Monday, 7 August 2017

Netflix, tea and taking up space

I was reading my last blog post (June!) in which I quite confidently stated that I would write in the anonymous blog immediately after writing in this one. I didn’t. Not only did I not do that, but I really haven’t written in this one either. I have written other things, papers, emails, new module structures, etc. But this blog isn’t quite as active as it was. Since 2010, I have written 811 blog posts. In 2011 I wrote almost a blog post per day. It’s sort of dwindled down since then, to now, where it’s August and this is the third post I’ve written all year. That’s fine – I’m not under some great internal pressure, but I do miss writing stuff that has no real purpose outside of the boundaries I set myself.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. In fact, I have MORE to say than I ever have done before. I also have an increased and more varied vocabulary (though would argue that I am yet to learn how to use it effectively). You could say that I have increased knowledge (though the more I know, the more I realise I do not know). And I have increasingly visible and known within my close relationships, quite ranty and rather resistant views about most things that affect people’s lives. So it’s not that I have nothing to say. I have everything to say, just I don’t have a starting place. My counselling & psychotherapy training taught me that the starting place is always where you’re at (well, where the client is at). But it’s only me writing this blog, so I can make a small creative adjustment).

Where I am at is weirdly energised but exhausted. The energy is from thinking. The exhaustion is also from thinking (you know, and the day to day jobs of working, communicating with people, travelling, doing all the things, processing stuff, trying to exist as a fully functioning adult, paying bills, fixing weird boilers that aren’t broken anyway, getting yourself to bed and up in the morning because you live alone and only you are responsible for your health and wellbeing). Those things. The thinking is simultaneously the best part and the worst part, because it *looks* as if you are doing nothing, when in fact, everything is happening. The thinking is a significantly harder task when you must multi-task the thinking alongside everything else. Being fully present with clients, being available to them in those hours, being available to the people who matter in the other hours, DOING the things that matter. Those things all take time and energy. Paradoxically, they also give energy whilst taking it. I have an odd internal response when people say you must ‘find your balance’. It’s the same when I go to yoga and the wonderful (she really is wonderful) teacher says we must find our balance, strength and ‘self’ within our bodies so that we can exist in our bodies ‘out there’ and be OK. Part of me can agree with that, but I also think there is more. There’s a shared ideology of ‘The Balanced Life’ – but I think balance is more about self-care. And self-care is not the rainbows and sparkle glitter-land, paint your nails, take a bath and all is good in the world and social justice has been achieved (I have to admit I just wrote ‘clitter’ instead of ‘glitter’. I was feminist craftivism-ing this afternoon. This explains that!) Back to self-care… I think until recently I haven’t really understood what self-care is and what it means, especially for women. I have a small example.

I regularly have conversations with people (not regularly, but quite often) about TV. Usually I have proudly been a non-TV-watcher. I watch Grey’s Anatomy (and it is my ultimate favourite thing to watch religiously). And that’s about it, until I become weirdly fixated on Strictly, or there’s a documentary about the earth, veganism, mental health or hospitals (as a child I *really* wanted to be a medical doctor. I then thought I couldn’t, because doctors didn’t have freckles and ginger hair). Oh, if only I knew. I’m OK with not owning a TV and I’m OK with the fact that I don’t watch most things. But I have also realised that perhaps I am missing out – not on mundane every-day things, but on another version of educating myself and engaging in dialogue about meaningful issues. I also sat at a dinner at a conference last month, with a good few other people, all raving about various series on Netflix. And this has happened in various spaces in various conversations. So, last month when I saw that Netflix was about to release a short film, To The Bone, I was straight there and ready to watch. Of course. I subscribed (yes, I caved – thanks good friends) and here I am, having watched a fair few things, and I really feel like I’ve found a little self-care space. I certainly don’t watch a film about eating disorders, or watch documentaries about the way in which the US legal system totally re-victimises women and girls and basically is set up to silence them when they have been sexually assaulted whilst drinking tea and taking a ‘self-care’ moment. I wouldn’t really define that as ‘self-care’ the way I would normally frame it. BUT I have found a very small way of creating a space in my life where I can watch something so that I can have an opinion, so that I can engage in conversation, broaden my perspectives and find new conversations to be part of. Some might say that this ‘self-care’ space is also a way of taking up space.

