I am trying to design a life I like. A life I don’t need to run away from, or sedate myself to get through. It’s a trial and error thing, one whose rewards manifest in rest, ease and quiet joy, nothing glamorous. An inner-life thing, you know? Central to this design is the question, “how do I make myself feel better?” How do I build my inner reserves of ease and joy to serve me today, and save some for future unhappy me? How do I summon my emergency rations and deploy them to bring sunshine on bad days? In short, how do I, an adult, self-soothe?
A few things that work.
- A good night’s sleep
Usually, I can just drop off and easily clock over 6 hours of sleep a night. I have found that If I stay on the couch until I am good and sleepy, then get into bed and resist the temptation of scrolling through my phone one last time, I’m out like a light almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. But then there are nights when this nice formula doesn’t work and I need a sleeping aid. I discovered a podcast called “Nothing much happens; bedtime stories to help you sleep” by writer Kathryn Nicolai.
They really are stories where nothing happens, read in a soothing voice that quietens the noise in my mind and stops it wandering long enough for sleep to overtake me. The stories can only be described as cosy, about libraries, and field trips and rain, which I know from scrolling through the playlist right now. I have listened to most of them but I cannot remember a thing from any of them because it’s like as soon as the episode starts playing and Kathryn tells me to breathe in and out, and settle down under the covers, my brain switches off and easily transitions to dream land. The episodes stop playing by themselves after like an hour. I fall asleep to a nice lady reading me a bedtime story and wake up naturally just as the sun comes up.
Learning how to put myself to sleep without medication/drugs is life-changing. But also, if you need medication, please take it – our brains are different and need different care.
- A long walk
I have started a new Sunday ritual. At around 10 a.m. I put on some work out clothes and my hardy sports shoes and go for a walk. I leave my phone behind and use the time to just take in my surroundings and get acquainted with my neighbourhood. I take note of where new construction is coming up, and which politicians are yet to remove their campaign posters from street lamps and perimeter walls four months after the election (hint – all of them, including the chap who won). I clock the badly lain sidewalk slabs with shabby edges, and shake my head at the blocked storm drains resulting in flooded pavements and roads. I wonder what my taxes do.
I appreciate the few trees that still line the roads and smile at the sound of birdsong, rising above the noise of light Sunday morning traffic, the random hooting of an impatient matatu. I feel the sun on my face and the wind lifting the hair on my arms. I nod at fellow walkers and marvel at the runners, but mostly, I keep my head down and just walk. I love how strong my body feels at that point, enjoying the fact that I am hardly panting, that I can climb a hill and hardly break a sweat. I imagine that my heart is getting stronger, that my muscles are growing taut and toned, that my brain is expanding with brilliance from consuming the world without a screen. Please leave me to my delusions.
These weekly walks are the only exercise I get – I need to do more but for now, they are enough. They make me feel like I have a handle on my life.
- Flowers for me, breakfast for someone else
My walks above are not aimless/random. Their halfway point is my trusty roadside florist, who makes me feel good when he says “I can’t believe you walked 30 whole minutes here. 30! Wewe ni mnoma.” We pass another 30 minutes in idle chatter as I take my time picking out flowers, then instruct him on how to arrange them in two different bouquets for my two flower vases, trimming the excess leaves and cutting them down to the correct height.
I love being involved in the process instead of just receiving flowers at home. It allows me to smell them, touch them, and experiment with different colour combinations, deciding whether I want the yellow chrysanthemums to go with white roses, or whether I can afford to create a whole bouquet of pink lilies without using fillers (the answer usually is no, carrying cash and no mpesa helps to stay on budget).
Armed with my flowers, I head home, which would take another 30 minutes, except that I stop at the supermarket near my house to get the Sunday paper and breakfast for the security guards at my building. It’s usually just milk and bread, but times are hard and it’s nice to pick up something extra for someone when you can.
And so high on a cocktail of feel good hormones from good sleep, some exercise and retail therapy, I get back into my house and read the paper over freshly brewed coffee. It’s the little things.
The little things don’t always work. Yesterday I couldn’t sleep and found myself switching the podcast on and off until 2 a.m., and then, irritated, I just gave up and lay frustrated in the dark for what felt like hours before sleep finally came. I didn’t go on my walk on Sunday because it was raining. I therefore don’t have fresh flowers so I am coaxing my old flowers to life with a little Jik and sugar in their water so they last another week. Point is, these rituals are not foolproof. What they are is low pressure. Don’t make them a thing. Put them aside when they don’t serve you, they will be there when you’re ready to try again.