I’m struggling through a harshness of winter that won’t relent. The long haul arrives, as is its custom, when the clocks fall back, and I hold my breath for the last week of November when, as is my custom, I come up for air. But this year the black cloud doesn’t move on, hovering stubbornly over darker-than-dark mornings and closing in on already-closed evenings.
But because I’m so old, I’m very wise, and know that the best types of medicine really are the back-to-nature, basic ones. Here are a few of my go-to self-care suggestions that *usually* do the trick:
1. Listen to music
This is always the first thing I forget to do when I’m sad, which is silly as it’s one of the biggest healers. Remember the old days, when ‘listening to music’ was an activity in itself? The joy of going to Musiquarium in Swansea Market, handing over proper money for the latest Motley Crue vinyl then heading home to the record player and two hours reading the cover notes? Somewhere along the path of two children, a business and a dog, I forgot to do that. But half-listening to the Alabama 3 whilst peeling potatoes and burning another tea towel on the hob is the Musiquarium for modern times, mum-style.
2. Hibernate, with books
I’m a morning bird and go to bed early at the best of times, often before the teen and teen in training on weekends. In winter, 9pm becomes the new 10pm; no TV in my room, just half a bed’s worth of books and OS maps (perfectly acceptable bedtime reading for those nights when you’re too exhausted to focus on big words). I’m 281 pages into I Capture the Castle, and go dreamily to sleep wondering how closely-drawn are the contour lines around Belmotte Tower, and just which OS map it features on…
3. Light a log fire
Indoors or outside, this is one of my cornerstone calm-downs. Best conducted in tune with number one, above, when the kids are with the fun parent, or with a box of Cluedo when they’re home, a real fire warms your heart and your toes. I know I’m blessed to have a cottage with a ready-made, 150-year-old stone fireplace, but a lovely alternative is to light several scented candles, turn the lights off and… do nothing. Just watch the flames, and breathe.
4. Get outside
Have I mentioned this one before? My mornings go something like this; up at 6am, out the door, run 3km. Home to get Lionel, walk 2km (his running 3km days are sadly no more). And before you mistake us for some chirpy Mary Poppins / Bert combo doing jazz hands all the way, we’re hating it right now. I hate running in the pitch black, relentless rain. Lionel, still anxious a month on from Bonfire Fortnight, hates every rustle of a bin bag in the wind. But, somewhere between my post-run shower and poached eggs (not in the same room or at the same time, obvs), I start to feel able to face the day. Every time. Funny that, eh?
5. Eat well…
Make stuff, every night (apart from cobbling together fishfinger sandwiches on take-the-teen-to-Scouts night). Peel all the vegetables, put them in a huge pot of something and freeze as many tubs of it as you can. Not only is it fuel for all the getting outside, but there is something very calming and rhythmic about peeling all the vegetables. Especially when done in tune with number one, above.
6… but not boringly well
This year I’ve drastically reduced the amount of sugar I consume and feel heaps better for it. But rules are made to be bent slightly, which explains, firstly, why the most essential piece of kit in any hiking backpack is a raisin and biscuit Yorkie and, secondly, why the Aldi’s mince pies were opened on November 30. Possibly the 29th.
7. Switch off
Why has this one become so hard? What calamity will actually happen if we turn our screens off for a few hours? Well, all manner of disasters when the teen and teen in training are out, if you listen the demons in your head dictating that you simply must be contactable at all times. But in the corner of my lounge there’s an old fashioned piece of kit called a ‘landline’ that old fashioned people (and well trained teens) in crisis can phone me on, and in the meantime Facebook will just keep on facing and the world won’t fall in.
The roof of my very old cottage might, but I can just dig out the old fashioned phone from under the rubble and call for help.
8. Be kind
To others, to yourself. Isn’t it funny how the season of goodwill brings out the absolute worst in us? Don’t join in. Let the queue jumpers jump and the road ragers rage. Take the Toffee Penny and leave the Purple Ones for someone else to gleefully find. Breathe. You’ll feel happier, I promise.
*Disclaimer: The twinkling, calm bedroom in the featured image is not mine, and the reader is not me. My bedroom has three and a half duck-egg blue walls and a bit that has needed finishing for more than a year. My current cwtchy socks are an old pair of the teen’s with Hello Kitty on the sides. The demons in my head tell me I must finish painting the wall and buy new, photogenic socks, but I’m too busy self-caring to listen x