“Self-care” – 2. & 3. Going the hell to sleep

In another post in my “self-care” series, after I wrote last week that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing and demanding world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I feel like I barely have time to pause. Today, sleep.

2. Using a relaxing sheet spray before bed

Molton-Brown-Ylang-Ylang-Home-&-Linen-Mist_with_box_LRS014_XL

And, breathe (Molton Brown)

One of the single biggest things I’ve started doing to really wind down. Spraying my bed sheets and pillows with a gorgeous-smelling, relaxing spray is such a simple thing but feels so indulgent. Plus, the smell really helps me chill out, like I’m at an expensive spa or something. I spray it when everything is done, when I can finally get into bed, when all is quiet.

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“Self-care” – 1. Meditation on a train

Yesterday I wrote that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I barely have time to pause. Today, meditation.

Meditation through the Headspace app

Sometimes it feels like everyone knows about this app – sometimes seen as THE meditation app for your phone, featuring guided meditation packages from former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. There is a free 10-day introductory version, but you can pay annually for the full-on package, with 30-day routines, quick-fire “SOS” guides, and generally everything you need to maintain a daily meditation practice. No sitting in the lotus position going “om” required.

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RIP Sally Brampton: Who could see joy in the ordinary

On my bathroom wall there’s a page torn from the back of my favourite magazine, Psychologies. It’s a column by Sally Brampton, who killed herself last month, after a long and much-documented struggle with terrible, colour-sapping, joy-slaughtering depression.

As I never knew her personally, Brampton’s death came as a shock. I discovered it, as I do most things, by faffing around on Twitter, and it took only a cursory Google to confirm it was true.

That Brampton apparently walked into the sea seems a heartbreaking yet curiously apt method for a woman who had often written of her love of the seaside, the happiness of meeting friends on the beach, and finding meaning in the tranquil ‘boredom’ of her life since moving from London.

Although she was much heralded as a brilliant editor, razor-sharp yet kind commissioner, and the architect of a new style of women’s magazine, I only discovered Brampton through her writing on depression and life in Psychologies.

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To my dreams, nightmares and ex-boyfriends: Please can you leave now?

One of my all-time favourite bloggers, Laura, once wrote a post about bumping into her ex-boyfriend. Although that in itself is a fairly awful situation  (which she dealt with with consummate class, of course) she also spoke about how she’d spent six months dreaming of her ex after he left.

And how she managed to get him (and his new fiancée she’d found out existed within weeks of their breakup, which sounds utterly soul-crushing) out of her repeated dreams about them by quietly telling them, mid-dream, that they couldn’t be there anymore. And it worked.

Apparently, this idea is mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s cheesy-but-truthful ode to heartbreak, Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve read the book many times but I don’t specifically remember that bit. Maybe because last time I read it I didn’t need to.

Well, this time, world, I do need to. It may be undignified to admit it, but I do.

I’ve dreamt about previous boyfriends repetitively, too. In every situation.

I dream that we’re back together; that we’re about to get back together; that he’s there but we’re just friends (and I’m laughing along with the group, being the cool girl, but dying inside).

I’ve dreamt that I’m with someone else, and he appears, ambiguously. I’ve dreamt that he comes back and says sorry and all is forgiven. Then there’s the one where he’s somewhere in a tent at a festival (?!) and all I have to do is find him and it will all be OK (except I always just keep missing him by a minute).

I’ve dreamt he’s in my bed and then he’s not. Particularly lovely, that one.

I’ve dreamt that I’m standing on a podium giving an inspirational TED talk about everything he and the breakup taught me and why I’m a better, more whole person now. I dreamt that we bump into each other, and I behave in a dignified, totally-over-everything fashion.

I’ve dreamt that my mother, family, friends, and everyone else tell me that I really should be over it by now, and that it wasn’t that big a deal in the first place. Not like you were engaged, for god’s sake. Aren’t you finished with all this needy shit already?

I’ve dreamt that I’m being laughed at, and pointed at, and mocked, by everyone in the room – thousands of people, including his friends and other people I know ‒ for believing that I ever meant anything to him, for thinking that he would ever stay, and for being too utterly stupid (or wilfully blind) to notice the signs that he wouldn’t.

I’ve dreamt about him (them?) and woken up feeling broken all over again; I’ve dreamt about him and felt utterly furious that he’d barged in to my brain uninvited, and wondered why he couldn’t just leave me the fuck alone.

When I’m awake, I often try to practice mindfulness, and see my thoughts for the random, but not necessarily-defining, whims that they are. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you’re asleep, it’s even more difficult. After all, how can you control your dreams? But I can only try, right?

So next time he appears, behind the rose-tinted, totally-twisted, stomach-wrenching spectacles you always wear in dreams, I’m going to try Laura (and Elizabeth’s?) thing.

I’m going to try and say, politely and calmly: Please can you leave now?

I don’t want you here anymore.

It’s my party, and I’ll post song lyrics if I want to

Despite its many foibles, I generally love Twitter. It may be the place where productivity goes to die, but I also find it supportive, funny, friendly and intelligent. I guess it’s who you follow, right?! Twitter is what you make it.

