The year turns toward Lent, but I might be forgiven for thinking we were already there. Easter comes late this year, and I must admit that so far 2017 has been a hard span of weeks for me, where the existential dread caused by current politics at home and abroad has become tangled up in endless colds and now bronchitis. It has been hard to be productive when my nursery age daughter and I have spent the past two months passing germs back and forth, streaming noses and fevers and thick soupy coughs. I read an article today about women’s experience of vaginal birth and was brought to remembering quite vividly Grace’s birth, the strange hours where I felt outside of time and of anything but the crushing bonds of my body; where I felt I was in a tunnel that fell endlessly into the dark.
And yet, of course, light broke; she slipped out into the world suddenly, and today I woke up feeling all at once more like a person again. Medicine: in her case a very ancient kind, of being curated into the world by midwives whose practices may have changed over the centuries but who – in a straightforward case like mine – ultimately just let the body do what it knows, from primal memory, how to do… And in my case the world-changing gift of antibiotics. Over-prescribed: but not, apparently, in this case. Four doses in and I still feel exhausted, of course, still rattle and heave when I cough, but I don’t feel that the tunnel is all there is.
This is all very self-indulgent, which hopefully you’ll forgive; I need to bring myself back to a place where I can feel good and confident about both work and health, and for me finding that place has always been about scrabbling with words, reconstructing myself with letters. Before I could write, I dictated stories to my parents to write down; I have always needed to put words together to be put together myself.
I found myself thinking about self-care in all this. Since just before new year, when I got the first of now four colds in the space of nine weeks, I have indulged myself a bit. Let myself slack off work, watch a bit more TV, take more hot baths. We’re constantly told of the value of self-care, and I heartily recommend it. In general, though, the popular approach to self-care is a bit more like Parks and Recreation‘s “treat yo’self”, where Tom and Donna take indulgent days off to have pedicures, buy swag, and eat good food. Treat yo’self is an incredibly valuable mantra, and we all deserve to use it. But I think it’s not really self-care, except in a superficial sort of way. Real self-care is about establishing habits of prioritising one’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs. In other words: hard work, especially in the midst of sickness, parenthood, paid work, housework. It means re-evaluating your priorities and making hard decisions about what you can and cannot do.
I suppose I have thought about this not just because of my health, but because I am now (as of a week or so ago) halfway through my Leverhulme fellowship. Tick, tock. Three years feels like so very long at the start, and despite having ten months’ maternity leave in the middle there, I’m now halfway through. It frightens me into desperate longing for efficiency and yet into a more likely reality of paralysis. It brings up those feelings I have written on before: what happens next? What do I do if I can’t find a job after this? Will I look back on this time and think I’ve not done enough?
None of us will ever do enough. Enough is a hungry word, isn’t it, that O and U? It can expand open-mouthed and swallow everything you’ve got. I am going to try not to think about enough at my shoulder, and instead get well. Stay healthy, if I can, and aid the chance of that by living more healthily, more mindfully. And do what needs to be done and beyond that what I can do, in my work and family and community. Not enough: more than.