I’ve heard self-care be described as a political act – as in, establishing boundaries, existing in spaces and taking up spaces. And women (not *just* women either) taking up space is quite exciting. Perhaps I am existing in more critical and feminist spaces, but I have somehow reframed my thinking completely about self-care. It’s no longer that thing on the BACP ethical framework for counsellors and psychotherapists that requires us to take care of our own wellbeing by taking holidays and talking about our distress (though, yes, that is important). It’s not about developing our inner resources and resilience. Because, heaven forbid, we didn’t reach this point without having an inner sense of what is good for us and what is bad for us. Resilience is great, but I don’t think we really have a shared understanding of what that means, and I am also increasingly concerned that it places entire responsibility on us as individuals to fix the mess that is FAR beyond anything we have the power to change (collectively, maybe we can shift things, but individually – in this way, not really). So I think self-care is not always about resilience. It is also about taking up space, saying no, saying yes, not saying no or yes, saying all the things or choosing to say nothing at all. It’s about going for all the runs every day or not running at all. It’s about responding to all the emails at 11pm because that’s what works for you, or waiting a few days. It’s about saying yes to the things that matter and putting boundaries around them to protect them. It’s also about saying no to the things that don’t sit comfortably, though I know that that’s the hardest (at least for me, especially when there are potential consequences). I think self-care is about much, much more than dressing gowns and tea. Though, dressing gowns and tea are lovely.

Netflix, self-care and good connected relationships that make you step out of the known. It is good. Exhausting and exciting, but mostly good.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Anonymised writing and an accidental sofa nap

I was going to write in my anonymous blog, then decided I would write briefly in this one first. Really just to write about shifting to the anonymous one for a while, not that I blog regularly whatsoever any more. I have no idea where this blog is going, and it really goes back some years now so sometimes I think I would be better deleting the whole thing and starting from fresh. I could work on creating something a little more meaningful or related to my work. I do love my jobs and my research, and I always have stuff going on or stuff that I am debating or thinking about. Writing is a wonderful way to process some of that. On one hand, that would be wonderful. But on the other hand I can barely pull together a spare half hour to work on my PhD, so the thought of writing for work in my ‘spare time’ seems sort of wonderful and great, but totally idealistic. I’ve taken to thinking that the anonymous space on my ‘other’ blog might be the space I need. So, back to the anonymous blog I go. I quite like that sense of freedom that comes with anonymity. I am a little restricted here with my name attached to everything I post. I was having some conversations today that reminded me of some of the interesting interactions I’ve had when I was modelling a fair bit. Conversations about ownership of images, basically about models owning none of their images and not having any control over how they are used OR what is said/discussed about them in public online spaces particularly. So I suppose I am quite wary of that here too, but the bigger issue is that my students (not so worried about that) and my clients (this is more the concern) do have access to the wonderful internet and that’s a whole new kind of self-disclosure.

Anyway, so anonymous writing I think is where I’ll go to over the next few months. I am in a strangely reflective space after writing all day. I don’t think I give myself half the creative and reflective headspace I need to do a PhD – so I really must carve out spaces of my own. But the space I’ve created this evening is quite a new one. I’ve just woken up after getting home quite late, attempting to navigate thermostat instructions that make no sense whatsoever, and at some point during getting so lost in the instructions, I fell asleep on the sofa. Half an hour later, I woke up quite confused about what happened. I rarely sit on the sofa, never mind actually drift off to sleep on it. So you can imagine the surprise when I woke up horizontally on it at about 11.30pm. It’s quite comfy on there. And it is shiny brand new (well, less shiny. It’s just new). I should really make more of an effort to sit (or even lie) on it more. 

