Sacred 21

The notion of ‘self care’ is a booming, insta-worthy buzzword, and with great reason, even if it does reek of psychobabble; we all need to do more of it. It’s occurred to me on multiple occasions recently that the act of living alone soon becomes (wittingly or unwittingly, by choice or not) a grand exercise in self care. Every moment is a chance to either do it, and therefore benefit, or forget to, and therefore falter. I think of it as self management; little instances (first conscious, then automatic) during which one part of the self takes charge of the rest, to the end of higher degrees of sanity, happiness and security. When you physically live alone, it really is ‘me, myself and I’; you are both the mother and the child, and I suppose the bins aren’t going to take themselves out.

What self care really means, in no particular order:

  1. Forcing yourself to watch at least 15 mins of trash/mindless TV (The Voice, Dinner Date or Big Bang Theory are perfect candidates) after accidentally watching anything even remotely nightmare-inducing before going to bed. A vivid imagination combined with a stellar, haunting theme tune, Midsomer Murders a prime example, is not necessarily a recipe for sweet dreams.
  2. Fresh dates. A constant supply of green olives in various arrangements of herbs and olive oil, perhaps with the odd artichoke. A small satsuma fetish.
  3. The self-fascination with the heart flutter. That is, paying extreme attention, when deciding exactly what task to do moment by moment, to the option/thought during which your chest does a little inner jump. It’s the minute-est, little dance. It is amusing to me to notice what small things I can get fluttery about. I always follow the flutter. The heart knows best.
  4. The Big Kitchen Reset. Evening comes with a brief-but-powerful washing up session, ideally while listening to Stephen Fry’s Mythos, simply for your own future pleasure of waking up the next morning to clear kitchen surfaces. This is an agreement you have vaguely made with yourself, and vague agreements are at the root of self care. Also: the art of absolute self-forgiveness, the mornings after, if you simply couldn’t be bothered, got in late and went to bed like a total rebel, having skived the BKR. Self forgiveness is a practice of its own and crucial currency.
  5. Letting yourself have a bit of a cry after waking up in the throes of a sad dream, briefly googling how to deal with grief, just to self prepare, then deciding to roll back to sleep in order to delete the whole thing.
  6. Exercise. Sometimes rigorous, sometimes honouring lower energy (can’t be arsed-ness). Gappy, dedicated, focussed, half-hearted, dance-based; all types help.
  7. Indulging in the sort of practices which have you baffled by the concept that other people seem to manage sharing their living space with others: the important art of pep-talking yourself via voice recordings on your phone, not to mention playing them back in weak moments; meditation; unlikely yoga poses; the practise of leaving small, meaningful objects in the centre of the living rooom by way of visual to do list. Etc.
  8. The unnegotiable vow that you must smile benevolently at your reflection in the mirror whenever confronted with it (or that the smile must at least be your parting expression, no exceptions); that you may never part having expressed dislike or dissatisfaction for yourself, since your body is on your side and you must be on its; you make an important team and are each other’s intimate allies. Thoughts are things; don’t create hurt and badness. You are worthy.
  9. The glorious joy of cooking too much wantonly and deliberately, so you can freeze it in portions. This way to extreme smugness (by which I mean self-gratitude) and healthy, delicious food for the rushed days.
  10. Walks.
  11. The absolute knowledge of your own strengths (creativity, peace, intelligence, resolve, magic, faith, intuition) and weaknesses (overwhelm, sadness, coldness, impracticality, lateness, indecisiveness, uncertainty).
  12. The holy ritual: heater on in bedroom an hour before you’re likely to get undressed. The sheer ecstasy of owning and using an electric blanket, after a mid-thirties successful, brilliant Londoner confided that he had one and wasn’t ashamed; that it had changed his life; that it might not be solely the realm of grandmothers with a death wish.
  13. Acknowledging the visits of thrill upon knowing that you’re actually living by yourself, sort of successfully, and sort of enjoy it (the freedom, the madness, the sanctuary!), and might at a moment’s notice carry on to infinity (and/or at some point declare it all a fun adventure that was only a joke all along and actually you might move back in with your parents because you’re actually an animal and animals are meant to live in packs).
  14. The Weekly Saturday Cleaning Ritual, which is mostly a platonic ideal, since you only approach the sport in oblique fragments of effort so as not to scare it off completely (you are not even necessarily at home on Saturdays, though for the interests of honesty you sufficiently often are). Hoovering the easy places every fortnight, unblocking the shower when the situation becomes undeniable, looking very hard at the ladybird infestation in the bathroom and wishing the eccentric creatures well or blowing at them very gently.
  15. The joy of remembering, forgetting, then remembering that you are entirely loved and connected simply because you are a thing that exists in a net of souls, and that love is all there is; that every instance of love you see being shared between others is genuinely an addition to your own store. The frustration that can eventually turn into peace when knowing, privately, how strong you have become after a lot of time of not-quite; that it doesn’t matter if you always are alone, because you do aloneness genuinely brilliantly and my god will be a boon to the ultimate person, and were only given the challenge you would be able to handle (many could not, as you couldn’t handle theirs); that so much else is wonderful but you had to take this particular one for the team.
  16. Taking your basal temperature each morning before you get out of bed; the secret, empowering, growing knowledge of exactly what phase you are in at any given moment, what it means, what’s surging and what’s falling, what to expect, why you’ll be feeling the ways you might be feeling, why you can’t make decisions one week but could project plan the entire universe the next, when precisely you are ovulating, when you’ll probably need to relax more and when you could run a marathon on a whim.
  17. SUNDAY BAKING in capital letters because this is the cornerstone of jubilance and a clear necessity if you want sugar-free vegan biscuits (ideally cashew, oat and spice) available week-round. Pride that this has become something friends know you for, and that visitors need never go hungry (also see olives, dates and frozen goods).
  18. Good intentions, which mostly centre around the idea of the early night. An early-night ritual can involve candles, Anna Karenina, A Course in Miracles, a quick bit of audio, absolutely no email checking or work panic, but fundamentally is characterised by the going to bed part. Early. It is a rare beast, but one that denotes true goodness.
  19. The commitment that one day you will memorise (via youtube) the mechanism of self-rescue, namely the floor assault bellyflop manoeuvre necessary to stop oneself choking when a nut or piece of vegetable is caught in your throat and the entire world has stopped in your airways, with no one otherwise knowing until several days later. Equally: the ability to reason with yourself that this sort of choking has never happened before and is unlikely to happen in future. The occasional consideration that you should start doing some kind of mindful chewing or whatever, just in case.
  20. The delicate dance between three layers of pyjamas (winter) and casual nudity (summer).
  21. To end on another buzzword: gratitude. Often takes the shape of stunned disbelief: that you can be a vessel of so much luck, even if a lot of it is steeped or stored in potential; living alone is a real paradox of abundance and lack, and where there is abundance there is gratitude and where there is lack there is hope, so that there is no shortage of material for the wide-eyed and keen.
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