Steven Campbell: The Importance of Being Kind to Ourselves in a World That is Increasingly Cruel
Let’s just be honest from the get-go. Things are pretty rubbish right now. The world as we know it has changed beyond recognition, and chances are life will never be as we remembered it. But I doubt anyone needs told that – we are bombarded with reminders of this everywhere we look.
The last couple of months have really re-enforced to us what the most important things in life really are – love, friendship, and kindness. Also toilet roll & pasta, apparently. Both reaching out to & leaning on our friends & family – and maybe even complete strangers – is a big part of what will get us through this.
For this post however, I mainly want to talk about the importance of being kind to ourselves. For mental health awareness week last year, I wrote about my experiences with severe depression, and I’ve been using some of the stuff I learned from those experiences to help me through lockdown. So many people in Western society seem to be of the mindset that putting ourselves first – something which is completely necessary when being kind to ourselves - is a terribly selfish thing to do. But there is nothing at all wrong with doing that – in fact, it should be encouraged! After all, how can you be expected to look after other people if you don’t look after yourself?
Another thing that I remember experiencing when I had depression was a huge amount of guilt – what gives me the right to feel down, to feel like I’m struggling, to ask for help, when there are other people that are in a worse situation than me? I came to realise however, that that frame of thinking is exactly the same as telling yourself that you don’t have the right to be happy since there are other people who have it better than you. Which would obviously be absolutely ridiculous. If you are someone who is perhaps in a somewhat more favourable position and you find yourself struggling, please don’t feel guilty. You have every right to feel whatever way you do.
At this point, I think it’s important to acknowledge that kindness can come in many different forms, and crucially, it’s worth keeping in mind that kindness is not always the same as positivity. I think that when we’re bombarded with positivity, that can actually be counter-productive. What I mean by this is that as heart-warming as it is seeing & reading about both the grand & the everyday gestures of compassion, it can leave some of us feeling inadequate; we can feel like we’re not doing enough in helping our friends, families, and communities.
These negative feelings of inadequacy, guilt etc can also come about as a result of what we feel like we should be doing with our newfound free time. We’re constantly seeing posts all over social media from our peers proudly proclaiming that they’ve dropped 2 dress sizes, managed to break their record for running 5K, have learned conversational Gaelic, can now play like 3 different instruments & are showing off some delicious looking baking concoction that they made with what must’ve been the last bag of flour in the country. Meanwhile, you’re lying in your bed at 4 in the afternoon for the 5th week in a row, eating leftover pasta that was first made like 3 days ago. There’s laundry strewn all over the floor, Netflix has already asked multiple times if you’re still watching, and the Duolingo owl has long given up trying. The idealised, improved version of yourself that you’d envisaged seems even further away than when we first went into lockdown. The only 6 pack you have is a box of reduced price Viennese whirls.
But you know what? If that’s helping you get through these times, then you should absolutely keep doing it. If you’ve been able to reach out and help others – whether that’s stepping up as a community volunteer or phoning your vulnerable friends & relatives, that’s fantastic & I’d absolutely encourage you to keep doing that. But if you’ve found that, for whatever reason, you’ve not been able to help others as much as you may have hoped, that is absolutely fine. We’ve never lived through this kind of thing before. There’s no right way, no rule book.
The world has always been a cruel place. Right now, it feels crueller than it ever has before, and thus the importance of kindness, of looking out for one another, has never been more important. But so too has it never been more important to be kind to ourselves.
So have that extra slice of cake if you want it, have another pint if you want to, and stop looking at those numbers on the scale! Turn off the news, watch whatever trash TV you want (personally I’d draw the line at Love Island, but each to their own I suppose), and try and forget about things for a few hours. If you’ve found that thinking about this free time as some sort of holiday helps you escape reality for a while, then keep doing that – as long as you keep in line with government guidance, obviously.
This is tough. It will continue to be tough for probably quite some time. Don’t ever feel like you owe any kind of explanation or justification for the way that you feel or the things that you do. If you’re ever struggling, please don’t feel afraid to reach out. Anybody who knows me, please know that you can message me whenever you want.
Try and keep in mind & keep saying to yourself – each day we get through is one day closer to all this being over. One day closer to getting back out to the pubs & shops. One day closer to seeing all of our family & friends, and one day closer to being able to hug them all again.
Until then - stay home, stay safe, and I hope to see many of you when all this is over 😊