“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.” – Elinor Dashwood: “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen
Putting myself first is something that often goes against all my deepest instincts. Not because I’m an unselfish person, but because I’m far too obsessed with what people think and usually terrified of offending. And yet self-care is absolutely vital in order to keep those anxiety demons at bay.
I find there’s a fine line between cushioning myself too much and unsuccessfully attempting to “push through”. I know as well as anyone that a.) It’s healthy and often rewarding to force yourself out of your comfort zone, and b.) We all have to do things we don’t want to do from time to time; shit happens, often at a time that’s not convenient to us, and we have to deal with it.
Having said that, I can normally inherently feel the difference between a normal reluctance or nervousness to deal with something I don’t want to acknowledge, and a very real anxiety. I’ve become obsessed with inspirational quotes on Instagram, and I saw one recently that said “If it feels wrong, don’t do it”. I 100% agree, and this is something I’ve tried to consider when debating whether or not to do something because of anxiety. Sometimes, I know deep down I’ll be absolutely fine – in which case I’ll propel myself out of the door and, more often than not, be very glad I did so. Other times I can barely move for anxiety and have an overwhelming feeling of foreboding. In darker times like this, I’ll try to listen to my mind and body, even if that means bailing, cancelling or letting someone down.
I should say: I HATE bailing. With an all-consuming passion. I hate having to send the text that I know will never be able to properly express how I’m really feeling; I hate appearing flaky, unreliable, pathetic, lazy or any of the other numerous adjectives that I have never applied to anyone who bailed on me, but that I unfailingly apply to myself whenever I have to drop out of an event that a friend has kindly invited me to.
Despite my hatred of bailing, so far this year I have cancelled on: two birthday parties, a day at Glyndebourne, a spa day with a friend and a long weekend in Salcombe. With each of those events, I left the actual bailing to the very last minute, sometimes because my anxiety crept up on me without warning and sometimes because I determinedly refused to acknowledge the anxiety I could feel building, until I was forced to admit that I would have to cancel at ridiculously short notice.
Every time I sent the text saying “I’m so sorry, I’m not going to be able to make it, etc.”, I was so worried the friends in question would be annoyed, frustrated or disappointed in me. None of them were any of those things. They were all incredibly kind, caring and were only concerned with my well-being. Consequently, I’m gradually beginning to realise something that should have been obvious for a long time: it’s ok to bail. It’s ok to not be ok. And it’s ok to look after yourself. My housemate has a saying which I firmly believe everyone should adopt (and which I am only gradually beginning to adopt myself): “You do you”. Not all the time, obviously – sometimes we all have to inconvenience ourselves to get something done, or to help others. But I know if I’m feeling anxious, or if the anxiety is persistently hovering just outside my thoughts, I need to put myself first – and have no guilt about doing so.
There was a great article by Viv Groskop in this month’s issue of Red. The article was called “Wave Goodbye to Mum Guilt” and was about taking time for yourself as a mother (so I’m not entirely sure why I was reading it – but, regardless, I was). I was struck by one of the points she made, in which she referred to the advice they give on a plane: “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” We have to look after ourselves first and foremost, not only for our own well-being but because it is only through self-care that we will be best equipped to help others. She went on to say “You’re more secure, useful and happy as a parent if you value yourself first.” If I substitute “parent” for “daughter”, “sister” or “friend”, this becomes incredibly applicable to my own life and also perfectly sums up why it really is so important to do what you need to do in order to be ok – whether that’s putting an oxygen mask on or cancelling on a party – not only to ensure your own well-being, but also to benefit those around you.
So to sum up, I’ll bring it back to Elinor Dashwood. She wanted to be happy, in her own way. If I’m going to successfully combat anxiety, I need to do it my way. I can’t live for others all the time. If I’m really to be a good daughter/sister/friend, I need to do what I need to do for myself and come back to everyone else ready and equipped to be there for them, in whatever way I can.
LOW OF THE WEEK: Thursday night, when I eventually – after a lot of indecision – decided to send the text bailing on the weekend in Salcombe. I was experiencing a tonne of anxiety, which was my reason for bailing, but I also felt so guilty for dropping out at such late notice and so sad that I’d miss out on such a great weekend. (I should say: the friend hosting the weekend was so kind about the whole thing that I felt a lot better the next day!)
HIGH OF THE WEEK: A day at Osborne House (on the Isle of Wight) with one of my best friends. We had such a great time (we both love wholesome days out), the weather was amazing and it was so good to spend quality time with someone I definitely don’t see enough of!