One of the most challenging times in my life was when I had my second daughter. After a really full life of career and travel, early motherhood with two gorgeous children left me overwhelmed, overworked and under stimulated. For those of you who know me, there is no quicker route for me into unhappiness than a lack of stimulation! However it wasn’t only unhappiness, quite quickly I became depressed and anxious. I also really was challenged by my relationship with my extended family. I had to revisit some issues from my own childhood in order to be the kind of parent that I really wanted to be.
I needed psychological support from a clinician that I grew to trust. This therapeutic alliance really helped me with depression and anxiety symptoms and also the issues of identity and trauma that I was living with. It wasn’t quick or easy. I came back stronger and more empathic to grief, loss and trauma but this was hard won knowledge. I am so grateful to the therapist who helped me.
One of the hardest parts was that I had so much guilt about my early days as a mother. I felt ashamed that my beautiful babies (and our attachment) could have been harmed by me being depressed. Having lots of knowledge about these issues didn’t really actually help me to become ‘well’. All it meant, was I put so much additional pressure on myself because of my professional background. At times I still feel vulnerable about this and can find myself trawling through attachment literature or chastising myself. I have learned to be kind to myself and to know that I am trying my best, even on the days that were / are challenging.
These shadowy times in my life were formative for developing a much richer relationship with those around me. I am stronger as a result of these experiences because I allowed myself to be really shattered and to not cover it up, or pretend or to shove it back down for another time. I realised that what I feared most was my own feelings. That realisation truly changed my life (insert necessary cliché).
Cultivating and maintaining wellbeing is personal and for me is about knowing myself. What I have found is that there is a big difference between ‘self-care’ and living wellbeing. I found myself mimicking others in an attempt to self-care however when I stopped doing that and focussed on my experience, things really changed for me. Sometimes I think there can be a focus on doing things to make it look like self-care but it might just be about general busyness. To me wellbeing isn’t just about health and wellness. Wellbeing starts with connection and makes a full circle into meaning.
I have done some fairly unusual things in the pursuit of wellbeing. I have floated in tanks, been in hot tents, spent time with local healers in mountain caves in South India. I’ve drunk dubious and nasty looking browny green drinks, excluded food groups, re-included food groups, spent too much money on unneeded vitamins, lost weight, gained weight, run a ½ marathon and taken up trapeze. I’ve tried on multiple belief systems. None of these are the sum of wellbeing. Wellbeing to me is about my relationships with myself (inner world) and my actions (outer world). Finding congruency and balance in these is what I consider wellbeing to ‘be’.
This experimental approach has been helpful as I have worked out what suits me and what doesn’t. A list of things to do doesn’t really create wellbeing. For me it knowing what I need, when I need it and starting from here. However I couldn’t resist just a few things that make me feel fulfilled and with a certain sense of wellbeing, even in times of ill-health. I’d love to know what is on your list of favourite wellbeing inducing activities!
- I hug my kids;
- I spend time with people who are supportive of me and that I can be myself around;
- I take pride in completing tasks at work and in the community;
- A commitment to lifelong learning;
- I live close to the values of love, compassion, curiosity and bravery.
- I take our dogs to the beach regularly and love to watch the seasons change;
- Knowing my neighbours and talking to them regularly;
- Caring for my siblings and parents when they need me;
- I watch stand-up comedy with Aaron;
- I read nonfiction (history, human rights, trauma, travel, chick lit, wellbeing and mental health, sustainability, politics with a passion for auto-ethnography, biography and memoir);
- I recognise the strengths and actions of others and tell them about this’
- I am deeply committed to my friends and community and love to be of service;
- Cake eating;
- I am an avid gardener, currently at war with weeds and watching my blueberries ripen;
- I love to walk (anywhere and everywhere) because it forces me to go a little slower than usual;
- I write blogs and stories and sometimes share this with others, as this encourages me to be authentic with what I’m feeling.
- I practice lots of breath work and yoga;
- I do plenty of high intensity exercise because I like how it feels and it helps me sleep like a log even when I am stressed out;
- I commit to being kind to myself;
- I focus on what I have to be grateful for;
- Instead of turning inward when I start to feel a bit down, I turn to my incredible supportive network of friends and family and accept their love and support.
Being stressed, overwhelmed, rundown or even experiencing an episode of mental ill-health is part of all of our lives to some extent. Wellbeing isn’t the absence of this but for me creates a broader understanding of the fragility and preciousness of life. The wellbeing journey for me has been essentially a time to look inwards and get to know myself (even the parts I’d rather not know) and to then attempt to be in the world, according to my values and beliefs. I am happily a work in progress.