crammed in at the front of the stage to expletive laden messages about how awesome the rowdy crowd are – it would almost feel voyeuristic to watch the man in front of you come undone and piece himself back together in every song, especially as the band’s latest offerings have become somewhat bleaker, exploring themes of depression, death and loss with in amongst their pithy electrobeats. His energy levels are similar to that of an over exerted toddler on a frenzied high before they crash out into a deep sleep or an exhausted tantrum. Just how much he exerts himself is evidenced in the way his characteristically cleanly pressed black shirt becomes a sweat-sodden memory of a shirt within the first 25 minutes of the show.

Future Islands sound like no other band of the present or from history and the album of this tour The Far Field (released in April 2017) is a rip-roaring success amongst those who require their music to have as much theatre as it does feeling. And boy do these guys know how to put on a show as they edge their way towards the curfew with no hint of winding down anytime soon. When the gig finishes, Future Islands leave behind a feeling reminiscent of the moments just after a storm – an electric atmosphere still hanging in the air and the sense that you’ve just witnessed some of the realest, purest magic the world has to offer.