Caring for the children of trauma, or indeed any child with complex additional needs can at times leave one feeling entirely grey and bleak. It is exhausting in the proper sense of the word. And you can’t just escape from it for a few days and ride ponies around the New Forest.
When I catch sight of a poo stain, or a mouldy sandwich and then cry for an hour straight I know that it’s time for Project Me. Project Me is not a selfish enterprise because there ain’t no one else who is going to clean up that poo stain, pick up that clump of mould and then be empathetic and curious about it afterwards. So for anyone out there who needs a spell of guilt-free Project Me, here are my top tips. I write them as much to remind myself as for anyone else, but I hope you find them useful:
1. Stop watching the news. Stop listening to the news. Stop reading about the news. It is depressing. You do not need depressing.
2. You know that song, that piece of music that almost never fails to make you dance? Forget the dishes and listen to it. Close the curtains. Go wild. Here is one of mine.
3. People are not going to die of malnutrition if you fail to produce correctly balanced meals for a week or two. Project Me is about taking off the pressure whilst maintaining adequate service. So I say to you ‘baked potato’ and ‘baked beans’, I say ‘ready meal’, I say ‘soup’. I say ‘apple’, I say ‘banana’.
4. Stop recycling. There I said it. It’s just another tedious job which you can return to with gusto when you feel better. But for now, if your eyes fill up at the thought of having to dress yourself, bugger the plastics. Don’t wash them out, put them in the bin. Don’t tromp down the garden in the rain with a bad of mouldy carrot peelings, foul brown juice leaking down your arm. Put them in the bin – now. And remember this adopters and carers - the most costly activity to this wonderful planet is procreation. You’ve already done your bit. You have the carbon footprint of a vole.
5. When you’ve done the absolute bare minimum i.e. everyone is wearing clothes, no one smells of wee, they have eaten something and you have delivered them to wherever it is they go (apologies if you have younger than pre-school or school age children, I can only cry with you right now, but hopefully it will get better), give yourself some guilt free DAYS OFF. You heard right. OK, these are not days off as most people would understand them, these are Project Me days off. In the hours you have available you have my permission to lie on the sofa and watch day time television, or a film, or that thing you recorded. Or you might prefer to sit in a semi-coma and stare at the walls. You are absolutely not to fuss about dirt, mess, laundry, whatever. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s not going to kill anyone. And another thing – eat chocolate, scoff crisps, drink strong coffee – whatever it is that you do to self-medicate.
6. Make friends with a sensible, reliable teenage girl aka potential babysitter. Plan an evening out. Stop listening to the guilt track (‘my children won’t like her, they will miss me too much, I’ll pay for it later’). All these are probably true but this is Project Me remember and it is for the greater good.
7. Accept help. If none is on offer, ask for it. Be firm. Say what you need.
8. Be more like Ron Swanson than Leslie Knope. For those of you who have missed Parks and Recreation on BBC4 this means be less like a head girl, less perfecty perfecty, tidy tidy, less super-organised. Ron avoids work, hates rules and believes in every man’s freedom to engage in risky behaviours. And by the way, watch Parks and Recreation, it’s very funny.
9. When you absolutely have to leave the house to gather food, if you possibly can, don’t go to the busy place that leaves you feeling like you’ve visited hell, or all your good work will be undone. Go somewhere quiet and relaxed. I like LIDL. No one has any expectations (except that you have a pound for the trolley). They sell pizza. They sell bags of salad.
10. Let the kids watch hours of television and play hours of computer games during your recovery. It’s not going to kill them. You can sit alongside them and read or maintain a steady state of barely disguised consciousness. This measure has the added advantage of doubling as ‘close supervision’ and may start to calm the very behaviours which have helped to put you in this state.
11. Forget homework, forget learning the three times table, forget the bloody book bag. If you feel you need to justify yourself, speak to school and tell them you have enough on your plate at the moment and that normal service will resume soon.
12. Plan something to look forward to. This is very important.
Although Project Me was designed as an emergency measure it can become a more permanent way of thinking and living. If you are the column that keeps the entire building up, then you need to take care of yourself, for the long-term, for everyone’s sake. You have my permission, now go forth and vegetate.