It has been a very long time since my last entry. All through this Christmas/New Year period I was thinking about the anticipation and then madness at this time last year, when writing my book. At the time I said “Yes, I will get it on Amazon very soon”. I am finally able to report that yes, “Art Therapy: Foundation and Form”, is now on Amazon!
Getting through this past year has been a challenge. It has been a year full of health challenges, care challenges, child (albeit grown up children) challenges. It has been a year of being stretched in ways I had never imagined possible.
That phrase that I hear, and use far too often- my “you look after yourself” phrase- has finally been scrutinized for what it REALLY means. Honestly, would you actively NOT look after yourself? What am I ACTUALLY going to do differently because someone I care for/admire/trust/look up to has told me to look after myself? I suspect the message is actually “make sure you don’t do anything that isn’t necessary or good for you”. This message is probably good but I still struggle with it.
You see, I can say “No” when I want to, but frequently I actually want to say “Yes”. Perhaps I want to say yes because I am really interested and excited about the opportunity/project, or because I feel very much that it is my duty to say yes, or maybe it’s because I know that without my yes, this person will be left unsupported. When your child asks you for support that is genuinely needed and is most suitably provided by a parent it is not only hard to say no, but doing so has other consequences for my mental health, like wondering if I am being an ungrateful/uncaring mother. After all, my kids only have one mother, and that’s me! When my own elderly parents or my partner’s parents are in need of support in some way, and in particular when I know this parent is perhaps extremely isolated and fragile, how can I say no to that? My partner doesn’t get a lot of me, between work, exciting projects, children and parents, so when he wants something of me, it’s fair surely, that I can say yes.
So far that is, let’s see, 6 children, various husbands and partners, 4 parents, 1 partner of my own, (and now 2 grandchildren!). This means that if everyone in my family has just ONE major event in a YEAR, I am due for some feelings of responsibility/guilt/wanting to demonstrate care about every – oh – two weeks? That’s tough. Add in that each of these people have birthdays, graduations, celebrations, exciting news, devastating news and so on and EVERY week ends up asking something big of me.
So what’s the choice here? I know I have a choice. I know that I could simply not respond, not be available, not drag my sorry butt out yet again to visit my Mum, but is that REALLY looking after myself? I think not. I suspect that looking after myself implies that I need to care for my body, my mind, and my soul, AND respond in line with my values, priorities, and responsibilities. I would not be looking after myself if I allowed an entire summer school holidays to pass without making an effort to do something special with my youngest rather than bury my head in a good book. I’d find it hard to live with myself if my elderly parents-in-law spent Christmas day alone. So looking after myself sometimes means pushing myself to do what makes me feel good about me, not just avoiding the difficulties. Then I might be tired, but at least I’ll feel alright about me. I know that tiredness can be hard to bear – but nowhere near as difficult as feeling like I’ve compromised my own values.
I’ve decided I need to rethink my advice “look after yourself”. I’ve decided it’s an awful thing to say to someone struggling to pull everything together. I’m working on some other possibilities like “I’m thinking of you” (I always feel like this implies the thinker has some amazing power that their thinking about me will somehow help!) or ”Remember through all this that you are a good person, even if you don’t always achieve what you hope for” (It’s terribly preachy!) . Hmmm… I’m not sure.