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Leadership

Woman reading for relaxation

Self-care is not the be-all and end-all

By | Community, Leadership, Mental health, Wellness
Woman relieving stress by meditation in the countryside

Photograph: Alex Tihonov/PR

While I’m a big advocate of self-care, there are a few problems with this idea. In a nutshell, it can be too easy to judge those who are struggling as not looking after themselves. We are in danger of blaming others for being strung out and for not ‘having their sh*t together’.

I remember a friend of mine telling me she went to a doctor when she was parenting a toddler–who as it turned out was later diagnosed with severe ADHD–and discussed with him that she was finding things incredibly difficult.

His response was something along the lines of, “you’ve just let yourself go. You’ve let motherhood get the better of you”. Really…?

This story is truly horrifying and, thankfully, most GP’s are much more insightful, compassionate and less chauvinistic.

Don’t get me wrong. Self-care is important. But let’s face it, when things get really tough it’s often the first thing that goes. We go into survival mode, where all we can manage is getting the essentials done. Time and energy for nurturing our own needs is nowhere to be found.

In reality, it is very challenging for many of us juggling family and work to find time to exercise, eat healthy meals, read a good book or get into the garden, let alone meditate. And as I found out the hard way, all the self-care in the world is not enough when parenting one child or more with special needs, and things are super tricky.

For many parenting solo, all or even part of the time, or if your child has additional care needs, it’s virtually impossible to self-care.

This is where community-care comes in.

Caring for one another, reaching out when someone is having a rough time, offering to cook a meal, donating goods or time to good causes, looking out for neighbours who are elderly or live alone.

Woman reading for relaxation

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

Self-care as self-preservation

The concept of self-care is, unsurprisingly, very self-oriented, very individualistic, and has a fascinating history as this Guardian article explains:

“It was first used in 1988 by black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde, while fighting against cancer and the political status quo. She wrote ‘caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’”.

This is how I thought of self-care – putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can positively impact the world around you – until I researched the popular use of the term further.

The article goes on.

“Self-care was very appealing for women who were overwhelmed, women who were sick, women who were crushed under the weight of the emotional and physical labour of running a household and working and maintaining a family and friendship, women who were burning out. Which is basically most women.” Oh yeah, I sure can relate to this.

However, in the contemporary context it appears to have morphed into something else. When I checked Instagram just now, there are 24 million posts (!) with #selfcare mentions.

Scrolling through the top posts there are dozens of inspirational quotes of the self-improvement kind and a whole host of young women posing provocative selfies, a few face-mask shots and, refreshingly, one with two men in it. But, otherwise, the theme here is clear. #Selfcare means women should strive to be youthful and flawless inside and out.

So, in fact, what I’m often on about—caring for yourself as if you were caring for a treasured loved one—is perhaps better described as self-preservation. Although even this makes me think of eternal youth as being the goal, but it’ll do.

My little family has been through some tough times over the last few years and self-preservation has been entirely necessary or I seriously have zero idea how I’d have got through it. But, really, what I needed more of in these times was community care—or what The Guardian article quoted above refers to as ‘collective care’.

Things are so much better for my little family these days. Harry, my autistic son, sleeps through instead of waking at 1, 2 or 3am and not getting back to sleep, night after night. He’s not having up to fifteen major meltdowns a day and spitting, kicking, biting and shitting everywhere.

I needed my community to step in so badly in at times. Sadly, it was thin on the ground when I really needed support—someone to help with my son when I had had no sleep and his behaviour was horrendous day after day after day.

It was an extremely traumatic time and the stress I was under is hard to put into words. I didn’t even know it at the time but I had become a carer of a pre-schooler with complex special needs. All the while I was also turning up in my business, trying to convince myself as well as everyone else that I was fine.

There was good reason for why I didn’t get much help. Half my family lives out of town, my dad was very unwell and my mum, who was caring for him, was the priority for the one sister who does live nearby.

When Harry was ill, sometimes for weeks or even months on end—the worst times in which he had a number of large seizures—we’d be almost quarantined, barely seeing a sole. Even though I had family nearby, I was incredibly isolated.

I survived this period because of phone calls with sisters and my dearest girlfriend. But when it came to practical support, my closest friends also have incredibly full lives with multiple kids, full-time jobs and some with their own children with additional needs.

The way we live in the Western world, in the nuclear family or in single parent families as is the case with us, and with how busy we all are, is often very isolating. It can be very difficult to get or give the help you or others need.

We all go through periods of grief, trauma or crisis at different times in our lives. Some are more obvious than others. When a family member dies or we are diagnosed with a sinister illness or we get divorced.

Others go on for years and play out under the radar. It’s in these times that we need to try to have the courage to ask for help. However, we also need to ask how people are—like really ask. And when someone replies that they’re struggling, that generally that means things are really bad.

Ask them in these situations: What can I do to help? What do you need? My lovely eldest sister has helped out with my son as much as she could. Once a month or so she will babysit or pick him up from kinder for me. And I am super grateful for this.

But I was so frazzled that more often than not if my sister had Harry for a couple of hours, I’d just go to the supermarket, as it was so much easier to get the shopping without him!

