How to be “productive” in lockdown: learn how to be nice to yourself.

Having spent many an hour in a psychologists office, I want to share some things I’ve learnt over the next few articles I write. Therapy isn’t accessible to all normally, let alone during lockdown, and whilst I am no substitute for that, I want to share what I know in the hope it may help brighten someone’s day.

This is by no means easy to write. Not because it’s a hard subject (it is), but because it’s difficult to condense into one short article.

I’ve been let off lightly on lockdown. I have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder so I am loving the lack of socialising and the uninterrupted routine I can create for myself each day. However, being in with my parents 24/7 has been a challenge. Our relationship has never really existed, and I’ve always preferred it that way. When I became mentally unwell aged about 15 they rushed to “make amends”. This was a horribly uncomfortable experience for both parties but it did have one huge upside for me; I was no longer as heavily criticised.

As I’m sure many of the people reading this can empathise (or at least sympathise) with, I’m a highly sensitive person. My parents, whilst lovely people, struggle to give praise as they, like me, are perfectionists. This all stopped as they did not want to be judged badly by my various doctors and psychiatrists when I became ill and I’m positive that its truncation is one of the main factors in me being able to say I’m a long way through recovery four years later- something this article was due to be about.

Furthermore, as I’m sure many of you will also be able to understand, I’ve struggled with body image issues for a lot longer than four years. So my Dad’s constant jibes of ‘are you sure you want to eat that’ and ‘do you ever eat anything healthy’ over the past few weeks have stung, and stung hard. It may seem like nothing but it’s a slippery slope to him being able to pick at everything I do again.

Just six months earlier any comments like this would neither have been made, nor well received by my Mum. Two things have changed. The first is that I have pretty much recovered!! Hooray!! And my parents I guess no longer have to feel like they’re treading on eggshells around me which is a bonus. But it’s the second reason that I think plays the biggest part, we’re in lockdown. We’re stressed, my Mum’s lost some work hours and my Dad’s having to stay inside- not ideal when he’s used to running or cycling at least three times a day.

What my Dad is saying to me is by no means OK. It’s rude and horrible and I do not wish to normalise or excuse it. But I do mean to rationalise it for myself. My Dad’s not trying to hurt my feelings, he would be horrified if he saw how his words had made me feel. He is unintentionally letting off steam.

Again, not OK. But realising this helped me to realise that I didn’t have to take his words to heart. They weren’t an accurate reflection of me and I didn’t need to treat them as such. A psychologist I used to see used to say that it wasn’t what was said that would hurt us, but how we perceived it related to our self image and that’s the crux of what I want to write about today. If, like me, you’re finding the sudden excess of family time hard to deal with, please, please remember that people are stressed and that that stress is not a reflection of your self worth in any way, shape or form.

That can be very easy for me to say and quite hard for you to believe. My tips (coming from a seasoned therapy goer) would be to recite positive affirmations. Write down ten positive truths about yourself (I am kind, I am loved, things will be OK, etc.), stick them to your mirror and say them whenever you start to believe the negative things. As humans, we’ve evolved to have a constant stream of negative self talk as that criticism was far more likely to make us alert to predators a few millennia ago. If we can re-wire ourselves by talking kindly to ourselves who knows what possibilities we may unlock?

So no, this was not easy to write, but it was made easier by writing it and eating a Tesco’s double chocolate Easter cookie at the same time.

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