But the other day, I saw this image being widely retweeted, which made me want to switch off. Call me over-sensitive (as many have and will), but I found it pretty patronising.

Because I love song lyrics, find them meaningful and inspirational, and sometimes the only thing that can keep me going when my mental health is having another wobble.

If I sometimes post them, or use them as inspiration for art, then I don’t see why I should expect false concern in return. We don’t mock people for writing poetry, or speaking plainly about how they feel.

So why this?

Granted, social media should never take the place of a psychologist, and those of us who started using Facebook as teenagers have learned the hard – and maybe bloody embarrassing – way that online updates aren’t the place for your inner turmoil.

So yeah, if your own timeline is more emo nostalgia than interesting or funny, then
maybe log off and go outside for a bit. Everyone wins.

And yet. Personally, I love the fact that sometimes, you can post something
indirect, and connect with other people over it. Song lyrics, for example.

For so many people, myself included, song lyrics are the expression of emotions that
sometimes feel too hard to write. It’s a truism that you can often sing far simpler,
far more direct things than you can say. I’ve always been someone who can fall in
love with a song simply because it said something – however deep or however
frivolous – that I couldn’t, or didn’t know how, to articulate.

And if that speaks – or more accurately – sings to me at a particular time, then I
don’t want to feel like I have to apologise for it. Or think that someone will post a sarcastic response if it’s not representative of their experience. It’s very “I’m all right Jack, my life’s going great right now, so please refrain from posting song lyrics that I find uncool, you’re bringing down my timeline, yeah?”

I mean, personally, I don’t even POST song lyrics, as such. But I do listen to music
every single day, and experience lyrics profoundly. A single line can genuinely
bring me to tears, laughter, contentment or total serenity, and that means so much.

Also, some of my most expressive painting ideas come from song lyrics, or feelings
that songs create. Why are lyrics seen as something to be mocked, but poetry or lines from literature are fine?

Many song lyrics may not be necessarily comparable, linguistically, to literature –
but as Mary Beard recently said (in the Evening Standard magazine, if I remember
correctly) studying “low art” as well as “high art” doesn’t mean that you’re saying
one is the same as the other, or better. Just different. And if Mary Beard said it,
that’s good enough for me.

If lyricists can put into song what I sometimes can’t write, then fantastic. Finding
a song that says exactly what you were thinking is cathartic, eye-opening, and makes
you feel part of something. Music is incredible, and lyrics are part of it. What
could be wrong with that?

Online arenas shouldn’t be a replacement for therapy, or somewhere to
vent your frustrations, within reason. But if some songwriter, somewhere – whether
legendary, respected, teenage, or just-in-the-charts – manages to express something
better than you yourself can, then why not?

Post it. Write that tweet. Paint that painting. Quote that quotation. And don’t
mock, or chide anyone else who does, too. If it’s not for you, unfollow, unfriend, mute, and move on.

As more and more of us see online spaces as an extension of ourselves, they
shouldn’t become yet another “cool table”, at which you can only sit if your humour,
feelings and music choice are deemed sophisticated enough for a chosen few. It’s the same reason that I find the widespread mocking of the phrase “u ok hun” pretty insulting too.

I mean, I get it: a lot of people are annoying online. But sometimes, all people need is to feel noticed, to feel that someone cares if they’re OKYes, there’s a balance – no-one likes those constantly, dreary-for-no-reason, purposefully attention-seeking statuses. But a song lyric can bridge that gap between being whiny, and saying something that is really meaningful to you.

In today’s society, where poll after poll shows that loneliness in young people is rife, if posting song lyrics – or even a painting of them – DOES elicit a friendly response from someone, and brightens up that person’s day for a bit, then what the heck is wrong with that?

I refuse to subscribe to this idea that unless you’re being unremittingly negative or dark, then you’re being “annoying”.

Don’t reduce people’s feelings – or their braveness in revealing them – to a mocking, pretend-concern, sneering greetings card. Because the only thing more insincere and cynical than someone seeking sympathy online, is someone mocking that in response.

And never mind song lyrics, it was one indisputably great writer who said it
best: If music be the food of love, play on.

Only then can we fully express the feelings we have, until they might no longer trouble us. And we can feel all the better for it.

What would Maya Angelou do? Her best quotes

The great, late Maya Angelou was pretty damn perceptive (understatement). I quoted her in this piece about personal heartbreak, but there are a lot of incredible phrases from her floating about in light of her death at the end of May, and I wanted to honour them, too.

I’ve been reading her I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and although it’s a bloody shame that she had to die before I really discovered her wisdom, I guess it’s better late than never.

Meanwhile, here are some of my favourite, most meaningful quotes from her, taken from this piece on the Guardian.

  • You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
  • It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.
  • I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
  • We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
  • I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights (I think this is true, but I also include “missed flights/trains” into the lost luggage bit, and “tangled headphones” into the last one).

And the last, most galvanising of all:

  • Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.