My Godmother has also been a Godsend, having looked after Harry once a week since he was a baby so I can teach yoga. Solo parenting and running a business would be impossible for me to do without my ‘village’.

I am lucky to have had this support during an incredibly trying time, because, the truth is, no amount of self-care is going to be enough when circumstances are so difficult for true wellbeing to be possible. Not without community support.

When I could, I kept up meditation, exercise and tried my best to nurture myself. But no amount of these practices—breathing, yoga, gardening and reading—would have been enough.

As things have gotten a little easier, I’ve found the time and energy to contribute to the community myself. I admit I’m very discerning when it comes to what kind of support I will give. It must align with where I’m at, taking into account my capacity at the time.

I have two causes I’m currently supporting which are both personal endeavours but are also aligned with my businesses philosophy. You can read about them here.

One thing is tree planting, which is such an awesome thing to do with kids and, obviously, supports our beautiful natural environment. I also support women in crisis during the festive season by facilitating the donation of preloved beautiful jewellery.

The cool things is, when we give it is good for us and the recipient! And it’s doesn’t have to be hard. Sticking your hand up to do a good deed once in a while is doable for all of us. And we may be the ones who need a hand one day.

Acts of kindness like volunteering are good for us and others. We are social creatures and our wellbeing is absolutely dependant on the quality of human connection in our lives. So collective care really does make a LOT of sense.

I’m still an advocate of for making time to just be, to meditate, exercise, have fulfilling hobbies and time with loves ones. But I also think that in this world where so many of us are crazy busy a fair whack of the time, we need to consciously make choices that connect us to our communities.

And when we have the capacity, to contribute to our community. Now that my little family is in a much better place, 2020 for me is all about not only contributing to community, but building community.

Women laughing and relaxing together

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Stepping up because community is everything

Some of you will have read that the Director at my son’s kindy, Rose, was killed in a horrific car accident late last year, tragically leaving behind her 10-year-old son. Our kinder community was devastated.

Rose was a community builder through and through. Last weekend was her memorial service, which I MC’d at, along with an educator. While I was very flattered to be asked, I wasn’t sure, at first, that I wanted the role. Then it hit me: she inspired me to step into this leadership role, and to step up in general.

Her untimely death made me see so much more clearly how there are opportunities to build connection and community in small ways every day. I am now the parent rep. at kinder and am attending Co-op. meetings and am getting more involved in the Australian Conservation Foundation activities as my capacity allows.

So how can you step up and contribute to, or even build, community? Or perhaps, especially if you are a primary carer for kids, someone with special needs or an elderly person, how can you reach out to community and ask for support if that’s what you need right now? Perhaps you need to give yourself a little self-preservation.

I share my personal story because I want people to appreciate that even those of us who meditate and dedicate our lives to conscious living, also sometimes have (very) stressful lives. While the skills and practices of conscious living have saved my sanity many times over; as I said earlier, sometimes even they aren’t enough. Not without community. Community is everything.

Over feeling stressed? Is it time to learn to meditate once and for all? Private 'Meditation and Mindfulness 101' one-hour sessions can get you on your way to less stress. To schedule a 20-minute free chat to find out more CLICK HERE

STAY IN THE LOOP

March 3, 2020 in Community, Leadership, Mental health, Wellness

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My huge family relaxing and having a lvoely time together

The most challenging times can deliver gifts

By | Community, Compassion, Leadership
My huge family relaxing and having a lvoely time together

In three weeks, over this November-December, I sadly experienced the loss of two immensely important people to me and my family. Unsurprisingly, this has led me to a massive amount of contemplation and some big ‘stuff’ has come up. So, to finish the decade off, I’d like to share some of these ideas.

Whirring around my brain has been what constitutes real leadership and how does this pertain to community? And, secondly, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the importance of compassion and forgiveness, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

On the 10th of November, after a long decline with severe dementia and Parkinson’s disease, I lost my father. His death was swift and peaceful, and he was surrounded by family. We are all so very grateful that it was a ‘good death’.

And, oh, what a man he was! My dad was the first paediatric neurologist in Australia. He opened the department of neurology at the Royal Children’s Hospital in the 1960’s, having spent more than three years in the UK and the US, where he and my mother had their first two of five kids. I am number five and my eldest sister is only seven years older than me! I know, the mind boggles and, no, there are no twins…

Dad taught countless doctors who came after him pioneering paediatric neurology in Australia, had two syndromes named after him, was awarded an Order of Australia, and that’s just the headlines. His accomplishments were both many and seriously impressive.

Yet in the outpouring of condolences and in the obituary written by two of his colleagues, he was most remember for his kind and gentlemanly manner. Professionally, he taught his students the importance of compassion and kindness when dealing with families, not just the importance of clinical excellence.

The department he set up was known amoung staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital for its comradery between colleagues, and his incredible humility and decency as a leader were referred to more than his incredible achievements.

Yet funnily enough, I found my father to be a stern man when I was growing up. We were chalk and cheese. He was quiet and serious. I was loud and all I wanted to do was have fun. I was emotional, affectionate and passionate. He was reserved and, sadly, there seemed to be little we connected over.

