This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.
This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!
These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.
To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.
These last few weeks have been an opportunity for me to slow down, in term time I spend half my working week supporting 4 yr olds with social, emotional and mental health needs, the other half of my week is for writing and training. I have learned over the years that as the term moves on and as the school year progresses I feel less creative, I have less energy or headspace to think and dream.
Over the last few years, I have created a pattern over the summer holidays which works for me. I have worked out what I need to recover and relax; this starts with a family holiday for a week, usually somewhere remote where there are very few people, big open spaces and water to swim in. During the first weeks of the summer break, I spend time resting, reading, I will do small pieces of writing work in a gentle un-rushed way. Then usually by week 3, I start to dream and imagine, to have creative ideas about possible side projects. Then towards the end of the summer holiday, I will start to plan and prepare for the new children. I am not yet in the stage of being ready to think about the new term, I am still in the stage of needing to be gentle to myself, allowing myself to dream, think, and try out creative ideas. I have learned to love this stage, I never used to think I was a creative person, but being married to an artist for 27 years has shown me and encouraged me to be creative. I used to be afraid of trying out something new, especially if it was something public, but I have learned to be brave, to try things and it’s ok for them to not work.
Over the last couple of years, I have also realised that I need to spend the summer holiday intentionally taking care of myself, and I have learned the key ways to do that are by wild or outdoor swimming and spending time outside. These are intentional acts, knowing that I will need to feel relaxed and rested at the start of a new school year, but I have also learned that wild swimming and being outdoors is often the time when I have more creative ideas. If I have an idea for a new book I will often go for a walk to sort it though in my head or swim to help me clarify something that has been buzzing about in my mind.
I have three weeks left until term, still time to creatively think and gently try new things, and plenty of time for more swimming!
This is my last week of the school year in my nurture role. The last few weeks I have been writing the end of year reports for the children and reflecting on the year. The joy of writing the reports is the opportunity to notice and remember the distance traveled with the child and school. The stories we hear in term 6 when we pick up our new nursery children before we start work with them, can often lead us to a feeling of uncertainty and slight nervousness of the year ahead. We need to be able to put that to one side and have faith that we can make a difference and see change. Then we look back over their first year in school and realise that we have all survived and often thrived and they are a different child to the one we first heard about a year ago.
This last week one of our team was reflecting on our role as being the job of building up confidence in others and giving faith and hope in challenging situations to enable staff and children to flourish and fly. I love this statement, for me, it is filled with hope and opportunity. As I look back over the last year there have been moments of pain and sadness and sometimes despair, but there have been many more moments of delight and laughter and joy, of flourishing and thriving.
I started term 6 anticipating it to be challenging due to workload, my aim for the term was to thrive it rather than survive it, and I was going to do this by wild swimming each week. The term has ended up being far more stressful than I could have anticipated, it has been incredibly busy but there have also been some huge and emotional family stressors. Outdoor swimming has been my oasis and has given me moments of joy to hold onto, I have managed 7 outdoor swims over the term. The highlight came this week when I swam with my team at Vobster quarry, it was a wonderful way to end our year, swimming together in a beautiful, peaceful location. There was a vulnerability with one another with some of the team feeling very nervous about the swim, but there was also a huge sense of joy and a feeling of flourishing at the end.
During the last week, I have been in Cornwall with my family, staying on the Lizard, the countryside and coastline here is breathtaking. I have learned over the years I find it helpful to be in a wild space at the start of the school holidays, this helps to me let go of the previous term. Towards the end of a term, I crave wild spaces, where I can take coastal walks, swim in the sea, and find some spaciousness. I know that being by the sea helps me to feel relaxed and brings me huge amounts of joy. During the week I was reading a book called the Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, he looks at neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and medical research to understand why many people are connected to water and how water can be very good for our health and wellbeing. As a person who swims 5 days a week and who feels a real draw to being by the water, this book made so much sense and explained some of the strong feelings of joy and calmness I have when I am by water. The week away, being by water, enabled me to build up many more moments of joy in my memory.
One idea the book talks about is how we need to savor joy for 15 seconds for it to imprint on our mind. By noticing we are feeling joyful and savoring that moment with gratitude it will imprint on our minds. I have read this in a few places over the last few weeks, and this has made me think about how we can help children imprint joy in their minds. Many of the children I work have an imprint of sadness and hurt on their minds, and do not always recognise when they are encountering joy. Neuroscientists have found that hurt and sadness sticks to our minds and memory immediately, whereas joy takes 15 seconds to stick. As trusted adults who are co-journeying with them, we can notice it for them, comment to them e.g. wow you look so happy there, you are smiling and laughing, I think you are really enjoying this moment. Helping children to build up a memory bank of joyful moments is such an important way we can support them in their wellbeing.
Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about The Lost Words. In 2017 Robert Macfarlane wrote a book based on the lost words that had been left out of the children’s Oxford English dictionary. The words that had been left out were based around nature. The book was illustrated by Jackie Morris, I think it is one of the most beautiful books I have seen, and since it’s publication I have bought several copies for family members. Some of the words include conker, ivy, bramble, dandelion, otter, starling.
