Speaking as a woman in her mid-twenties with a seemingly endless to-do list, all too often I forget to take care of myself. I’m not talking like forgetting to eat or shower or whatever; those functions are basically automatic, and happen when they should (at least twice every day, and one or twice a day depending on the summer temperature!). I’m talking about the little things. I’m talking about doing something for myself, that is just for me. Not to further progress in some arbitrary goal, or to tick something off a list that somebody else (like my thesis advisor) is going to see later, but just for me. For my sake. I’m talking about those things.
I decided, sometime in December when ruminating about what I wanted to achieve in 2018, that I was going to make 2018 all about me. And yes I am aware how selfish that sounds, and you know what? It is. It completely is, and you know what else? There is nothing wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shifting yourself into the focus position of your own life. Because let’s get something straight here: nobody else is going to do this for you. They’ve all got their own problems. The best person to make sure you’re doing ok is you. And let me tell you something else: all those goals and ambitions you’re killing yourself to achieve won’t mean anything at all if, when you finally get over the finish line, you are too exhausted and broken to actually take advantage of your wins. Exhaustion is not fun. Burnout is not fun. Misery and fatigue and weight gain and stress and anxiety are not fun. And yet, these are among the consequences that so many people my age suffer just because we’re so convinced that we have to reach X goal first, in the fastest time, with the greatest result. And in some cases, to be fair, that is actually necessary. But millennials, those much-beleaguered souls, are acting that way about literally their entire lives, and of late I am no exception.
I have high expectations of myself, and I always have had. My mother taught me to have high expectations, because she knew that I could meet them. That instills both a confidence and a work ethic, but it can also instill anxiety and a constant sense of overhanging deadlines. What I never quite learned, until the last few months I think, is that I can have and meet those expectations and still actually live as a functioning human adult. And I can do this by making my life all about me.
I’m not saying to become the bitch-about-town. Nobody likes her. Don’t be that person. What I am saying is to make time, and make decisions, where you are the positive focus and where the consequences or results of those decisions either positively affects you, or at the very least do not negatively affect you. Neutral is sometimes the best result we can hope for. And those tiny day-to-day decisions, that time you take to yourself, that thirty minutes in the morning that you usually use to work unpaid overtime in the office that you decide to use for coffee and a book in the local cafe instead, those decisions and that time actually make it easier to then sit down at your desk and go to work.
It doesn’t always have to be specific actions, or deciding not to do something. Then again, it can be. For example: starting around 16, one of my favourite things to do was to learn, from various sources (shoutout to YouTube), how to apply my makeup properly. I wore makeup several days a week if not more, for years. I have a somewhat astounding makeup collection, for someone that doesn’t work in a remotely related industry. And I still love makeup! But in the year of 2017, the entire woebegone year, I can only recall actually putting a full face of makeup on perhaps three times, and the bare basics of eyeshadow, mascara, and lipstick a collective two or three weeks. Because I never had time. Because I was always tired. I was always working, always studying, always commuting, always writing, always travelling. Always always always. Something something something. And putting makeup on became a chore. It also kind of annoyed me, when I actually did manage to find the time to put makeup on, how many comments I would get to the tune of “Oh my god, you look so good with makeup on! I mean not that you’re not fine usually, but….” or “You know, you really suit ______ makeup. You really should make it an everyday thing” or “It’s incredible how different you look! Why don’t you wear makeup all the time?” Pretty much any woman in the workforce that has ever employed mascara will recognize these comments. And they’re not meant maliciously, but it really, really sucks to hear them. And then makeup really isn’t fun anymore. Plus, you gotta haul around a little bag of “basics” every day, and nobody has the time or the energy for that, especially as a grad student that also works. If you are and you do, holy shit and kudos to you. Please tell me your secrets.
So. This year. This year? All about me.
I want to start making it a habit to get out of bed at 5am. Not so I can get more work done, but so that I can make myself a proper coffee, and sit down at my kitchen table for breakfast. Not stumble out of the house 15 minutes after waking up and buy coffee and a blueberry muffin on the way to work.
I want to start putting a little makeup on every once in a while. Not a full face, and certainly not on hot days because I live in Oz and it will slide right off. Eyeshadow colours that I like, and lipstick shades that I prefer.
I want to go for a short work in the evenings, after the full heat of the afternoon but before it gets dark. Maybe listen to an audiobook or something. A podcast. Nothing to do with work, or with study.
I want to have an actual day off every few weeks. From all work, including academic-related. Everything.
I want to start telling people “no” when they ask me to do things. I can barely handle my own task list most days, I’m not about to keep shouldering that of others as well.
I want to eat healthier, because a healthy body helps to create a healthier mind, and considering my levels of anxiety and stress in 2017 I need all the help with that I can get.
I want to phase single-use plastics completely out of my use, because singly-use plastics are shitty and awful and kill millions of marine animals every year and there is literally no reason for single-use plastics to exist. 2018 is the year of the reusable tote.
I want to finish the draft of my novel. It might be awful, it might never get published or even see the light of day, but I want to finish it because it’s mine. I want to take off to a cafe or a library or something every once in a while and just write. Not answer my phone, be unavailable.
I think that is the secret, these days, to any sort of improvement you can make to your mental health, to your personal existence. We are constantly, and consistently, available. Even when we shouldn’t be. For people that shouldn’t have a claim on our time. Even, sometimes, to people that should have a claim to whom we give too much. So I think that is the most selfish thing that I am going to try and instate next year, for my own peace of mind. Not all the time, obviously. But sometimes.
What are your thoughts? What are you going to make 2018 about?