When Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves
I recently came across a diary that I started at the beginning of last year (or a journal, as we’re calling them now).
Don’t worry — I am not about to start quoting from it, which surely must be up there with forcing others to listen to you recount your dreams in a hierarchy of things you should not do to other people.
I can easily sum it up anyway — Lists. And fear, lots of fear. If I was feeling maudlin (and since the Ferrero Rocher/red wine comedown is in full swing by now, plus it’s the first week of January, feeling maudlin is likely), I could have cried for myself when I read it.
So daunted was I at the thought of the new year — at coming out of holiday hiding and getting back to the grind — that I spent five weeks writing lists of things that I knew would make me feel better. But I also knew that once things got back up and running, I was unlikely to have the time to do many of them.
I was so scared and anxious at the thought of it. Just at the non-stop-ness I was going back into. The constant feeling of chasing one’s tail, the never ending-ness of stuff to be done. The exhaustion that comes with becoming a single parent.
The thing is, when you are in the middle of the worst of things, you don’t actually realise how rundown, how close to burning out you are. There’s no reprieve.
I’m not talking about the extremes of grief — more the general, all-engines-running-at-full-throttle feeling and the subsequent tiredness that that causes.
It’s like when you stop breastfeeding and your energy levels go up a whole level and you realise “oh my God, I had no idea how tired I was”.
In the midst of things, you think that the day-to-day stuff will always feel this hard. Or at least, in my experience, when you first become a single parent. You think it will always be this exhausting. And that can be scary to go back into, when you take a break for a week or two.
The difference a year makes
This time last year, I was terrified at the thought of going back in. This year, I am so excited about the year to come. And I am still a single parent who is self-employed with only my family for childcare. So basically, I am still chasing my tail and it’s still exhausting. But I am not exhausted. I am operating at different energy levels. Something you don’t really realise will come when you’re at your worst.
So this column is to say to anyone who is contending with rather a lot right now that it will not always feel this hard; that you do not even realise right now how much it is taking out of you, and that those parts of you will not always be so overworked.
And if you are feeling the fear right now, below is an amalgamation of the greatest hits of my lists last year.
Ten things to do when the fear kicks in
- Meditate. I’m sorry, I am a bore on the subject. But more than anything, it takes down the anxiety, the stress and the fear. I did a course, and it was one of the best things I have ever spent money on, far more effective than apps or trying it at home.
- Run, walk, move, listen to music and dance around your living room.
- Go to the greenest outdoor space you can find and walk around it.
- Have a life admin day and clear a backlog of things that could be stressing you out.
- Try to be as early as you possibly can. Boring sometimes, but so effective.
- Listen to an Oprah podcast, her voice is enough to kick off a feeling of calm.
- Make your life small, just do what you need to do right at this moment.
- Make your life big: get out and speak to a friend who will understand.
- Bury it in a boxset.
- Do nothing — but know it will not always feel like this. If you’re in the middle of it right now, you don’t really realise how much you are coping with. And so you don’t know that that burden will shift, and that even if you do nothing, things will eventually feel easier.
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