“Talk to yourself like someone you love.” ~Brené Brown
It has been over six months of this strange way of living. A lot is hard, uncomfortable, and painful—inside my home and outside in the world.
I find myself tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed a lot. I have two young kids; my husband and I work full time, and my home can often feel like sheer chaos.
I have mediated fights that involve blood between two young humans, and sometimes I say means words that I can’t believe I could have said to a six-year-old child. I know I could simplify a lot by sending the kids to an in-person school or getting childcare at home, but I have not been comfortable with either of those options given the risk where I live.
As I type this, I recognize how privileged I am to even type these lines and how much there is to be grateful for, to savor at this time given the beauty, abundance, and joy that still exists.
Perhaps such is life. Always. Grief and sadness co-exist. With pain often comes meaning. And our tears can be a catalyst for change—in our inner and outer worlds.
As my external world has shrunk down considerably, I find myself often in deep conversations with myself—on solo hikes, early mornings before the kids wake up, or in those last few minutes at bedtime before I fall off to sleep with the kids.
One night as I was reflecting on the beauty in this season, I realized that one of the most cherished gifts has been the depth and intimacy in my relationship with myself. I am finding that this relationship has strengthened in a very powerful and loving way. Despite the messiness of my life, I am able to love myself more deeply than ever before.
While in some ways, I feel so burnt out, in other ways, I have found more space to get to know myself in rich and deeper ways. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, I find more courage to sit with my big feelings, work through them, and choose love again, even when love feels hard.
I am able to forgive myself a bit more easily when guilt and shame knock at my door uninvited, and I’m learning to love myself alongside the bruises and wounds that are a part of the fabric of my being and accept those messy and imperfect parts of myself.
I am more aware of the parts of myself that are hard to love and the limiting stories I can make about myself—my highly sensitive personality, my impulsive behaviors with my husband, and moments of low confidence at work. I have been able to better process my relationship and attachment to money, my professional identity, and the limiting assumptions around what it means to be successful.
As I was processing this, I paused and asked myself what is helping me through this season to become best friends with myself, and this is what emerged for me. If you’d also like to use this time to deepen your connection with yourself, perhaps some of this will be helpful to you.
1. Make space for grieving.
There is so much that is hard right now, in our world more broadly—the uncertainty, the deaths and suffering, the racial injustice, political chaos, climate change, and so on. And then personally, I miss so much about my previous life, and I know some of it will never be the same.
I had a whole village supporting me in raising my children—friends, family, childcare providers, school, afterschool activities, and so on, and literally overnight that got taken away from me.
I learn every day to give myself space and permission to feel this pain. It is not about wallowing and whining but feeling in a way that feels whole and healthy. It means giving permission for the tears to flow down when they need to so that meaning can emerge on the other end.
2. Savor what’s here.
And yet, in small and big ways there is joy and beauty to be found in the now—in the resilience and generosity of so many humans on the planet, the love and empathy that is coming to the forefront, and the reality of how much humans need real physical connection.
In my own home, I am savoring morning reading with the kids, longer bedtimes and snuggles, and being a part of their learning and growth that wasn’t available earlier with our schedules. For over a decade, I wanted to train as a coach and am finally in training and couldn’t have found something more purposeful especially in this season.
Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, home in on what you get to do now that normal life has been upended. Recognize it, appreciate it, and let yourself enjoy it.
3. Dream for what’s possible.
I am learning to give myself permission to feel deeply—both the joy and sadness in any given moment. This has led to courage in being able to dive deeper into what I want, what’s making me come alive, and what my future holds.
As I rebuild the canvas of my own post-pandemic life, I am asking what colors and textures I want on my painting. What wasn’t serving me that doesn’t need to be brought back. What layers can I shed and what new contours should I invite in?
How would you answer those questions?
4. Choose conversations mindfully.
The voices that we hear outside of us become the voices in our head, and in this interesting time where I get to (strangely) have more control on which social engagement I am saying yes to or which co-worker I am casually connecting with, I am finding more capacity to choose what conversations I am having. Since so much of my world is solitary, the books and podcasts that I am engaging with have a greater impact on who I am becoming.
Take an inventory of who and what you’re engaging with. Is it fueling you or draining you? Are your external influences keeping you stuck or supporting you in becoming the person you want to be?
5. Prioritize your relationship with yourself.
Finally, having a coach and purposeful interactions around getting to better understand myself means that I have a dedicated space and structure to invest in my relationship with myself. When pain emerges, I feel more equipped to hold space for my pain. I prioritize time alone, writing, hiking, art, and reading even though it is often imperfect, interrupted many times by the kids. It’s this practice of choosing myself that is helping me better serve those I want to be in service for.
What would it look like to prioritize your relationship with yourself? What activities would nourish you, and how can you make time and space for them?
As you find your own way in these surreal times, I hope you get to know yourself better and, in that process, can love and accept yourself with a bigger heart. Love in the world starts with love for yourself. When so much else is taken away from us at this time, your own breath and mind and your connection with yourself is a gift that is always available to you.
About Neha Mandhani
Neha Mandhani is a leadership coach for parents who want to give birth to their callings. She is a strong believer in kindness, empathy and compassion as our most effective leadership tools to create change in ourselves and in the world. She loves to hike, read and cook and meaningful connections is one her greatest sources of joy. You can learn more about her on her website or on Instagram.