With hindsight I can of course understand why we were at odds. He was dealing with incredibly stressful situations and I’m quite sure I was often a pain in the arse, worrying about fickle nonsense… But I was just a kid.

In reality, his extremely demanding role and my mother’s role in being responsible for us, so he could have such an important impact on other children and their families, meant that he was largely absent, and not just when he was at work.

Silver linings

The crazy silver lining to his dementia was that in the last ten or so years of his life he became warm and affectionate, and he often told me he was very proud of me. I am thankful his dementia stripped him of his serious intellectual side.

Listening to peoples outpouring about how incredibly kind and warm my father was has been interesting for me, as this was largely not my experience growing up with my dad. If I had not seen that warmth in his last decade, I’d have wondered who they were talking about!

But instead of feeling anger that we didn’t have a closer relationship for most of my life, I have found myself feeling a huge amount of compassion for him. For the fact that he had a hard time showing his emotions, that he was raised in a time where duty and a stiff upper lip trumped connecting emotionally with your sensitive children.

What I have learned is that loss magnifies love, and love breeds forgiveness. We can all be more forgiving, more understanding. So that is what I plan to bring more of into 2020.

I have learned that my dad was a community builder, something I am also very passionate about. This leads me to the second part of this terrible double whammy of grief for me and my boy (who, btw, was best-mates with my dad and is conspiring to bring him back to life…)

As life was finally returning to something resembling normal, I was dropping my son Harry off at kindy, we were told the centre would be closed for the day because of an emergency…

An unimaginably tragic ending

There were parents in the car park in tears, and that’s when I heard that the centre director, Rose, the lynch pin of the whole kinder community, had been killed in a head-on collision at 6.30am on her way to work. Tragically, the accident was caused by a 20-year-old P-plater, at speed and swerving onto the wrong side of the road. She was 43 and had a 10-year-old son.

She was an incredible leader and phenomenal community builder. Her leadership is largely why my son is now thriving… The Windsor Community Children’s Centre community is devastated.

In the last few weeks before she died, we had several conversations. Out of the blue, she said to me when I was clearly looking exasperated, “You’re doing an amazing job”. She consoled me when I lost my shit after my dad died, and she referred Harry and me to a cool program we’re eligible for, which we’d have known nothing about if it wasn’t for Rose.

The first day I twigged to how ace Rose was, was when the parking inspector asked if any of the cars he was planning to book belonged to staff. I said something along the lines of, “blimey, that’d be a first”, to which she replied, “it’s called building community”.

Windsor Community Children’s Centre ‘exceeded’ in 5 out of 7 National Quality Standards recently. The kids and every staff member do an Acknowledgement of Country every day and often have Indigenous mob visit. The children even learn language :). Rose’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was phenomenal, and is the reason why kids with neurodevelopmental challenges like Autism, including my son, thrive there.

Her remarkable, unsung leadership influenced countless young children and their families in so many profound ways over so many years, including my nephew who is now 16. Having worked together for almost 20 years, many staff considered her family.

Leadership: Developing capacity in others for a better world.

In my business circles there’s a lot of talk of leadership, though nowhere near as much talk of community. This right here, what Rose created, is REAL leadership. Developing capacity in others for a better world for all. No fanfare, no prestige. Just total devotion to and love of educating young children and supporting families to give them the best start in life possible. That’s how to create an impact, in the present and on the future.

It’s interesting to reflect on the doctor and the kindy teacher, both were in the business of having a remarkable effect on the lives of children and their families. Male and the female, one with extraordinary prestige and one with none. Yet their leadership and legacy are remarkably similar.

And, one good death and one horrendous…

There is nowhere to go with the tragedy of this horrendous loss of life. Blame is futile. And while I completely understand anger directed at the young man whose probable recklessness caused her death. I find myself feeling so much sadness for him and his family, and no anger as such.

We are so lucky to have had my father and Rose in our lives and the impact of the work they both did will continue well into the future. Two of my closest friends have family members who’ve been directly impacted by my dad’s work. And Harry will go on benefitting from the ethos of our incredible kinder for another year before he goes off to school.

This Holiday Season, let’s all make an extra-concerted effort to hold our loved ones close, to remember to cherish them, and to be grateful for having each other, sometimes despite our differences, at this time of the year. After all, it’s precisely at this time of the year that it is often especially hard for those who don’t have their loved ones by their sides.

To finish, in case you would like to support it, there is a fundraising effort for Rose’s family taking place (as she was her family’s primary provider).

STAY IN THE LOOP

March 3, 2020 in Community, Leadership, Mental health, Wellness

Self-care is not the be-all and end-all

Photograph: Alex Tihonov/PR While I'm a big advocate of self-care, there are a few problems with this idea. In a nutshell, it can be too easy to judge those who... Read More
December 19, 2019 in Community, Compassion, Leadership

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In three weeks, over this November-December, I sadly experienced the loss of two immensely important people to me and my family. Unsurprisingly, this has led me to a massive amount... Read More
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March 26, 2019 in Stress management

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