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.