Ah, how foolish we mortals are. We will insist on making plans, even when past experience should have taught us by now that something is bound to go wrong, and all our carefully-laid schemes will be thrown into disarray by circumstances beyond our control. It’s true, isn’t it? Well, it is for me. Sometimes I think I ask for it. I should just shrug and say “Que sera sera”, like Doris Day. One day I’ll learn. Perhaps.
As 2018 staggered to a weary close, I had it all mapped out. This was going to be my year. I wasn’t going to be stupid and make impossible-to-keep New Year’s resolutions because I never, ever get past January 1st with those; I wasn’t going to make rash promises to the world, like, “I’ll lose five stones by June and run a half marathon by Easter.” None of that old rubbish. I’ve learnt my lesson on that score, believe me.
No, what I had in mind was simple. Mind, body and spirit. Those were my keywords. Or that was my key phrase. Whatever. I’d neglected those things in 2018 and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake in 2019. Oh no. Come January 1st I would begin my new regime of self-care.
There were two problems with that.
Firstly, what the heck is self-care and how do you go about administering it?
Mind, body and spirit sound like things I should be caring for, but how? What do I have to do? I’m not bendy enough for yoga, for a start, and I’m not clever or patient enough for Sudoku. Where do I begin?
A lovely friend of mine (I won’t name her in case it embarrasses her) has spent the whole of last year on what she calls a journey of self-love. I’m not a hundred per cent certain what she did, but boy she’s looking well on it. She’s lost a shed load of weight (not literally, you understand!) and looks and feels so much better. She’s learned how not to talk herself down and how to stop that critical inner voice. She’s also tried massage, crystal therapy, and even learned to ride her own pet unicorn. (The last one may not be true.)
I’m not entirely sure what I intend to do, but a good place for me to start is probably with this journal, which my good friend and fellow Yorkshire Rose Writer/Write Romantic Jessica Redland bought me a while ago. It’s a Health and Happiness Planner, which sounds like a great idea to me, since health and happiness seem to be a bit haphazard in my life.
Mind: It’s been a bit stressful, 2018. In one way I have loads to be grateful for. I left my day job and began writing full time, which was a dream come true for me. (Don’t get too excited. The only reason I could afford to do that was because my day job paid peanuts anyway. There wasn’t a lot to make up!) Even so, it felt like a huge step. Heck, it was a huge step! I was free! But, oh blimey, what a responsibility!
Suddenly all that Writing Stuff got serious. It wasn’t just for fun any more. This was going to be paying the bills. Yes, I got panicky. Yes, I worried. In fact, at one point during the summer I was so paralysed with fear that I couldn’t even write. I was supposed to be finishing Being Emerald, but it ground to a halt as the terror kicked in when I finally realised what I’d done. What if it all went wrong? What if I never sold another book? What if I couldn’t think of any more stories? What if, what if, what if?
Ah, the good old “What if?” Essential for a writer, because how would we ever write a story if we didn’t wonder, what if? Not so great when you’re lying in bed at night, unable to sleep, as the horrific possibilities run through your tormented brain, shrieking at you that you’ve just made the biggest mistake of your life.
Of course, I got through it, with a LOT of help from my writing family, the Write Romantics. They basically told me to shut up moaning and get on with it – well, not in those words exactly, but that was the gist of it. And they were right. And, do you know, once I got back into the writing I forgot all about the worries. Until Being Emerald was published and I had to start working on the next book …
So, what I learned from that difficult time is that I do need to take care of my mental health. Anxiety is a horrible feeling. I’ve suffered from it for years, but some times are worse than others, and at those times I have to really work on calming strategies before it spirals out of hand.
Staying off social media helps. Facebook, in particular, makes me very anxious. I also have to work on not comparing myself to others. That way lies madness, no doubt about it. This year, I really want to take time out to do things that make me happy and bring me a sense of fulfillment and contentment.
I want to learn how to do art on my iPad, for instance. I used to draw a lot years ago, but haven’t done so for ages. I’ve downloaded an app and I’ve started making tentative attempts at pictures. They’re not very good, but I’m learning and I’m enjoying it. I also want to go to places I’ve never been before. They don’t have to be far away. There are lots of places just a few miles from my home that I’ve never been to. Time to explore.
I want to spend more time with the people I love, people who make me smile, people I have lots in common with. I want to remember what it feels like to write for the sheer pleasure of telling myself a story, without worrying about what reviewers or anyone else will think of it. It’s not going to be easy to do that, but it’s a skill I have to work on for my own sake. I have to learn to switch off my anxieties and just chill out.
