This past month has been difficult. We've all been in some state of lockdown for so long now that I assumed I had gotten used to it, more or less, that I had figured out a way to cope with it and make the most of it. I remember telling friends that I find myself loving the slow pace some days, but on other days the same monotony feels excruciatingly unbearable. I also remember telling them that pre-pandemic life too was like this, and the pandemic has only served to magnify what came before.
But almost four weeks ago, began my decline into ... I don't even know how to describe it. Depths of despair, I suppose I could say. The sudden onset of a dark, gloomy mood, that held me in its grip for a day or two. Almost every two or three days I found myself bursting into tears, experiencing the kind of physical and emotional lows I had been associating with pre-menstrual syndrome, exacerbated a hundred times post pregnancy and delivery nearly five years ago.
On days like these, I barely wrote. And in my inability to make progress on my WIP, I was mentally berating myself and panicking over how much longer it was taking to finish my work and put it out into the world.
It was a self-serving cycle. I'd feel low, not write, and feel low about it all over again, which made my recovery and return to writing take that much longer, and usually dependent on some external circumstance such as the receipt of good news or a morning of blue sky and sunshine. Essentially, factors that were completely out of my control.
I looked up the Kindle Store for books on 'self worth' and came across Dani Watson's 'Self Love and Spiritual Alchemy: Transform your mindset, strengthen your self-worth and manifest the life you desire.' (She posts quite frequently on Instagram.)
For years, I have read many books on self-love, manifestation, abundance, spirituality, the whole shebang, but none have stayed with me the way Watson's book did, which I read end to end and promptly went back to the beginning. Her words were simple, practical, not vague and abstract notions that leave readers with little clue as to how to actually practise these ideas and incorporate them in our daily lives.
I also love that she self-published her book. She also designed her own cover, so even more kudos to her. But more importantly, and this is perhaps what resonated with me the most, the beginnings of her story are as privileged and as ordinary as yours or mine. She was working in London, she had a degree in law, and the rock bottom that brought about change in her life was finding out that her fiancée had been cheating on her and the fact that she had resorted to shopping to fill all the glaring holes in her unfulfilling life and had racked up a debt of about GBP 20,ooo.
Give me a story written by someone who survived a war or an accident, or someone who underwent the significant grief of losing loved ones, or someone who had to escape a war-torn country and face several dangers to be reunited with their family (like The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan). Such a story would doubtless inspire me and motivate me to look at my relatively way-more-privileged life and do something useful with it. If people could overcome so much adversity and loss in their lives and go on to achieve unimaginable success, who am I to moan my lot? Essentially, I was telling myself to suck it up and carry on. A learning that often motivated me for only a day or two and thereafter sent me scuttling for the next self-help book or memoir that would talk of courage and grit and perseverance in the face of adversity.
But the truth is, and I didn't realise it until I read Watson's book, that being told to suck it up and carry on is the worst advice we can be given when we are at rock bottom. And it doesn't matter what our rock bottom looks like. The point is not 'who has it worse' but what we can do to emerge from that place.
I love her definitions of True Self Love, and I quote directly from her book here.
"True Self Love is not so much about what you do, but how you think and feel about yourself and the world around you."
"True Self Love is about recognising where you are holding onto thoughts and beliefs that do not serve you and doing the inner work to change them."
"True Self Love is about releasing negative energy, forgiving the past, and raising your vibration, so that you feel amazing from the inside."
And for the first time in my life, I began to feel comfortable with the fact that my identity, the entire premise of who I am, is not really tied up with what I do.
It is such a simple truth, but one that has taken me decades to arrive at. And even though I've read words such as these many, many times, I had never understood their gist the way I did after reading Watson's book.
So, if my self worth and self love need not be entangled with what I do - as a mother or as a writer - am I still worthy on days when I don't write? Can I still love myself on days when I feel too tired to cook a meal and am happy for little D to have a pizza dinner instead?
Being able to ask myself these questions and realising that I can answer them in the affirmative is so liberating. Whether I write a book or not, whether I make a gourmet, nutritious meal for my little one every time or not, whether I've remembered to get him to do his reading lessons or not, whether I have 'done' anything or not that would be deemed 'useful' or 'productive' by the world outside is immaterial.
I am a manifestation of life itself.
Simply by virtue of being alive in this world, I am worthy and loveable. And I deserve all my love, first and foremost.
What an amazing realisation!