Recently, I was reading an interview with Susan Boyle, (the singer who won X Factor and was catapulted from ordinary life to worldwide celebrity). Understandably, Boyle struggled to cope with this transition and her mental health was gleefully discussed and dissected in the media.
But more than the time she spent in therapy, I’ve been struck by a phrase she learned from her mum: and that I’ve learned from mine too. It’s this: ‘Baby steps’.
‘Baby steps’ implies a number of things. Firstly, take it a little at a time.
‘It’ can be anything, from bereavement to panic attacks – but the point is this: what seems overwhelming in one swallow, can sometimes be digested in little chunks. Conversely, when I try to take giant steps, I’m often overwhelmed and give up completely. It’s not rocket science, but it’s worth remembering, especially when even getting out of a bed is a struggle.
In the times when I’ve been depressed, (as opposed to just a bit sad), a ‘day at a time’ can be far too much. Instead I’ve coped by poddling from minute to minute. Those minutes add up into hours and days and eventually, you get through them. But taking on too much sends me into a spiral of self-pity and self-contempt.
One thing to note however: baby steps are not the same as no steps at all. It’s possible to exempt yourself from life and the challenges that are a part of recovery: to settle too quickly into a mindset of despair. Instead, I’ve found that little things – like sticking as much as possible to a normal routine or setting myself Very Small goals, can be a big help. I never want to do them, but even if I’m frustrated, I’m feeling something instead of just giving up.
When a baby takes its first steps, everyone celebrates. They don’t ask why he’s not jogging round the park. In the same way, instead of beating ourselves up for what we can’t do, perhaps we can celebrate the things we can: no matter how insignificant these appear.
(Emma lives in Eastbourne and shares a house with her long-suffering hubby Glen and two feral cats. She writes about issues of identity and faith – including culture, infertility and eating disorders. Her book, ‘A New Name’ will be published this summer by IVP. Emma blogs at A New Name.)