Feb 1, 2021

On giving zero ‘shoulds’

Photo by Alex Geerts via Unsplash

This holiday period was hard.

For me, it was far easier than for thousands of others, millions of others. But it was still hard. I ate and drank too much, which is normal for me at Christmas, but I didn’t see my family. When I sat down to wrap presents a couple of days before the 25th, I had a little cry. Not quite the usual ritual.

I’m not sure I relaxed much. And I really needed to relax. I work full time, alongside pursuing an MSc, so it’s rare that I let myself switch off fully because there is always something I ‘should’ be doing.

Three days before going back to work, I was very aware of how messy my house had become; how much washing needed to be done; food shopping needed to be done, meals planned, blah blah blah. And I didn’t want to do any of it. And I felt that I was a bad sort of grown-up because my house was messy and I hadn’t given a thought to tomorrow’s meals. I remember thinking ‘I should tidy up, that’s what I need to do’. But it really wasn’t.

What I needed to do was to sleep, to stay in bed until 2, drink tea, watch tv, make love, and not necessarily in that order. And that’s what I did, for three days straight. No washing, no tidying, no ‘shoulding’. And it was hard. It was hard because of the voice inside my head looping a familiar story about my much-needed rest being lazy, not ‘healthy’, dismissing my self-care as procrastination, making me feel like taking this time was ‘childish’ or undeserved. That story echoes the voices of a combination of people, and it never fails to make me feel pretty shitty about myself. But this time, maybe because I’m 33, maybe because I cut off my own hair and gave myself an asymmetrical fringe, maybe because the pandemic is such an absolute wanker who does not play by any rules, I am more open to creating new stories, and hearing new voices — so I let a different one come to the fore. She said, ‘you need a holiday’. Well, yes, I know I need a bloody holiday, but I can’t bloody go anywhere, can I? Yes, she said, that indescribable feeling of the sun on your skin while you lie next to a pool wearing a stupidly oversized hat, is far out of reach for now, but is that what you really need? Or something else?

On holiday, you don’t have to cook, tidy, or wash clothes. And these, I’ve decided, are the key aspects of holidays that make them so bloody relaxing for me. And because you’re paying for it, and someone else is doing it all, you don’t feel at all guilty. Not one bit. So, I decided to take a holiday at home and to create a new story.

For three days, we stayed in bed as long as we liked. We wore pyjamas when we wanted, and got dressed if and when we wanted. We watched films and tv. We ate whatever we fancied, and drank whatever we wanted. We didn’t do anything, not a single thing, we didn’t want to do.

I had some of the best conversations with my husband I have had in the year since we got married. For those three days, I found something akin to the holiday feeling. The sense of calm, stillness and contentment. The easy playfulness that surfaces when your heart and mind are light and unburdened. And it was glorious.

Fast forward to returning to work — my house is still a mess. I have done one load of washing since starting back to work (working from home does mean my outfits can start from the chest up, so that’s a silver lining if we are still looking for them in this asshole of an era) and a hodge-podge grocery delivery is arriving tomorrow evening and some meals will, I’m sure, materialise from it. But I don’t mind. I know I will get to it. I can see and feel the space in my mind for it. This weekend I have a hankering for a purge, I’m genuinely excited about chucking out a load of stuff, and then doing a big old clean. It doesn’t feel like a burden or a chore, it feels like something that will add to my feeling of contentment, because it will happen organically, rather than because I ‘shoulded’ all over myself. (I wrote this in the first week of January, and I am happy to report that my predictions came true!)

We all carry ‘shoulds’ with us, some of them ingrained so long we can barely remember where they came from — they become part of our fabric. They shape our values and take root as core beliefs. They become the stories that we tell ourselves. It’s easy to think that the stories that have always defined who we are, will always define who we are, but that’s not the case. We can choose to let go of stories about ourselves that no longer serve us. Switching off the ‘shoulds’ is within our power. And true rest has to be given to ourselves, by ourselves. The presence of ‘shoulds’ negates this. It is not possible to rest with a guilt goblin in the bed.

I know I am incredibly lucky to have been able to switch off for three days, without having to care for anyone else or work several jobs to pay the bills and put food on the table. I am grateful for the ability to have rewritten a story for myself. That gratitude is another feeling I am more in touch with following my holiday from ‘shoulding’.

So what’s the moral of the story? There isn’t one. Morals imply a ‘should’. I’m not giving out any shoulds, you give yourself enough of those already. But I do want to leave you with two things — firstly, that it’s ok to give yourself a break. Secondly, I’d love to invite you to explore what stories you might be telling yourself that don’t actually serve you, and in doing so that you are able to find your own ‘should’ free moments in the near future.

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