You find an hour to yourself. A moment you’ve potentially been anticipating for weeks. What do you do? You fantasize about what you *could* do – book a massage? see a friend? read a book?
Then the moment comes. Is this excitement or anxiety in your body? Is this feeling calm or am I just frozen? Somehow you can’t think of a single thing you want to but instead are filled with thoughts – I’m feeling ok now, maybe I should just fold laundry. I’ll just go online for a bit, just to get ideas and chill.
Next thing you’re looking at photos of your kids on your phone and the hours is almost up. Now you’re all frustrated and angry at yourself again for not doing alone time ‘properly’.
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As a mother, I’ve found myself fantasising about the second I can hand the kids over to be alone, only to find that the moment I’m truly alone, I don’t know what to do with myself.
Last month I turned 40. I didn’t want a big party or a significant gift, I just wanted to be alone. My 20 year old hair dresser just about dropped the hair dryer and looked confused when I told her I didn’t want a night out or even a dinner out. 30 year old me would have felt awkward, judged and a need to hide my ‘weird’ introverted needs in that moment. 40 year old just me smiled to myself. Finding moments NOT to be in service to others is one of the highest forms of rest.
For my birthday I booked a night in a hotel with room service so I could go (almost) an entire 24 hours without having to talk to anyone, let alone meet anyone else’s needs.
It sounds blissful. I looked forward to it for months. Then, once I was alone, I felt incredibly anxious and distracted. I tried taking a bath. I tried reading a book. I got myself into a tearful, frustrated place for not doing this right. For not appreciating it enough. I started having thoughts like how this was a waste of time and money and that I should be enjoying it more. I went as far as to text my husband and suggest he just bring the kids in because I’m not doing this experience right anyway.
All these parts of my past self and imagined future self started showing up. The 2021 me, mid lockdown who would give anything to find a moment alone. She wanted to punch me. The 17 year old me, terrified and alone in a university dorm room, away from home to live for the first time. Judging myself for the fact that everyone else at college seemed to be having so much fun. One of the worst parts that showed up was future me – a much older woman with grown children and probably a dead husband pitying me. That if I can’t even handle a night away from my family and enjoy myself how on earth will I cope as a lonely senior?
Sometimes we assume that when we give ourselves what we need, it will be pleasurable.
Therapy is mostly not enjoyable for people. It can be fun, but for it to be effective, there’s usually some discomfort.
Like I mentioned a few weeks ago, sleep as a self-care practice is quite boring. Resting and being alone with your thoughts is REALLY good for us, but doesn’t always feel fun.
Finding time alone can be blissful, but it also comes with the risk that you are now all alone with your thoughts.
I know I’m not alone in the fact that I’ve found myself lost in a fog of habits and low-reward leisure activities that I don’t truly love. Finding those 5 star experiences that you actually love, but are also (a) a reasonable stretch form the everyday experience, but (b) still somewhat practical and doable is tricky.
Dancer Twyla Tharp said that solitude without purpose is the killer of creativity. We numb out with scrolling, binge watching and activities that are really what? 1 star? We’d like to be having more fun but somehow it seems to take too much planning, too much effort?
Humans are gloriously dynamic and complex. We can hold competing emotional states and yet feel lost as to how to integrate and accept them.
I wanted to be alone for a night and instead all my shadows turned up! In the end, I had to thank all my yucky, shadow parts for coming to the party. Accept that they were there, and not try to change them but just make some space for them.
I’m curious – how many of you find yourself longing to be alone, then once you have it you end up feeling like you’re not doing you’re alone time right?