Anyway, when I woke from this strange accidental sofa nap, I promptly decided to skip the bath I was planning, leave the cold tea on the side, quickly check all work was sorted and just crawl straight into bed. I am so pleased that I have a few days off on leave.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Five months later

Now another five months later. Last time I wrote a post here, I had left it two months. Now five. That is a record in the seven years this blog has been going strong. Although now it is not so strong any more. It’s rather sad – I either have nothing to say any more (definitely not this – I more than likely have *too* much to say), or no time to say it in (certainly this). I even forgot I own a blog and it was only a conversation with a friend today that reminded me that I do indeed have a blog and I used to love writing it. Writing in this blog was a strange sort of act of self-care. Perhaps not so strange really, but it was strange to me, that I could write and love writing and take some time out that was just for me. I loved it – I would usually write on trains/planes/taxis/cars (not me driving!) or in train station coffee shops. I would always feel an odd sense of familiarity and home in the random locations but usually in transit – in the spaces in-between. It was real peace and time out. The irony is that you *need* time, in order to take time out. Certainly when I first started this, I did have time to write it. I also had very little restrictions about what I could and couldn’t write. I wasn’t a therapist and I didn’t teach. But now I do both, and I have clients and students who really shouldn’t read half of what is on my mind. The boundaries have narrowed and now there is not much space left to write as freely as I used to. So, I am left with no blog posts any more, and a very neglected small space on the internet. Slowly, it has dwindled down to nothing. Oh, that is sad.

Another reason I think this blog really has been quiet, is that I have not quite developed the skill to say ‘F-off’ to the guilt that arrives with writing something for pure pleasure (yes.. for pleasure). You know, the guilt that says ‘you should be reading for your PhD’, ‘you should be marking’, ‘you should be doing your emails’, ‘you should be doing teaching prep’. Even at midnight on a Wednesday night.. even on a Sunday morning. Wherever, whenever – the guilt isn’t selective. It is just there. It is quite persuasive as well, so writing this is my small attempt at saying ‘F-off’ to that. I didn’t get home until gone 9pm anyway. And my first thought was ‘oh, I should try to finish marking those last papers’. Of course, it is late and I haven’t - I’m writing this instead. It is good to reclaim time. I did it last night when I went to a yoga class for the first time in about 18 months (bar a random one I tried a month or so ago). I am clawing back some time for myself; it is more important than I have the words for.  I am currently sat here in my house, with a cup of tea and with my ridiculous next door neighbours banging out tunes very loudly. They are not bad tunes so it could be worse. But it’s mid-week and it’s approaching midnight and I’m pretty certain they have a new drum kit along with their much loved guitar.  I’m surprised at my tolerance really. I mean, I haven’t knocked their door down yet (I’m a bit afraid of them, and of my street actually!) and I haven’t banged on the wall too much (really because it bruised my arm like a very badly bruised peach last time!) but.. I am tolerating. And silently seething in rage.

I was reading the last few things I posted on here – and it is incredible what has changed in a small space of time. I have been in Northampton since September – I didn’t think I would make it to Christmas and now we’re at Easter. I am still navigating the new space and working out new relationships and people. Northampton is Northampton. People still look at me like I’m a little crazy for leaving York. But I have found some really wonderful people here, and that is one of the most important things. I am also still making sense of all the things that come with new roles and new responsibilities, and really only just connecting with the fact that I came here to do a PhD, and I should take that seriously soon (AKA now). Somehow everything took over. The things I am paid to do literally took over my waking hours and it took me months to even take one PhD day. Currently I am a little in awe of people who do PhD’s alongside full time work. I am not sure how it is done, but I can see that it must be possible and I suppose I will test myself over the next few years.  Nothing like a good test of endurance, right? That, and good active resistance and political acts of self-care. Blog posts and yoga. Surely I can keep at least one of those going..