Thursday, 13 December 2018

The self-care acts that actually make a difference while unemployed

Instagram, and lifestyle blogs in particular are awash with suggestions for practising self-care. Everything from bubble baths to 'treating yourself' to a starbucks, or face mask or [insert whatever thing you usually do on special occasions here]. I am all in support of this. While a lot of the time self care articles can seem a bit frothy I think we can all agree the general point is that every now and then we need to slow down and take some time to ground ourselves. However, I've found the times I need the most self-care can often coincide with a need to be frugal. A month ago I moved countries to be with my boyfriend in America. Being away from friends and family and spending a lot of time on my own while I look for work is tough. Not to mention that I have a side project (a novel manuscript) that I both love spending time on yet simultaneously feel guilty about devoting time to since I don't yet have a paying job. After reading a lot of 'self care' lists that don't fit into my budget category right now I've noted the things that I can do that make the biggest difference to my sense of self care (and overall mental health).

Eating well is boring but nutrients are actually important :: I would love to give the illusion that being both unemployed and a writer involves spending days at coffee shops tapping away on my novel in between firing off job applications. Alas, sipping on lattes costs money and I don't think I need the extra pastries in my diet. Instead I make sure that when I do eat it involves lots of boring but accessible things like vegetables, whole foods and home-brewed coffee. While it's not as glamorous it does mean that my savings are at least going a lot further than they would otherwise. I buy non-organic vegetables from big brand supermarkets and make them feel more exciting by adding a sprinkle of chilli flakes, garlic powder, salt and pepper on them. Most meals consist of greens (brussell sprouts, asparagus or broccolini) baked sweet potatoes and a source of protein like roasted chicken breasts or frozen fish fillets. I think it's easy to under-estimate the importance of taking care of yourself from the inside out or that good food is expensive.   

Getting sweaty:: Moving to the land of the free has certainly made me a little envious of how cheap everything here is compared to my home country of New Zealand. Getting a gym membership while I was unemployed was a non-negotiable for me. My gym charges $5 a week (compared to the $19.99 weekly fee it would cost for something similar at home) and includes all classes in the membership for that price. I recommend signing up to a gym in person as the rate I was charged was even cheaper than the advertised rate. While a gym membership isn't necessary for everyone, being active (in a sweaty way) three to four times a week is something I find essential for my mental health. I also love that I can feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement in at least one area of my life. If a gym membership isn't in your budget I would recommend a pair of fitness bands. They are an easy way to up the resistance of at-home workouts and cost very little.

Making time to get out of the house and meet new friends:: The hardest part of moving to a new city (or country) is always making new relationships. I've been using a mixture of Bumble BFF and Meetup, as well as tagging along on my boyfriend's after work drinks. Connecting with other women who work or study during the day has been a great way for me to get out of the house and gives me something in common to talk about. While I'm an introvert by nature, socialising is actually something I've come to realise is hugely important to my mental health. While Meetups are often group-based one of the perks of Bumble BFF is that it's usually one-on-one. It's certainly easier to spend less money (or nothing at all) by meeting up for a coffee or suggesting a walk rather than dinner or drinks with a larger group of people.

Keeping an 'I did' list rather than a 'to do' list :: I started a 'to do' list in the first couple of weeks of moving and guys, it was pretty depressing. Because number #1 is still 'get a job' it had the effect of making me feel like a pretty big failure for not having all my ducks in a row, especially as the weeks grind on. Instead I've been writing down how many times I've worked out each week, the number of words I've been writing and the number of job applications I've sent off. There's no reason you can't add additional achievements on there like books read, skype calls with loved ones or chores completed that emphasis that just because you aren't actively employed doesn't mean you aren't achieving anything.

