On moving home at 23, and what I’ve learnt about ‘self care’.

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More and more people can’t afford to move into their own places after university, and this can feel like moving onwards is impossible. After years of hard work and fumbling through early adulthood (housemates, relationships, ENERGY BILLS, borderline alcoholism, being offered 20p in Aldi by a homeless person because you can’t afford your bi-weekly shop because you’ve been out on the razz one time too many), this can feel deflating, demoralising, and frankly a bit of a piss take.

I decided to move home because I ran out of money. Being a Master of Arts at 23 with £50,000 worth of student debt and a wonky liver doesn’t, it turns out, mean you are owed a studio flat in Clapham and a 9 –  5 in an independent publishing house and maybe a dachshund. As grossly unfair as this may seem, it’s the cold, hard truth. Blame Brexit (my scapegoat of choice), blame Trump, blame George Osborne, blame your grandparents. Maybe even blame your privilege or your arts degree.  I am the first to admit that I entered into university thinking that I would come out the other end a fully formed, balanced, healthy individual, probably meet the love of my life and have a healthy queue of employers waiting to snatch me up. I’m also the first person to admit that moving into my family home in Surrey is hardly a step down from my stereotypically wayward life in Brighton (fun sometimes, quite seriously hazardous other times). It’s not the actual place or the people, it’s the unshakeable feeling that you’ve somehow moved backwards when you’ve spent the last four years or however long trying to reach a single goal. And once you reach it, you feel lost. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, but in this time you go from feeling like you and your peers are all in the same boat (it’s a lot easier when you see them every day)  to feeling like you’re just at sea.

We’ve all read a lot about self care, whether we’ve wanted to or not. Mental health is being de-stigmatised and it’s grown its own vocabulary, it’s own set of rules, and it’s own problems. The main message seems to be LOVE YOURSELF. Which is fine, I mean, by all means, love yourself. But be accountable, admit when you’re indulging in self-destructive behaviours, treat yourself with the same no bullshit attitude you’d take with anyone else. It took me four days last month to psych myself up to rescheduling an eye test. The simplest task seemed monstrous and it felt like the smaller my daily routine grew, the smaller my self-esteem, motivation, will to shower, etc. did the same. My mental health, like many others, operates on a system of peaks and troughs and It’s hard to know when I am asking too much of myself, especially when I am spending a lot of time on my own, self reflecting and comparing myself to peoples’ social media sites.

Instead of focussing on asking too much of myself, I started asking enough of myself. I would write down the absolute bare minimum to ask for the next day. It started out like:

  • get up before midday
  • have a shower
  • get up and make bed even if you end up just changing into pyjamas that don’t smell / smell less like vagina and sitting ON the bed reading buzzfeed and crying over Trump’s twitter instead of IN the bed doing the same goddam thing.
  • walk the dogs, for gods sake the small one is actually gaining weight, can dogs get diabetes? sort it out.

I found that if I just did these few small things, the rest of my day would start to grow roots and feel a bit less stagnant than I thought it would. Seeing the dogs galloping around the woods, the achievement of leaving the house, feeling clean, all added up. I started eating better, feeling better. I still occasionally sink a bottle of wine in one go and end up trying to ninja my way through my ex boyfriends’ social media, but I’m less hard on myself for it because I have done the things I asked of myself the night before. Eventually the lists became more ambitious, and the things on them seemed less scary:

  • Cook dinner for the family
  • Sign up for one or two graduate recruitment sites
  • Set up a blog
  • Write a blog post
  • email your tutor from university and arrange to go to their book launch
  • Go for a run Go for a brisk walk
  • Have a phone interview (!!!!!!)

Sometimes self care can seem like a quick fix or a fad, and it’s important to remember that your mental health isn’t binary, it runs on a continuum and sometimes, even when you do everything right, you will still have a funny turn on a bus replacement service to Three Bridges, or wake up feeling like a bag of sand, or try to be social and end up grossly oversharing your woes with a complete stranger who literally sidesteps away in terror. And that’s fine. Make the most of the support you have at home if you are lucky enough to have it, and try to ask the right things of yourself. Maybe eat a vegetable or watch Young Frankenstein because it’s on Netflix so why wouldn’t you?

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