How to Protect Time For Yourself

Updated: Apr 23

Last week I felt like the world was testing me. Testing my commitment to really giving this creative recovery a go. To begin with, things were looking good. I took the opportunity to finally book a Hammam trip that had been a present all the way back from Mother’s Day (if that isn’t a sign of how crap I am at taking time for myself I don’t know what is). I did the pages, I was working my way through the exercises.


Then, on Tuesday, I woke up feeling rotten. Sick, tired, with an awful dry mouth. The only other times I’ve had something similar is either a raging hangover or when I was pregnant. But neither of those things were the case. It looked like the side-effects of immunotherapy had suddenly arrived, almost a week after my second dose.


Illness is something we can't prepare for – and there's a lot of it about!


Self-care, I thought. So I rested, had a nap, didn’t do much, cancelled my workshop. I’ll do the exercises in the evening, I thought. Once my daughter is in bed.


Just before bed, we were playing ‘trampoline.’ This involved wearing the trampoline socks we got from the leisure centre in North London and throwing teddy bears in the air. The big yoga ball got involved, bouncing it around too. My little girl leaned on it and slipped, banging her hand on the floor. She cried, showed me her finger. As soon as I saw the funny angle, I knew all was not well.


After a surge of panic when I felt likeI was not in any way enough grown up to deal with the situation, we headed to A&E. Four and a half hours later we came back with instructions to go to a different hospital in the morning. She’d broken her little finger.


The next day we were tired and hungry and spent all day in the hospital. She needed general anaesthetic and it was awful watching her tiny body being wheeled away on a bed (she thought it was great) without me.


So I lost two days, a lot of sleep and a fair chunk of emotional energy. But the effects stretched out. Seeing as I’d broken the cycle of pages, what was the point in carrying on? Over the next few days I found more things to do, it felt harder to justify taking small moments to write or reflect.


Because giving myself time is not as simple as leaving the washing up, or deciding to do something creative instead of vegging on the sofa. It is that, sometimes. But most often protecting time for myself involves taking it away from another person. Choosing to put my daughter in front of the TV for an hour instead of doing something with her. Neglecting to hang out with my partner at the end of both of our days.


She's fine! Such a small hand to have a cast on.


In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about how you should dedicate hours of your day to doing nothing but reading and writing. The implication being that, if you don’t, you won’t get better and you can’t expect to get better. But for many people, how practical or possible is this kind of living?


It reminded me of this discussion with Kit de Wall, Stella Duffy and Athena Stevens for the Primadonna Festival. How the idea of writing every day comes with the assumption that it is easy to protect time for yourself. When for many people, and it is harder for women (currently reading Invisible Women which tells me women do 76% of unpaid work), the idea that you would have all of this time is just not possible.


This happened the last time I tried to follow The Artist's Way. My daughter was smaller and so finding time was even harder. I was enthusiastic about doing it. Twelve weeks, I can do that, right? An hour a day, that sounds feasible, right? Only when a crisis hits like it did this week, or after a few disrupted nights, suddenly my brain is so mushy the only thing I want to do once she’s in bed is slowly sink into a vegetative state in front of the TV.


Starting on a path is one thing. Sticking to it is quite another.


I worked out that, overall, I lost three days. Three days where I didn’t give myself that hour. So, instead of giving up and figuring ‘I’ll just do it when I have time’ as I did before, I’ve decided to re-commit. To just take a little more time to finish this one week. On the Sunday, I opened the book up and again and decided that it was possible, that I did deserve it, and that I would try my best to find those 60 minutes in the course of a day to spend indulging my creative self.


And the Artist Date was wonderful. On the way to the hammam in the car I shouted. In the steam room I cried. And in the bath and lying on the hot rocks I found a level of serenity I haven’t felt for a long time. After the emotional turmoil of recent months and last week it was a genuine recharging of my soul.


In a way, I’m pleased that this 'test' happened early on. It made me really question how feasible or desirable it is to attempt something like this at such a turbulent time in my life. But there will always be something, right? If it weren’t cancer treatment then it would be childcare or another family disaster or just daily life elbowing its way into taking up all my time. All these commitments, worries and tasks that tug at all of our waking attention, they’re never going to go away. So I might as well turn my attention to finding ways to block it out, whatever it is, even when a proper personal crisis is happening. That way, I figure that it will be easier to do when things quiet down.


I hope you find your own hour a day, or half an hour, or even fifteen minutes. To care for yourself, to remind yourself that you are a positive, creative soul that has much to offer the world. In fact, go and do something now, if you like. You deserve it.


 

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