Replacing social media scrolling with a productive habit instead :: Is there anything worse than getting stuck in a black hole of Instagram, comparing both loved ones and "influencers" lives with your own sad couch-related existence? Thanks to the 'Screen Time' app on iPhone I've learnt that being unemployed has left me with a newfound habit of wasting literally hours and hours looking at social media and feeling shit about my existence. Last week I decided that instead of picking up my phone whenever I felt idle I would pick up my Kindle instead. Reading is the second best thing I could be doing to improve my writing (after, ahem, writing). Using this technique I'm already three-quarters of the way through Beartown by Fredrik Backman and have remembered how much reading revitalises my love for my own work.

Giving myself permission to write :: Writing for me is an act of self-care. I started writing as a creative outlet and because I was lacking a sense of fulfilment in my corporate job. It's also the only thing in my life that is wholly mine and this creative decision making is something all together new and exciting for me. After a few weeks of job hunting I've finally worked out a structure for my days that allows me to spend time on my novel without feeling guilty that I should be on LinkedIn instead. I write best in the afternoon and early evening which means job hunting and applying can be my first priority for the day. I can feel a sense of achievement by applying for jobs early in the day or scheduling interviews in the morning. It's easy to think I shouldn't allow myself time to devote to what is essentially a side-hobby but there aren't many times in my life when I'm going to have whole days at my disposal. After all the difference between a published book and an unpublished book is often a finished book.   

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Food Glorious Food

This week's Top Ten Tuesday with The Broke and the Bookish is a celebration of food in books.

Harry Potter :: From the feasts in the great hall to all the delicious candy featured in Harry Potter, it is hard to choose a favourite food from these books. I did always wish to try butter beer though.

The 100-Foot Journey by Richard C Morais:: A beautiful descriptive exploration of food, from India to France.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris :: My favourite book featuring delectable food because chocolate is my number one. Come to think of it, all of Joanne Harris' books feature richly descriptive foods that will make you increasingly hungry.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen :: Like Chocolat, the food in Garden Spells holds its own type of magic.

Longbourne by Jo Baker :: Told from the servants perspective, Longbourne takes us inside the working quarters of Pride and Prejudice and while this is more about the workings of the kitchen's than a particular type of food, I can't recommend this book enough.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Thoughts on Lolita And Expectations v Reality

I finally got around to reading Nabokov's Lolita. It's take roughly ten years since I first discovered it but really it wasn't for wont of trying. At 19 I had picked it up many times at the library and always ended up shelving it again. It seemed, creepy, and so I always ended up putting it away again. At this stage I knew it was about a grown man who was infatuated with young girls but I hadn't really heard it lauded universally as one of the greatest books ever written.

Well I finally got around to reading it this year and while I enjoyed it, it really was a difficult book for me to make my mind up about. Maybe it was about knowing too much before I went into it. There was no surprise at the character of Humbert Humbert. I knew that I was supposed to fall for his charming ways. I already knew his secret and that he was supposed to charm me into rooting for his unconventional love story.

It's just that it didn't happen that way. I enjoyed the book. I was enamoured with Nabokov's writing. But I didn't really like Humbert Humbert. I didn't find him charming at all and that was kind of the crux of this book. I was supposed to be grappling with liking a character who was doing something legally and morally wrong! It's just that having known all about the book and what I was supposed to be thinking, I ended up feeling the opposite.

I wonder what I would have thought of it ten years ago without the weight of expectation on my shoulder reading it. Ten years ago Lolita was just a book I wanted to read for no other reason than I had heard the name. I enjoyed Lolita. I love Nabokov's writing. Hell, I even had a favourite sentence three pages in (he describes Humbert Humert's father's lineage as a 'salad of racial genes'). I'm just not sure it lived up to the expectation of being the best thing I ever read, which is an unfair pressure.

It can be hard to quieten the noise of others sometimes. I watched a video recently of someone who had just read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and they had mused on something similar. They just thought it was going to be, more. More what, they weren't sure. I guess that's how I felt about Lolita.

After watching Better Than Food's book review of Lolita, it turns out I'm not the only one. His video says it much more eloquently than me.
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