Body: Well, after a fortnight of Quality Street, sausage rolls and too much cheese, it’s in an even sorrier state than usual – and that’s saying something. Am I going to make rash promises, though? Not this year. When I say silly things like, “I’m going to cut down to 800 calories a day for the next six months,” I can guarantee I will fail. I should know. I’ve said that just about every year for the last thirty years. You only have to look at me to know it’s not the best advice I could give myself. So this year, I’ve decided to ring the changes.
This year, I’m not setting myself a calorie goal. I’m not setting myself a weight loss target. I’m not even following a particular diet. What I am going to do is be kind to my body. I know a lot of overweight people hate their bodies, and I think that’s a shame. I don’t hate my body at all. I love my body. It’s been very good to me. It’s carried me even when I’ve abused it shamefully with unhealthy diets, junk food, slimming pills and even self-harm. It’s managed to nurture and deliver five healthy babies. It’s an amazing thing and I’m so grateful to it.
It could certainly be forgiven for thinking I have no regard for it at all, though, and that’s what I want to change. This year, I want to prove to my body that I do care about it, and I want to be kind to it and show it the love and respect it deserves. So that means saying “No” when I would normally say yes – to junk food, sugary snacks and processed rubbish. It means saying “Yes” when I would normally say no – to more fruit and vegetables, to walking, to getting outside and taking in the fresh air. And it means taking pride in every little achievement it manages – every step walked, every pound lost, every moment it doesn’t sit plonked in a chair in front of a desk.
I think taking care of the body will feed into taking care of the mind, and vice versa. But what about the spirit? I’ve always been quite a spiritual person. I don’t go to church any more, but the spiritual side of life fascinates me. I’m open to lots of things and keen to explore new ideas and old. Spirituality can be a bone of contention among people, and I’m certainly not looking for suggestions for a religion to follow. Nor would I try to push any ideas or religions on anyone else.
I believe that everyone has their own path to follow and everyone must find it for themselves. I feel that, this last couple of years, I’ve wandered off my path, and I’m determined to get back on track this year. It won’t be a chore. It’s always been one of the most exciting and delightful parts of life to me. I think losing that – becoming bogged down in work and worry and finances and other worldly pursuits – has fed my anxieties and left me low, which in turn has made me treat my body with less care than I should have done. It all works together you see. Mind, body and spirit. You can’t just focus on one aspect because they’re interlinked. I can see that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years.
I’m not going to turn into a guru (I always think of Mike Myers when I hear that word. “Into Me I See”. Have you seen The Love Guru? You really should. It’s very silly humour but always cheers me up!) and I’m not going to start chanting or book into a retreat like Edina on Absolutely Fabulous (oh my, that was a funny episode).
It’s going to be little things really. Reading relevant books (I already have lots of them), studying new things, finding time to just think about nothing, to clear my mind and let the universe pour in. Mindfulness. Gratitude. All those things that have people rolling their eyes and tutting at, but which I do think can make a difference. I’m willing to give it a shot, anyway.
Oh, and candles! I have always thought that there’s nothing lovelier than a candle, and I have stacks of them. The problem is, I like them so much that I never light them. I know, it’s stupid isn’t it? People are kind enough to buy me candles and they sit on my desk, on my bookcase, in cupboards, on shelves – all unlit because I’m “saving them”. What am I saving them for? Who knows? A worldwide shortage of candles? Yankee Candle declaring bankruptcy? A return to the power cuts of the 1970s? I have no idea. But maybe it’s time to light a candle and let my mind drift away as the burning flame flickers before me.
If you’re still with me, you may remember that at the beginning of the fourth paragraph I said there were two problems with my grand plan. So what was the second problem? Well, the day after Boxing Day I was struck with the dreaded lurgy. I have spent nearly two weeks now coughing, sneezing, spluttering, mopping up my eyes and nose, fighting off headaches and feeling as wrung out as a used mop.
DH and I had promised ourselves that we’d go for a ride out on the Sunday, to the coast or into the countryside. After being cooped up indoors for so long I was really looking forward to blowing away the cobwebs and ticking off my first goal for the new year. Except, yesterday actually found me slumped on the sofa, feeling absolutely worn out, and listening to poor DH as he coughed and choked and spluttered his way through the entire day. He’s absolutely full of it – which, in a way, serves him right for laughing at me when I lost my voice for three whole days. Boy, did he enjoy that little break! Well, now it’s his turn, and I can’t help but feel sorry for him. And for me. I can only hope that we’ll make up for it next Sunday before I go stir crazy.
So the best-laid plans and all that … week one of 2019 and I’ve done little except tear through tissues at an alarming rate and sigh a lot.
All is not lost, however. Look, I lit a candle!
Let’s see what the next seven days have in store …
Have a great week.