Kindness: The charity that has to start at home

More early morning dispatches – today I sit typing onto the laptop at 4am. An odd sort of kindness to myself, waking up in the early hours to be fully awake to feed my children, but it has helped me carve out thinking space and in turn writing space. This is time I am starting to make my own, to tap into something that is ill afforded to me in the hours where it is easier, and more acceptable perhaps, to go about the business of tidying and binge watching television.

Self kindness is something I have always struggled with. I have not been as kind to myself, by a long chalk as I have been to others. I’ve always been subject to a greater level of criticism, scrutiny and intolerance from my own view of myself, something I would not impose or even consider applying to anyone else. I’m hyper critical of my appearance – I can’t be seen dead in public without any make-up, the dimensions I see in the mirror are apparently not what everyone else sees and I worry constantly about not being a good enough mother. Even in the introduction to this blog I’ve managed to knock the fact that I’m doing my best in being a mother of twin newborns, a seven year old and stepmum to an eight and six year old, a partner, a daughter and all the other roles I strive to fulfil, and reducing my lack of time to pursue my intellectual ambitions as down to being lazy.

I suppose by reflecting on how kind, or more importantly how unkind, we are to ourselves goes a long way to answering what kindness might be.

For me, this clearly involves addressing judgement. I don’t consider myself as judgemental of others, but I am aware of how judgemental I am of myself. I’ve discussed the matter of self kindness widely with others, both in person and via social media and it seems it is as complex as anything else. One of the themes that has emerged is the link between self kindness and worth. For some of us we don’t treat ourselves kindly because we simply don’t believe we are worthy.

For some people this meant they struggled to do themselves simple kindnesses such as making themselves a cup of tea in the morning, or to make sure that they even ate during the day. For others it meant that they actively tortured themselves with the details of their own perceived shortcomings.

In my own experience it was the prioritisation of other’s needs beyond my own basic welfare – every time. Putting others first is not a completely negative thing – it is the basis of service and duty. When unmitigated self-pressure and sacrifice go unchecked and unrecognised over a long period, however, it leads to self-neglect, burn out and serious health (mental and physical) implications. Almost two years ago I found myself in a situation of burn-out and stress at work. I had been putting work ahead of my own welfare for around a year, whilst trying to balance my responsibilities as a parent and to care for a relative. I came to the point that I was almost unable to go into work – how I carried on going in is still something I am not able to explain. My temper was short, my memory was poor and daily I found myself searching for vocabulary which could not be called to mind. The worst of it was the physical panic reactions – the feeling of my heart racing, the sensation of being trapped and the inability to remember anything.

It took me a long time to learn that I deserved to be factored into my own priorities. I had to train myself in the skill of saying “No” whilst being able to reconcile this with my own sense of what was right. I took to taking little steps towards self care – giving me time for myself, starting to acknowledge my self imposed high standards and how I should let go of all my “shoulds”. It is important to note however that I started to resolve this with the help of a very talented and eminently qualified consultant psychologist. Accepting help is a vital self kindness I wish to address at another point.

As it was, when I became stressed at work, it still wasn’t for myself that I went for help. It was for my daughter, when she became the victim of my short temper, albeit just with a single snappy comment made to her, but once was enough.

Ultimately for me, drawing on my own experiences of behaviour and therapy, and the discussion with friends, my conclusion on kindness to the self boils down to two elements:

1. Recognition of self worth

2. Honouring needs and wants

And I don’t mean this in a manner of two separate things in isolation – these factors work in a cyclical fashion – one feeds the other. You can’t honour what you don’t recognise and unless you honour your value then how can you recognise it?

When it comes to honour I’m not considering devotional offerings of animal sacrifice or utilising an altar – I’m considering small ways of making sure to share kindness with yourself.

2018 – A Kindness Odyssey

As I write I have my littlest, big twin balanced in the crook of my arm, trying to relieve her of the wind which I can hear gently growling within her belly after nursing her, as her minutes-older little sister, already full of milk, gurgles softly within the safety of her moses basket a few feet away.

Its 5.45am, just over two hours after I’ve relieved my partner for my share of the night shift. We’re working as a team and tonight I’m trying a new approach to my share of the night feeds. The last couple of nights I’ve found half-asleep breastfeeding a little trying, often ending with me dozing in bed with a child in my arms. This is a bad state of affairs – I’m more aware than most of the threat of co-sleeping – so I’ve had a think and decided a fully awake set of early morning feeds is the answer. It seems it has also given me time and headspace to create – so here I write.