The lost words book inspired an exhibition of letter cutters, curated by the lettering arts trust which opened a few weeks again in Snape Maltings, my husband is one of the artists who exhibited, he carved the word, Otter. We went to the opening of the show, this reminded me again how so many of our children are becoming disconnected with nature and the world around them.
The last few weeks in my nurture work we have been exploring nature, looking for bugs, making nature pictures, finding beauty around us. These are sensory activities I regularly do with the children I work with, but the last few weeks I have been more intentional about naming all the things we find. Naming dandelions and forget me not, the blossom from the tree, naming the birds we see, sparrow, robin, blackbird. I want to make sure the children I work with know these names, by knowing names it helps us to connect, by connecting with nature we are more likely to want to take care of it.
One reason I love my nurture role with 4 year olds is having a year to help a little one to believe they are amazing, to know there are adults who love seeing them and spending time with them, to help them know they are special and unique and wonderful. If we can help a 4 year know that, I believe this is giving them such a good start to life, a strong foundation to believing good things about themselves. We all know that is too easy to grow up with negative ideas about ourselves, negative thoughts, that our internal script can be one of I cant do….
Over the last five years, I have been really challenged in thinking about my own internal script, reading Brene Brown and Kristin Neff has hugely helped this. In the last few days, I have been giving this some more thought, a few days ago my friend Will wrote a piece about an exercise he did where he wrote 100 I am statements. Will and I both work in similar fields, we both work with children who have social, emotional and mental health difficulties, we are both self-employed and over the years we have weekly checked in with another. We have been friends for over 20 years and we have an honest relationship with one another where we can ask the other challenging questions. This last year has been a really tough one for Will and from this experience, he is reflecting a lot on the messages he lives under, the stories he tells himself. This week he wrote about an exercise he did call 100 I am statements. he wanted to challenge his thinking and believes. He describes this exercise as:
100 statements of I AM. Let me tell you that although this is not an easy task it has incredible power to change and shift your thinking about yourself. The list should include things that you would like to define your life. These are statements that you would want to shape your inner dialogue, and simply by changing the words that define your concept of self and choosing the words that you opt to place into your thoughts you take back control of how you see yourself.
The idea of doing 100 seemed huge, but I liked the idea of the challenge, so I gave it a go. it’s a really powerful exercise to do, in my experience, I just did it without over thinking it, this worked for me as it felt authentic. A number of my statements began with I am a woman who…. , this was interesting as when I read back over it I realised how important it is to me, that I identified as a woman who is capable and able to live life fully, a woman who can be creative and imaginative and able to lead as well as being nurturing and supportive. There is so much talk about self-care and supporting our own wellbeing at the moment, I am part of that, I have written a book on wellbeing for early years staff. However, writing these statements reminded me that no matter how much yoga, exercise, mindfulness, good sleep, good eating you do, if your inner messages are negative, if your self-script is one of I can’t rather than positives I am, then this will eat away at your wellbeing, this will impact your mental health. 100 statements is a lot, but it felt like the right amount of challenge. On reflecting on my list I realised how much I have changed over the last 5 years, I don’t think I could have written that list 5 years ago. I recognised that all the statements I had on my list were ones I believed not just ones I aspired to be. I realise that is largely thanks to reading Brene Brown, Kristin Neff and going on Ian and Gail Adams retreats.
Schools in this area are back this week so I re-pick up my nurture work and I have 2 training sessions to deliver this week, both reasons to feel motivated and inspired. I have had a lovely Christmas break, I feel relaxed and calm, all reasons to be feeling energetic and motivated. But it’s January, and the last few years I have begun to find January tricky, it’s not due to overindulging or stopping exercise over Christmas, I drink very little alcohol and don’t really eat lots of rubbish food and I have continued to swim throughout most of the last 2 weeks. I think I find January hard partly because of the greyness and the drabness. I am much happier on blue cold and crispy days, but also there is so much talk around new plans, new resolutions, I find all that talk quite depressing as it can feed into my feelings of not quite doing enough or not quite being good enough, those thoughts are largely pushed aside and don’t really live in my head much any more, but January seems to bring them forward.
So this year I have decided to make a plan, for each week, I am going to actively to do some simple things which I know make me feel happier and more hopeful during January, things which I know bring me pleasure. I have written them in my diary to remind myself. The list is simple but they are things that I know will help. My list is
Buy daffodils each week
Garden each week
Go for extra walks
Make dates to see friends
Watch a feel-good film
If it is sunny, have a picnic lunch in a sunny spot at my husband’s studio ( with him!)
These will be alongside the usual swimming, yoga, and mindfulness, all things that I know are essential for my mental health. I know from experience that in a few weeks when we begin to see leaves returning and spring flowers appearing, that I will feel lighter and more hopeful, but in the short few weeks of the dark months of winter, I am going to try and be more active in helping myself.