If you’ve ever navigated a crisis or stressful life event – a death or critical illness in the family, a colicky newborn baby, relationship breakdown, teenager going off the rails, Christmas with your in-laws – then chances are someone will have asked ‘what are you doing for Self Care? What are you doing for YOU?’
It’s a question that’s always made me panic. I usually mumble something about a nice glass of red and a good book. And hope they change the subject. I feel caught-out somehow, transported back to high school, lost for an answer to an easy question in front of the whole class. Back then I was ashamed because if I’d leant my times tables like everyone else I would have known the answer. Now I panic at the question about self care because I’m not really sure where to start. I’ve forgotten what I like, what gives me a buzz. I’ve forgetten, basically, who I actually am.
If I take away who I am at work and who I am as a parent I’m left with an ill-focussed fuzzy grey outline of a person. If you squint you’ll see a vaguely left-wing blur, with random, scattered patches of clarity. I like cheese, for example. I like listening to This American Life. But you can’t build an identity around cheese and a podcast. At least not entirely.
I remember liking things when I was in my 20s – music, dancing, movies, authors. If someone had told 21-year old me to make sure I spent some time each day doing something I enjoyed I would have been able to think of plenty to do. And, frankly, would probably have been doing not much else anyway. I knew what I liked. I knew who I was. I’ve been trying to conjur up the moment when that clarity of identity slipped away, but I can’t pin it. I just faded gradually, my edges blurred, my colours seeped out.
So I’m trying to remember myself. Colour myself back in. I’m trying things out for size, to see if they’re part of who I am. I’m about a week in. Turns out I like sitting in cafés writing navel-gazing prose. I thought I might like dogs, but I don’t really. Although I’m quite fond of my own. I like roller skating. And playing the card game Exploding Kittens. I don’t like crime fiction. It’s not a long list yet, but its more than cheese and a podcast.