When I used to hear people say they’d taken a “mental health day”, as in a day off work, I saw it as a cheeky excuse to have a midweek lie in. Maybe the surf report sounded good on Tuesday. Or maybe they just couldn’t be bothered listening to Sheila gossiping at the office again. But last week I discovered the importance of simply having a day off.
A few months ago Rex’s kindergarten invited Maia to enroll. It was totally unexpected as Rex was almost 3 when he was allowed to start, and Maia had only just turned 2. We arranged three morning sessions a week for her, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. I decided that as this free time was a complete bonus it must be strictly for sewing jobs and housework. Socializing or resting would have felt like I was cheating at my life role. So I stuck to my rules, for the most part… Once or twice my will power failed me and I found myself drinking morning coffee with girlfriends at our favourite spot. I had a great time on those occasions of course, but I left feeling guilty, and frantically made up for my lack of productivity by dancing around the children with a dishcloth and shooing them out of my sewing room all afternoon.
But apart from that, if the kids are out or asleep I’ve worked. I’ve had various jobs on the go over the last few months, but I’ve mainly been working on my first exhibition. At the end of last term I managed to get all my work out of the door, then three weeks ago during the school holidays my exhibition finally went up on display. I spent the rest of the holidays in a complete whirlwind of workshops, family visitors, friend visitors, talks, open days and radio talks (an experience which deserves a blog of it’s own….)
And that brings me to last Monday. First day of term. Husband back to work. Children back to kindy. I wanted to go back to bed. But my mantra of “kids at kindy mum must work” was still playing through my mind. I knew I didn’t have any more work coming in for another week, but found myself in my sewing room anyway, cutting and preparing patterns for one day when I might, possibly, maybe need them. 11:30 pick up, back to being mum..
On Tuesday Maia and I spent the day at Katey Pittwood’s amazing Fox and Plum studio. The two of us came up with the plan that if I did one day a week she could still teach at the local Girls’ High School and I could keep the studio open, whilst working on my own projects in an amazing space where Maia is happy being creative too. Win Win Win. This was my first day there. It was great to have a change of scenery, and I got A LOT done. But sitting there sewing, and then talking to Katey about the stuff in my head and in hers on her lunch break made me realise I wasn’t really ok. It dawned on me that working on my exhibition for the last four months had been therapy, for a really rough year. But now it was over, and the sadness was chasing me again. I’d been working non stop when the kids weren’t at home, and when they were napping, and even in the evenings I’d sit doing hand sewing or cutting out by a lamp. As well as trying to look after my family, here with me and back at home in London. I was totally exhausted. The realisation encouraged me to break my rule. I called my best friend and asked her if she was free in the morning to do something. Something…..nice.
I woke up on Wednesday and dropped off the kids, stood outside the Kindergarten gate and was picked up by a familiar smiling face. We went for a coffee, a long walk down the foreshore, into the pottery studio to check out her jugs ;-), back down the foreshore, another coffee, lots of talking, and finally some fabric shopping. It was bliss, and I didn’t feel guilty about it.
On Thursday morning when another beauty asked me to join her for donuts I thought, well Fuck it, why not!? More coffee, more donuts, more talking about the shit in our heads.
By Friday the beast had been unleashed. We packed up the car and drove four hours for a weekend away. We stayed with our wonderful friends, an Illustrator, a painter, and their gorgeous daughter, in their beautiful, warm and welcoming home that overlooked Lake Taupo in the distance. We walked in the sunshine, soaked up the views, op-shopped, ate yummy food and bathed in hot pools. Talk about inspiration and relaxation! We did miss a banger of a party in New Plymouth on Friday night, but I now know that dealing with a bit of FOMO is a necessary evil to get your head back on track.
Today I’m feeling pretty sweet. I came home from Taupo ready for two new clients, two new jobs which I’ve happily got stuck in to. I also reckon I’ve been a more confident wife, mum, daughter and friend. And I’ve made a new rule. Use a free morning just for me sometimes. This week I tagged along with one of my besties to her exercise class. It was the first time I’ve been to a gym in this country, I’ve been here seven years. It was brilliant, but my body was clearly so shocked by actual exercise that my hunger levels were out of control by the time I got back home. I ate my lunch so fast that I burnt my lip on a reheated baked bean. Apart from the blistered lip though, I now feel recharged, productive and better equipped to deal with the hard stuff.
It’s the “hard stuff” that made this blog seem relevant, because there seems to be a hell of a lot of it floating about in the water/atmosphere/etha at the moment. I wonder if it’s some kind of hangover from the roughest of nights that was the year 2016? So many people I love are having a difficult time, much more difficult than my dumb week (I’m not even gonna mention the global and political misery of late). And sometimes it can be impossible to recognize the need to take a break from the pressure to perform at everything, all the time. So, my little piece of advice for today is this….Please take a day, if you can, to look after your mental health. It’s what lets us look after ourselves and the people around us, and it’s the most important thing we own.