Where to start at the end of the weirdest year that was? It’s been many things but intense is the word that sums up my own personal 2020.
So intense that I, personally, took to crying in carparks and rambling around the Burren rock a lot. Because that sense of intensity had very few outlets for the creeping pressure we found ourselves under from March. Small snippets of chat snatched with a passing neighbour or the person on the till at Aldi felt wildly reinvigorating, while very little meaningful connection with close friends and family drained us to the core. Even a quick trip home to Cork, once travel restrictions lifted for Christmas, along with a visit from my sister and her husband ultimately left me more bereft than satiated with a lingering feeling that those small snippets just weren’t enough to top me up, to sustain me. But sustain me they must – there is no choice. There have been so few opportunities to vent or let loose or let off steam so the intensity goes on, making life sometimes feel like a very stressful pressure cooker.
I took a minute to look over the blogpost I could vaguely remember writing this time last year. In it I wrote about how I felt absolutely knackered and was taking a minute to look at my emotional energy reserve which, I concluded, was at zero. Well, what better preparation could I have had for this year? And what little has changed? By the end of bedtime on Christmas day Alan and I were left splayed and dazed on the sofa – ‘How do people do this Al?’. He didn’t answer, but I continued to try to make sense of our annihilation at the end of the day; ‘I mean… we’re people… How do people do this?’. On reflection, with the day having kicked off at 5am like a mental obstacle course for the deranged (I was tuning a ukulele at 6.40am off an out-of-tune piano while a power-drill roared in the background putting together the doll’s house Santa had forgotten to pre-assemble while being hounded to put batteries in a remote control and dress a Sylvanian family rabbit) surely only the insane could immerge with any level of sanity?
But this, my friends, is all part of parenting, and as my mother has sagely told me a few times, parenting is one of those things where ‘it’s not about you’. Hard to take, I grant you, in a world that tends to believe we are each the centre of our very own teeny tiny universe, but it’s advice that has served me well particularly this year. It doesn’t invalidate how you feel – there’s room for the fact that you may be tired or quite fancy eating your dinner in silence – but leaves you under no illusion about the fact that you need to buck up and take responsibility. Let’s agree that it’s advice that’s quite annoying to receive but helps you kick on.
In addition to this, and as the year draws to it’s end, my mind keeps being drawn back to one of the 2,673 podcasts I listened to this year. This specific one was all about the science of stress and how it can manifest itself in a physical way causing debilitating illness and pain. Anyhow, most interesting was their theory around ‘self-care’ being cyclical. Self-care cannot be done selfishly, it can only be done with a community-oriented mentality whereby you allow others the opportunity for self-care and that, in turn, will come back to you. Like ensuring your partner gets time to go for a run or do that course they’ve been wanting to do – it comes back to you. And in that way, self-care becomes a kind of pay-it-forward thing. Something that benefits and comes around to everyone. I absolutely love this idea.
So where am I going with all of this? I suppose in a year where we’ve all felt pretty helpless, we do still have the power to look beyond ourselves and think of others. It doesn’t have to be in big ways or material ways, but in small and thoughtful ways. How many of us have learned that time is precious? That time with our family and friends is what we miss most with Covid? How many of us have benefitted hugely from the small gestures and chats from strangers and neighbours during this weird time? Think of all the healthcare workers, the teachers, the supermarket workers, the bin women and how we suddenly realised how important they are to us. Those that serve the coffee and do our hair – they are giving, giving, giving. And it all creates an energy that will keep us going on and into 2021. Some good vibrations.
The intensity looks set to continue folks. And it’s going to be tough, but maybe that’s when the tough get going. Send a friend a text, make your husband a coffee, keep others safe by staying at home. Offer it all up because the world needs you right now. When you’re at your glummest just remember – it’s not about you. it just might help you get on with it.
Note: The podcast I mention is worth listening to: Brené Brown, Unlocking Us Podcast, with Emily & Amelia Nagoski on Burnout and How To Complete The Stress Cycle