being furloughed made me realise the true power of self-care
By Jessica Collins
Making peace with yourself is harder than it seems.
Self-care is not something I ever considered until I hit my twenties. Wasn’t that the way for us all? Of course, I did your typical Lizzie McGuire green face masks and Claire’s Accessories nail polish pampering in my teens, but I had never delved deeper into the meaning of truly caring for myself. Where was the need, I always thought? I had the easiest bills-free, tax-free existence going. What was all this self-care buzz about? But, as the days began to merge into one while I was on furlough, I was finally confronted with the BIG question:
Why don’t I feel happier?
In my early twenties, I still indulged in my face masks, my salt bath and any “must have” product that the magazines were recommending. You name it, I was trying it. Circulation boosting body brushes, Argan oil hair masks, dragons’ blood (is that even a real thing? I still don’t know) infused serums, vitamin e cuticle oils, teeth whitening strips, dead sea masks, the works. The thing is, these treatments can be so FUN, right? They can make you feel so equipped to take on your long work hours, your studies, and even help you survive some quite difficult times in your life. Those precious moments to yourself can make all the difference. But, what I have just described is only one form of self-care. The Elle Magazine-brand of self-care. This self-care could also be simply called self-maintenance. It is a practice where we give love, nourishing and care-taking to the outside self. Being a janitor for our own bodies, if you will.
So, what about how I feel on the inside? Was my "inner goddess" being neglected?
I know this might sound a bit “out there”, but stick with me. I realised the answer to this during the first lockdown. Initially, we kept busy as a nation. We did our gardens, we crafted, we painted, we baked and baked and baked. I even started my own food Instagram blog page and spent hours in the kitchen being busy. It should have felt like one big never-ending holiday. All this luxurious time off work, no obligations, no social events to duck out of. So, what was the problem?
One night I was speaking to a close friend and she asked me "are you taking care of yourself?" and I replied "of course! You know what I’m like! Always with a face mask, always a foot bath!" and she laughs and says "no silly! I mean, are you taking care of yourself? Inside? Spiritually and emotionally?". This gave me food for thought. I was eating nourishing and delicious food - home cooking more than ever - so that was my insides taken care of. Surely?
I did an all-nighter on Google and realised I haven’t done self-care in my life before. Not once.
And the next day I put myself to work. Equipped with my newfound knowledge, I wrote a list. I wrote a LOT of lists. List number 1: what do I want from this year? List number 2: what do I NOT want in my life at all? List number 3: What am I avoiding? List number 4: you get the point. And so, I began here, with the thinking. It was not easy at first, to be honest it was quite difficult, and it tested my patience. I had to write list after list and set a million reminders to do simple things like “call nan”, “breathe deeply”, “talk positively” and “have some time offline”. So, I gathered advice from other people. I talked to friends and family. I dug deep, and I spent time with myself. No distractions, no social media scrolling. Just me and my thoughts.
Now, I write lists about my fears, and what I can do to overcome them. I write about the people I want to forgive, and then send messages to those people wishing them well. I write a letter to myself, my poor inner self I had forgotten about, and I tell her that I am here and tuned in and will not be going anywhere. I write positive notes to myself and stick them the whole way down my full-length mirror, complimenting myself on every part. I write a letter to my future self and remind her about our dreams and plans. I do the BIGGEST clear out of my entire life (thank you Marie Kondo) and I feel the most lifted and refreshed I have ever felt in my life. I start my biggest challenge-exercising. I begin small, with couch to 5K, and start building and building every day until I can confidently run without stopping every 30 seconds and a passerby asking me if I am OK while I breathlessly hold a thumbs up whilst bend over breathing heavily.
Now, I confront myself on my behaviours. I do the work.
That heavily avoided inner work of calling myself out on how I can do better. My impatience, my inability to stay organised and my constant need for something to DO. Every day when I feel myself slipping into old ways, I tune back in and remind myself that we committed to this self-care journey, and we are not stopping for anything.
I start setting an alarm, waking up to see the daylight, writing down five things I am grateful for and my daily intentions. I give myself a hug and say aloud "you are doing great!" and start my day with music, windows open, and a smile on my face.
I try yoga for the first time, and even though I cannot get the hang of it, I LOVE it. Sometimes I catch myself in the mirror curled up like a snail and burst into laughter. Who is this girl? I begin to look at my friends list; my social media accounts. Who am I even following and what for? I do not even admire that person; I do not even identify with that content.
I take daily walks. I phone my loved ones and I start to listen to what they are saying.
I notice the things around me too and begin to appreciate the sights and smells of my little village. I start to read everything I can get my hands on and expand myself further than my own hair-mask-infused little world. I found a love for autobiographies and learning about other people’s stories. Lastly, I lie in bed and ask myself: am I happy?
And so, 10 months, three lockdowns, a million cups of tea, a redecorated house, an adopted cat, 100 well thumbed books, and two DIY haircuts later: am I happy? Yes.
Because, finally, the inner me has caught up. Will this continue past lockdown? Honestly, I know it will. Because these self-care behaviours used to be something I had to painfully remind myself to do, and now they are just a part of my daily life. The best part is that my life flows so much better now that I take care of myself inside. I get more out of my days, and more opportunities attract themselves to me, simply because I changed my attitude and opened my mind up to them. I stopped putting myself down and recognised the things I can bring to the table. My friends and family can see the change and our connections become so much deeper because of it.
We all learned something in lockdown, and the biggest thing I learned was, it’s never too late to self-care. You can start now if you want. You can start when you are ready. I once read that you do not "find yourself" you just “remember who you are”. And yes, before you ask, I still love a face mask!
Image from Pinterest.