In the last weeks I came to the realisation that I was thoroughly entranced by the scrolling of social media. It’s understandable I think, alongside the exhaustion of dealing with two newborns, to revert to mindless scanning of all the feeds, but it can become an exhausting and consuming process of mentally sifting words, concepts and news. It has stifled creativity in me and, although sparking ideas, has become somewhat obstructive due to its distracting ease. I came to realise that, having had months of a pregnancy so physically exhausting that it rendered me massively mentally diminished, that my faculties were back firing on all pistons and time was a-wasting. I decided on a full-blown act of self care and gifted myself the kindness of a week long break from the pressure of social media, full force cold turkey.

Kindness has become a new obsession, with the return of my capability to reflect and analyse. It seems that the threats to the world right now are rooted in a place where kindness is somewhat lacking. There is a lot of focus, globally on protectionist policies and a reduction in social provision which has seen the most vulnerable start to suffer – the news in the UK recently has reported increases in homelessness, the impact of benefits changes on the poor and increases in racism reports following Brexit. Globally the headlines have been dominated by the accounts of sexual assault and harassment, looming threats of nuclear war and mass manipulation of people and democracies using covertly collected data through social media. The world has become a dark place, without redeeming features.

This is a bleak setting in which to be nurturing new life, so its understandable that my brain might be reaching for answers to this darkness. Kindness, that most basic sign of the good that permeates humanity, is the easiest to go to. It leaves traces everywhere.

I’ve been lucky over the last six weeks to have benefited from kindnesses of several kinds. The kindness of strangers – the cheering comments of other social media users on the days when new baby exhaustion has been grinding; the kindness of personal values – the anaesthetist flying in the face of accepted practice by insisting I have the support of my partner’s presence as the doctor administered the terrifying spinal block needed for the birth of my children; and the kindness of love as my partner set aside the suffering of full blown ‘flu to ensure I did not have to deal with around the clock feeding alone.

This is all such great fortune and I know that in this I am supported by so much advantage and privilege. This is not the norm for so many people. In fact structures and systems in this world mean that so many people are exposed to discrimination, cruelty and exploitation. I resolved to set my mind to kindness, to understand how kindness might become a revolutionary act, how, with intention, kindness might change the world, starting small and growing outwards.

Message in a bottle: New beginnings

I am doing my own stepping forward, if only in trying to lead a more deliberate live of love and kindness…

Just Ruby, Really
Just Ruby, Really

Trite isn’t it. The idea of once every year the cliché of fresh starts. A barrage of fitness posts on social media, healthy eating tips and resolutions to effect change are abounds. Predictable, dull.

But in this world, this world that is so very different to the world at the start of 2016, normality is no longer predictable. In point of fact the world is becoming a darker and much more terrifying place. What we learned from 2017 was that in the war between good and evil is that a) evil is something that is contested and not agreed upon, no matter how similar it is to commonly accepted reference points from the past (I refer you to the ‘good folks’ mentality of the American right towards what ostensibly appear to be Nazis; and b) good will not always win, just because it should.

It is into this world that I have brought two new-born girls, alongside my eldest daughter and another son and a daughter I welcomed into my blended family. In these dark times I have to admit, I am afraid. I am afraid for my children. We appear to be at the precipice of epoch defining change and there are no apparent leaders stepping forward to contest that definition being written by those who would profit from it at the cost of all the precious attributes of humanity – kindness, humility, hope and shared progress. Who will stand to unite those who will not accept the sale of the world to the highest bidder?

But there is hope. There is always hope. From between the shadows there are quietly stepping forward thousands of men and women who are ready to make change. They are ready to lead – some in grand ways which might form governments – some of whom are willing to lead in the smallest of ways, making better choices at home and hearth – and neither of these types of leadership are of greater value – all world leaders begin with a home of whatever description and the better we make these homes, the stronger we make these families, the greater the chance we give the fight for good.

So, though the “New Year, New Starters” have previously been some sort of herd thought process, oft driven by consumer culture, perhaps we should see them as much, much more. These are the little manifestations of hope. Hope that we can all change and be better. Good has not yet lost.

So I apologise, with the launch of this new blog I am part of that wave of post-Christmas optimism. I am doing my own stepping forward, if only in trying to lead a more deliberate live of love and kindness, writing it out onto a message to stuff in a bottle and tossing that bottle out on to the turbulent waves of the present.

This is Just Real Ruby, filing my first post…

IMG_5392