We all wish for some sort of button we could use to switch off our thoughts for a bit – unfortunately, there isn’t one. So I’ve found my own way, writes Hollie McNish
As I’ve approached the next phase of the pandemic, I have found myself needing to adapt to a new normality. Each of our experiences over the last two years have been unique, personal, and resulted in differing impacts on the way we live and enjoy ourselves. As I move into a new chapter, I have started trying to view this with renewed hope and optimism – but I know that for others, the transition back to reality and the stresses of everyday life might not be so straightforward.
One of the ways I deal with finding my sense of personal peace is through poetry. As part of a mindfulness campaign, I created a poem called Dawn Chorus, which relates to my attempt to find mindfulness on the school run, when it’s been chucking down with rain and my kid is tired and moaning about me making her get out of bed. I figure if I can find any peace and calm there, I can find it anywhere – you don’t have to commit an entire hour on a secluded beach somewhere, simply to get a glimpse of calm during the day.
I think the mental health of mothers, parents and carers is something that we often skim over, because we see caring (especially motherhood) as something that happens in the private world, in the domestic – in the cosy home. Yet sometimes motherhood comes with challenges, emotional upheaval and social isolation – staying mentally well can be a challenge.
New motherhood is especially challenging, because we are so often told that these days should be the “best of our lives”. In reality, many mothers have just gone through traumatic experiences giving birth, are often in pain of some sort – and are now struggling a lot with sleep deprivation and the anxiety of looking after a tiny human (the burden of which was a huge shock for me) and so on.
Balancing those realities with the images of new parenthood as being “glory days”: a world of cute baby socks and smiling baby congratulations cards, and Instagrammed nursery photos, very often makes things a whole lot more difficult – and guilt-riddled.
I know lots of mums who feel horrendously guilty, even admitting they want some time away, some space from their baby. It’s a really difficult (and yes, often lonely) time. I think we have to address that more.
I’m past the sleepless nights of new motherhood, now. Those were exceptionally difficult. I had almost a year of fewer than four hours sleep per night – interrupted in so many ways. Half of that time, I was bleeding, healing, scarred – and psychologically grappling with a body that had changed so much in so little time. I was constantly ready, panicked.
During each night, either the baby would wake me, or if not, I constantly panicked that the baby was too quiet and would get out of bed just to check. So, after years of this anxious state of mind, I still find it hard to fully relax into sleep because I’ve just become so used to having a mind which is slightly awake all the time – always listening out and on guard. I’m not sure that ever goes away. I’m still finding myself sitting bolt upright the second I hear any sound at all from my daughter’s room. I can fall asleep fine when I’m away, but not when I’m the main carer – the protector of my child.
I think we all wish for some sort of button we could use to switch off our thoughts for a bit, but unfortunately there isn’t one – so I’ve had to find my own way. I’d never meditated before, and wasn’t sure what to expect; but one of my favourite parts of trying it out was doing it in the evening after my daughter is in bed. I’ve spent years being in charge as a parent and doing all the caring for others, and having someone telling me to do nice things for myself for even a few minutes was lovely. I have been listening to three-minute meditations about “feeling overwhelmed” and “burnt out” and it’s been really helpful to allow myself to just switch off.
Focused meditation made me realise I was already using mindfulness in my daily life – just not in the way you might think. This is what Dawn Chorus is an attempt to focus on: really relaxing into the moments in a busy parenting day, however fleeting, when you can concentrate on something else – the first breath of air of a morning yawn, or the first moment of silence you get after walking away from the school gates, once the daily task of waking and breakfast and dressing and getting to school on time (maybe) has been done.
Just to breathe in those moments. Enjoy the sensations. Not always possible when you’re sprinting straight to work – but I guess that’s also the point; because those moments are different for everyone. I love, on dark winter mornings, watching the lights in the other houses on my street flick on. I try to savour those still and romantic moments within the chaos. The feeling of holding my daughter’s hand as we walk to school – another one to savour.
I’ve also tried meditating with my daughter. Neither of us had done it before, and it was really nice to do it together with someone else instructing us what to do: Relax your toes, feel your legs sink into the duvet” and so on. We closed our eyes and listened and – well – my daughter fell asleep before we reached the end of it! I love bedtime as a parent. I love reading with my daughter or chatting before she sleeps, but it was also nice this time to “hand over” the bedtime ritual in this way and just relax together, listening.
Parenting can be tricky and tiring and tiresome and boring. Being the one in charge all the time; constantly telling someone else to do things, constantly the carer, in charge, doing everything you can for your unique bundle of love. It often means you forget about yourself a bit – yourself and the things you find inspiring, relaxing, calming. It’s vital, however you manage it, to take a little bit of time and experience a quieter mind and relaxed body.