Viscacha, Machu Picchu, Peru. January 2020.

[I get asked some challenging questions sometimes… here’s my attempt at answering this one.]

That’s an interesting word isn’t it… ‘hold’, because it can be quite severe as well as protective. It can be restrictive as well as supportive. And I guess that in some ways I’ve ‘held myself to a beneficial routine’ with both senses of the word.

The preferred method is the supportive one

I try to do those things, like sleeping regularly and eating healthily, because I’m trying to support myself. I’m on my own side. This isn’t a fight where part of me wants something that’s not good for it and the other part is angry about that. No. I’m a team within myself and I fight on my own side.

But that wasn’t always the case and in times when my mind was at risk of self-collapse and the idea of the different parts of me working together in some cohesive team quite an alien idea, holding myself to the necessary routine was severe and restrictive. Sometimes you have to stop negotiating with yourself and set a simple clear boundary – particularly I think when it comes to the things that have the easy power to send you spiralling into a pit of self-loathing.

I was given a gift during my greatest moment of lostness in my mother

After all she made sure that I was receiving three healthy meals a day and it was she who woke me up each morning from the never-ending swamp of nightmares. Waking up at a normal time resulted in me going to bed at a normal time, and so she did a lot of the holding, protectively so.

Meanwhile, I focused on remembering to clean my teeth and wash my face. My sister will attest to the fact that when she calls me feeling less than 100%, the first question I tend to ask is likely to be nothing more complex than “Have you cleaned your teeth?”. I hold myself to a beneficial routine by focusing on the small but necessary. The basics are non-negotiable.

I tend to then focus on accepting that I’m a mess and that I need to do something about it

Even though on a typical day now I’ve got a gentle grip on my routine, when the anniversary of being raped came around I woke in a fog with the echoes of nightmares inhabiting my limbs. The painful recognition of how close I will always be to feeling like I’ve been smothered by the impossibility of existing can be terrifying. I was alone.

I was alone and with my biggest ally and greatest friend: I had myself.

I got out of bed and focused on two very important things

One, this was temporary. Even if such feelings lasted months rather than days, I knew that it wasn’t a feeling that would last forever. Two, I focused on the fact that I could do something about this very real feeling. I got up and made my bed. I then went in the shower with a biro gripped horizontally between my teeth and under the hot water I lifted my arms and struck a fighting pose. You’re thinking that this sounds very simplistic – it took most of the morning.

I know I cannot flick a switch and make myself happier just like that, but I’ve already decided that apathy towards myself isn’t something I can indulge. Even though my parents are amazing, at the end of the day I’ve got to take responsibility for me. If I want a happy life, I’ve got to get on with putting happiness in the world.

How do I hold myself to a beneficial routine? With all the depths of my human heart.