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Go Easy On Me - The Power Of Self Compassion

Lady in the bath

I’ve always struggled with the concept of self-care. Hell, I even struggle with the phrase itself. It gives me the ick you know? Being the child of a working-class northern family, with two parents who were absolute grafters, the term self-care, although I absolutely understand the necessity for it; has just always sounded a bit indulgent to me. A middle-class luxury that lots of people just can’t access. Sure there are lots of completely free things you can do as self-care… but don't tell me the spa day doesn’t sound more appealing.

Self-care also feels a bit ethereal and flimsy for my liking… like being hungry and eating candy floss. I’m in the middle of a very complicated divorce, with three high-octane, high-energy boys who exhaust me just with the sheer amount of love I have for them, never mind the time and effort required to keep them alive and thriving. I’m working round the clock to keep my head above water and want to continue being a good, committed friend and family member too. Quite frankly I’m frazzled. Depleted. Done in… And what; a 30-minute bubble bath with a ginseng candle and some whale music playing in the background is going to sort me out is it? I doubt it love.

Although I didn’t class it as such at the time, I think I did use to incorporate some self-care into my old pre-single-parent existence. It came mainly in the form of my beloved hot yoga. Every Tuesday night I took myself off there and genuinely ‘cared for myself’ by being on that mat. At the time I was feeling very confused and trapped and that hour of blissful escapism was like pressing a reset button for me. That’s now been consigned to an occasional treat if the stars align and I happen to have a kid-free Saturday morning with no writing to catch up on.

I guess if I had to name one thing I do for self-care now; it would be socialising. As I’ve written previously for this very magazine, my friends have been my soothers, my saviours, and my soul’s salvation throughout my marriage breakdown. Booking an evening with them, or squeezing in a coffee or a quick walk on the beach is something I prioritise. And I do that because I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that I will always feel better after being in their company. In the way they say you never regret a workout (debatable), I never regret carving time out for my girls. Laughter is the best medicine indeed.

Another problem with self-care is that I think it’s become one more stick with which busy women in their thirties and forties can beat themselves. It’s one more thing for the to-do list, one more thing to fit in… which surely defeats the point? If finding time to meditate makes you stressed, if feeling guilty about not meditating keeps you awake at night… where’s the self-care in that?

Nope, I’m afraid I can’t commit to regular self-care at this stage of my life. And I’m OK with that.

And do you know why?

Because instead of self-care, this year I am focusing on self-compassion. I am going to be kind to myself. In the words of Adele, I’m going to “gooo eeeeaaaaasssssy on me babyyy.”

And ironically, going easy on me isn’t going to be easy; I know this already. I’m an ambitious, super-active person who has a tendency to measure myself unfavourably against others. I’ve got a crazy work ethic and struggle to know when to say “Sorry, no, I really can’t take that on at the moment.”

For someone like me who holds themselves to high standards in lots of ways (and I know that’s a problem for a hell of a lot of 40-year-old women!), taking the foot off the gas can feel terrifying. We’ve grown up the generation of girls told we can have it all, we just need to keep pushing forward, working hard… doing all the things. Stepping back and admitting that actually, achieving lots of new career highs, maintaining a perfect new relationship, being an ever-present doting Mother, looking like a goddamn supermodel etc etc; well that’s just not possible at the best of times, never mind when navigating the end of a twenty-year relationship. But actually rather than making me feel powerless, letting some standards slip has made me feel more powerful because I can use my energy to focus on what really matters.

Confession time: Last night I got back from footy with the kids late, fed them, bathed them, sorted out their frankly disgraceful bedrooms and then slumped on the sofa at 9 pm realising I hadn’t eaten. The Sarah of old would’ve at that point forced herself to make something vaguely nutritious, I would’ve knocked up a salad or stir fry, something which ‘cared’ for my body. Instead last night I asked myself what I really fancied. And the answer my friends was a Terry’s Chocolate Orange. A whole one. In its entirety. The heart wants what it wants guys.

So whilst self-care might’ve seen me trimming asparagus and chopping avocados; self-compassion said to me “You know what love, you’re knackered. You eat healthily the vast majority of the time and you’ve been running around since 6 am. You have the chocolate orange darlin’.”

This self-compassion is making me more selective about what I pour my energy into. And it turns out that having fifteen minutes of snuggle time with my five-year-old as I put him to bed, feeds my soul more than finding the time to exfoliate and put on a clay face mask. To me, self-compassion is dropping the things I think I should be doing (the face cleansing routine) in favour of the things my heart wants to do. It’s amazing how we can create the time and space for those things without it feeling like a chore.

Self-compassion is something I’m going to have to cultivate and nurture every day. I think of it as a person, a woman… she probably takes the form of my Mum if I’m honest. Self-compassion speaks to me kindly, she knows what’s best for me and if I trust her, she’ll guide me through these choppy waters.

And when I emerge from those waters, in I don’t know, six months or six years' time, maybe I’ll incorporate some of that traditional self-care stuff back into my routine. Having the energy or clarity of thought to just read a book every night, booking in the odd Indian head massage, indulging in that bubble bath without two of my three children popping in for a poo and a chat. I have every faith that life’s little luxuries aren’t lost to me forever. But until then I’m going to wrap myself in the love I would give to a friend who was going through a tricky time. Self-compassion is where it’s at.


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