This week I finished a project that I started exactly two years ago! It’s a ‘self-soothing cushion,’ which was inspired by a residency that Kate Genever and I worked on with an inpatient unit for young people with acute mental health issues. The project focused on the idea of working in the ‘not knowing,’ and explored how you can build resilience by using stitch to process the tricky stuff of life. As I worked on my cushion I realised that this was what I was still doing; I had entered a space where I could reflect on living in lockdown and sit with my feelings. I thought about the patches that I had stitched; each represented a psychological goal that I continue to work towards and was made to counteract negative self-talk. When I finished my cushion I realised I had stitched my self-compassion into a visible form which will bring me comfort when I’m struggling. I’ve reflected on each of my patches in relation to my experiences of living in these uncertain times. Reflecting and writing has become part of my survival strategy and is a small but necessary act of self-care. I have shared my thoughts below in case they are helpful to anyone who is feeling the pressure to ‘do’ rather than just ‘be’.
It’s okay to sit with it: I’ve thought a lot about how I am experiencing lockdown and how I am privileged; I am safe in my home, I have an income and am able to exercise and shop with minimal risk. I have the gift of time and an imagination that provides endless possibilities for how to use it. However, with these feelings of privilege also come feelings of guilt because I’m not on the front-line and I’m not suffering as millions of people are. These feelings are difficult to reconcile but I am learning to sit with them without judgement and use them to guide my compassion.
It’s okay to be quiet: Over the last few weeks I have learnt that I feel completely overwhelmed when I use platforms like Zoom so I’ve looked for other ways to connect. I love sending post so I have been curating little packages of joy for my friends and family. This calmer, quieter, gentler mode of communication has brought so much pleasure, from the process of putting the packages together through to the way in which they’ve been received. They’ve created unexpected conversations, deeper connections and held me in an amazingly positive space.
It’s okay to start small: On the first day of lockdown I did Joe Wicks’ PE Class on YouTube and vowed that I when I re-entered ‘normal’ life I’d be a size 8 and super fit. I spent the next two days having problems climbing the stairs and tying my shoelaces because my legs ached so much! ‘Starting small’ has been far less painful and much more fun. The highlight has definitely been re-discovering my inner Kate Bush through impromptu bouts of interpretive dance.
It’s okay to work at it: Lockdown is shrouded in the ‘not knowing’ and has presented a massive challenge that’s taken me out of my comfort zone. Me and my partner have never worked from home together before and we don’t really know how to do it. Each day we are learning to negotiate and compromise, to become familiar with and respect each other’s routines and to work out how to use the spaces in our home in a different way. Sometimes we get it wrong but that’s okay, it’s a work in progress.
It’s okay to speak up: I’m trying really hard with this one. If I’m upset I generally sulk or explode; I’m not very good at articulating how I feel in the moment that I’m feeling it. Staying at home has felt very claustrophobic at times and sometimes I’ve let small irritations grow into something far bigger. With the benefit of having more time, I am practising taking a step back, reflecting on my feelings and responding to them rather than reacting to them. I am learning to speak up in a more thoughtful way.
It’s okay to work slowly: I feel very grateful that in this period of lockdown I have control over what I choose to do and how I choose to do it; this is a rare and valuable thing. I have given myself permission to exist in the here and now and to engage in slow processes without worrying that I’m not doing enough. For a short window of time I’m aware that my productivity is not a measure of my worth and I feel so much less anxious for it.
It’s okay to ask for help: It’s more than okay to ask for help and it’s also more than okay to offer help. I’ve noticed that the members of my family who are self-isolating are having a really tough time dealing with losing their independence; often they worry they’re a burden if they ask for help. I’ve realised that it takes the pressure off if I remember to ask them ‘what do you need?’ Kindness will keep us together.
It’s okay to wear 80s clothes: It’s always okay to wear 80s clothes, everyone knows that!