When I was a teenager and young adult I imagined that I would eventually reach some arbitrary age (like 26) and just magically become a grown-up; ie someone who is ‘sorted’, emotionally mature, at peace with themselves, knows where they are going in life and done with the vagaries of puberty, the teenage years, young adulthood and growing up in general. But it didn’t quite work out like that for me. I’m 47, and still struggling with life and the challenges it continues to throw at me, still journeying towards something indefinable, still learning, still getting to know myself and still striving to be a grown-up.
I started seeing a therapist recently. Not because there is anything in particular I am dealing with right now, but as a mother to three young children who also supports other mothers in my job, I felt it would be a good self-care move for me. A ‘just in-case’ measure, to be sure to be sure that I’m alright and that I am in a strong place and able to take on what life and work throws at me. And I suppose I felt doing some therapy would give me an opportunity for self-reflection. Life has been busy over the last few years, with a lot of changes, and I haven’t really taken time to stop. And breathe. And reflect.
At one point during my first session, the therapist said to me “What is your foundation Caoimhe?” And my response was “Huh?”. My foundation; in other words what is it that I need to keep me strong and well, to hold me together, and to avoid burnout and unmanageable stress and anxiety. And I have been reflecting on that since then, letting it take shape and allowing insights to surface. It’s a work in progress, but so far I have determined that what I need to keep MY foundation strong are
Yoga. A weekly class (thank you Sylvia Ferguson http://www.m.sylviayoga.com/) and some time on my yoga mat at home. I’ve been a yogi for 20 years now and yoga has been a huge part of my self-development and journey towards self-discovery. I drifted away for a number of years when my kids were smaller, and now I’m drifting back to it and finding that I need it to keep me strong, physically and emotionally. The one thing I love about the weekly class is that it is the one time in the week when I don’t have to make decisions or do anything for anyone else! I listen and do. And listen and do. Om….
Quality Time with Friends. I have found that as I get older, I’m not that that good in big groups as I get a bit overwhelmed with lots of simultaneous conversations. I find spending time with friends one-to-one or in groups of two or three easier and more conducive to real, meaningful human connection. Time with the kind of friends who will say “how is your mental health?,” hug me when I need a hug and also make me laugh, nurtures me. And it’s something I absolutely need in my week to help me feel loved, calm and grounded.
Community. Connection with community is something we all need for good mental health and there are lots of different ways in which we can achieve that. One of the communities that I get sustenance from is the breastfeeding community – the lactation consultants I meet at conferences, through volunteering on the ALCI Council, and the women I have gotten to know over the past decade through my involvement with Cuidiu.
Time on my Own. In reflecting on what my foundation is, I’ve come to realise that I need time on my own to breathe and to decompress. It doesn’t have to be big chunks of time – sometimes half an hour will do, or a quiet relaxing soak in a lavender bath. But time when I don’t have anyone speaking to me calms me down and keeps me saner than I might have been had I not had it. I came across this lovely quote from Sr Stan the other day and it resonated strongly with me:
“Pacing myself, taking time to be still. Praying,
meditating or listening to music. This restores my
balance, settle me down, allows me to flow with a
natural rhythm, with new belonging.
My restless heart finds refuge in the embrace
Breaks and Boundaries. This applies to work. Anyone who is self-employed will relate to that feeling of being ‘always on.’ That sense that you’re always waiting for the next call or what’s around the corner. Being self-employed doesn’t come with the certainties of a PAYE job. So I have found that what makes it work for me, is being diligent about taking breaks and about knowing what my boundaries are eg not working weekends, not taking calls late at night, and ultimately not saying yes when I know I should say no.
Family. When life is busy and your head is full, it can sometimes be easy to lose focus on the people closest to you. I’m guilty of this. I find that I have a tendency to get caught up in busyness and in all that’s going on in my head, to the point that I find I’m not communicating effectively with the people closest to me – my three beautiful kids and my very patient husband. So I’m working on it! I know that I have a bit of a way to go. I need to get better at switching off and being present when I’m at home.
Continuous Learning. Working in private practice as a lactation consultant, this is vital to maintaining a strong foundation. I attend several conferences and study days throughout the year and often do webinars online to keep up to date with current research and best practice. Always learning. When I know that I am doing my best to keep my learning and skills up to date, I know that I can do my best for my clients and their babies.
Reflection. This can be hard and can be painful. But when we reflect, we learn about universal truths and growth on a personal level. We develop wisdom and a deeper understanding of ourselves. And this impacts directly on how we see and interact with others.
There are many other things that help to keep my foundation strong – eating well, getting enough sleep, good coffee, cake, getting to the cinema every now and again, reading and some occasional retail therapy. But the above mentioned are vital in keeping my foundation solid.
So what do you need to keep your foundation strong?