A life slow lived autumn leaves, self compassion.

I have been feeling a little stuck for a while… stuck creatively, stuck with work stuff, stuck with our house renovations. It’s been a struggle to find the energy to move anything forward and build any momentum – I appear to have hit a bit of a wall.  

In reality, we live pretty slowly and simply and yet I am still feeling overwhelmed by life at the moment and that seems like a contradiction. It’s possible that I might have a vulnerability hangover tomorrow by sharing what I am finding difficult, but I always want to be really frank about my slow living experiences and never want to paint a picture that everything is mellow and easy all the time – when it’s not.

Recently, my anxiety has been gradually getting worse and worse. I have been having all sorts of odd bodily symptoms, some of which I am used to with my anxiety, some of which are new. Having had some reassurance from the doctor and some blood tests, I am left taking comfort in the fact that I am okay even if I do feel crap a lot of the time at the moment. 

Progress on the house has been very frustrating and it doesn’t seem like we have managed to do much over the last four years since moving in. By renovating our home slowly and being intentional with all the choices we make of course it means it takes more time – it’s just sometimes I wish it would come together a little quicker and that we weren’t living in a constant project. At the end of a hard day, retreating to your home can be just the pick-me-up you need, and we are currently missing out on that.

I also understand that we have had this massive journey of trying to conceive a second child going on in the background and have been trying to give myself some space to grieve for the fact I don’t think we will be having any more children. 

Waiting for things to unfold is a big part of the slow living journey, and let’s face it, it is a big part of life whatever ‘lifestyle’ you subscribe to. I know I am supposed to be patient and okay with things moving slowly, some things need a little space and time… but truth be told, at the moment I am finding that a real challenge. 

This low has also sparked a massive bout of imposter syndrome and knocked my confidence. It’s hard to feel qualified to give advise on how to slow down and feel happier and healthier when I am struggling to do that for myself at the moment. 

In reality, I have lots of qualifications plus the actual experience of slowing our lives over the last four years. I also understand that slow living is a process and as with most processes there is a learning curve. Logically, I know that experiencing the difficult bits actually makes me more qualified to talk about these challenges, as I can share my experiences too and offer advise on what I have learnt.

When you are going through a low point though, logical thinking doesn’t always help.

In terms of work, I am working at full capacity with lots of exciting things in the pipeline. However these good opportunities have initiated lots of thoughts of ‘who am I to be doing this’, and feeling not good enough for some of the work that has been coming my way.

You would think I would take the positive opportunities as evidence to counter any thoughts of self doubt. However, actually I wonder if things going ‘well’ is what is helping to fuel my wobble? In some way, I am so close to having my ducks all lined up in a row, that it is a bit unnerving. What will happen then? Surely, if things are going well in my work and business, I will be owed a big karmic kickback in another area of my life. Realistically, I know that is not how life works, but the fear of that happening definitely feels real.

A fortunate stroke of serendipity meant that last week I happened upon the work of Dr Kristin Neff who is one of the leading researchers into self-compassion, which is of course about relating to yourself kindly. Firstly through an internet trail whilst I was researching something, and secondly through my friend Gemma from The Quiet Heart who recommended a podcast interview with her. I particularly found her thoughts on self-compassion and self-esteem really interesting. As a society we are quite hot on promoting positive self-esteem and we don’t spend so much time thinking about self-compassion.

The main difference between self-esteem and self-compassion is that self-esteem is contingent on certain things like being exceptional at something, or comparatively better than others. No wonder it is the preferred ‘pop psycology’ for this age of over-consumption where it is usual to think something has to be big and extraordinary to bring us joy. 

Whereas self-compassion is there regardless of whether you succeed or fail. 

“With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain, while providing the optimal conditions for growth and transformation.”

~ Dr Kristin Neff

It seems pretty clear to me that self-compassion is a pivotal quality to developing a sense of happiness and wellbeing. I definitely need to be kinder to myself and talk to and comfort myself like a dear friend. It’s easy to think when things have stalled that we should be working harder or doing more, whereas actually showing ourselves some self-compassion would be a great start. 

One of the reasons I am so attracted to slow living is that it is impossible to live truly slowly without becoming aware of your emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing. It forces you to just stop for a minute and take a look at what you are doing and why. Which of course means sometimes you will go through challenging periods where you are adjusting how you live in order to support yourself better. Right now, I am all about taking the pressure off and practising some self-compassion. If that means less stuff gets done, so be it. Hopefully, the result of lightening my load and being kinder to myself will mean I begin to feel the benefit throughout all areas of life.

How are you on the self-compassion front? What things do you do that work for you?

Melanie Barnes