All My Worldly Joy

By Laura Richmond

A memoir of motherhood and mental health.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Christmas sheep and self-care

Dear everybody,

First of all, I've been meaning to write the last couple of weeks and tell you - in case you haven't seen already - that the perinatal peer support principles are here and ready to use. We launched them at Peerfest in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, and I also published this blog post about co-creating the principles. The Peerfest team had originally capped the number of participants per workshop at 30, and our perinatal peer support one filled up straight away. People had travelled especially and were being turned away and were understandably quite cross, so the Peerfest team very kindly let us be the exception and let everyone in. We had 67 people in our workshop! It was a brilliant day - once again, we were totally floored by everyone's enthusiasm and support for the principles. I feel so lucky to have been able to lead on this. It's such a lovely feeling, handing out principles booklets to people who are really eager for them. I imagine it's what being an ice cream man must feel like.

Last week I showed this booklet proudly to my friend, Margaret, and she said, "I see you've put a ginger person in the middle there. Bit of representation for you." I love the design work - wish I had done it!

The other thing I wanted to tell you was that today I am slacking off. I'm not writing the book that you're waiting for, sorry. Arthur's had an ear infection this week so we're both very short of sleep. We were afraid that he was going to miss the school Christmas concert that he's been rehearsing for weeks. I've heard all about "Mary and Jopiff" and endless renditions of a rather novel carol that goes, "And the sheep go baa-baa-bananas for the boy!" He assured me repeatedly that this concert will "blow your socks off - but, don't worry, your socks won't actually blow anywhere. It's just a phrase that means you'll be very impressed." Thankfully we made it this morning. I was very impressed. I watched him scan the audience for my face and then wave madly. He was the first person to stand up on stage and he said, "Welcome to Year 1's special Christmas performance," in such a beautiful loud clear voice that I cheered. One of the mums next to me had a newborn baby girl and she was just the most utterly perfect thing. I felt a sudden gut-punch of sadness that I don't remember Arthur like that, that I didn't enjoy him, that the time is gone and I can never get it back, that I'm unlikely to have any more children... Then I looked up at Arthur again, yawning adorably through the songs in a cardboard star-hat. 

I'm still absurdly busy - running two careers in parallel, single-mothering, writing and funding this book - and it does take its toll. I have these crashy days, especially after something like Peerfest when I've been peopling hard. Today is a crashy day. I came home from the school at about 10am, feeling all hell with lack of sleep and big confused feelings, thought about everything that I have to do today, and then thought: Nope. So I spent this morning lying on the sofa, drinking the Christmas tea which one of my Twitter friends wholly unexpectedly sent me in the post, and reading a children's fantasy novel in which absolutely everything is enchanting and lovely. I took the occasional break to watch the sparrows and blue-tits have an impromptu disco around my bird-feeder. At one point I ate a mince pie. Meanwhile my phone buzzed as work emails flooded in. I haven't looked at them yet because they will be full of people wanting me to do things. Sometimes I think that I do too many things.

I'm sure that many people feel like they live their lives in jobs-mode, but PTSD robbed me of my ability to rest in a very specific way. So I'm trying to learn it, or re-learn it, in the way that one learns any skill: practice, and experimentation. Self-care is a concept that's been bastardised as a way to sell candles and bath-bombs (which are really bad for your vagina, by the way: those Lush shops that you can smell half a mile away really ought to give out free canestan with every purchase). But I believe that self-care - true self-care - is a radical concept. It says: I am not a vending machine. My productivity bears no relation whatsoever to my worth as a human being. I look after myself not because it makes me more useful, but because - to quote my nan's framed Desiderata - "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars - you have a right to be here." Perhaps all of life's true meaning can be found in tat from the 1970s.

Self-care can't be bought, nor can you take a cookie-cutter approach to it. A lot of the traditional stuff doesn't work for me. Mindfulness makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. Colouring-in is boring; I find it infantilising and think it’s interesting that no one tells men to do it. Hand cream is, well, handy, as in it’s useful, but that’s all. Chocolate is delicious but my research confirms that too much of it makes me fat. Give me some smelly old creepy dolls to repair, though, and I'm in my element. The things which uplift us, restore us, keep us going, remind us what we’re about - they are unique to us as individuals. We find them, and learn how best to implement them, by trial and error, and by learning to ask ourselves: "What do I need right now?" If you like mindfulness and colouring-in, go for it. If you need to take three-day baths and play the banjo in the nude, knock yourself out. I keep a bullet journal, write a lot, stomp about with headphones on, wear brooches, swear like a sailor, go to gigs, seek out the people who really know me and like me anyway...  I try not to see these things as a hack to get more out of myself in the long-term, but to do them because I matter and it's nice not to be miserable.

In fact, I'm going to have some more of that tea now. Merry Christmas, if I don't speak to you before. Thank you for your patience with me while I write this strange book in this strange way.

Much love,

Laura x

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