Age of Anticipation

Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out this week. I’m seeing it on Wednesday evening. I bought my tickets a few weeks ago, keen to see it as early as possible. I’ve waited 3 years for this movie. I’m not having it spoiled at the last by some over-eager reviewer on Facebook.

It’s just a movie, but I’m excited. I love stories, and the universe Marvel has created has become one of my favourites. I’ve looked forward to each new instalment, snatched up advance screening tickets to see it first and marked the days til my friends and I see Iron Man blast bad guys again.

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It does, however, make me realise that we so often live in a world of anticipation. When work is slow or my weekends quiet, I rely on the future to stay motivated. Looking forward to things – holidays, birthdays, Christmases or new movies – often gets me through life’s duller moments. We look to the future, sometimes excited, sometimes fearful, when perhaps we’d be better served focusing our energies on the present.

While looking forward to things can be an useful motivator, an effective way to cope with stress, I worry about living in constant anticipation. I remember eagerly awaiting my First Communion as a child, only to find the event underwheming and over with faster than thought. When you spend your days in waiting and commit such energy and excitement, you are sure, sooner or later, to be let down. When you focus your thoughts so heavily on what is to come, surely you miss some of what is.

I am excited to see the new Avengers movie. I’m excited to see Les Mis next months, and for my birthday in August, and Taylor Swift in November and Christmas ahead of that. I mark my time in milestones and look forward to the ones ahead. But as I look to the future, I am trying to keep my head in the present and appreciate what each day has to offer, to live my time rather than bide it.

Not every moment we live will be remarkable. Some, if not many, will be rather ordinary and occasionally boring. Moments of calm, of routine and comfort. The in-between moments that make the highlights possible.

I am seeing the Avengers on Wednesday evening, but first I have Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon slump and Wednesday lunch orders and making dessert for my dad’s birthday. I’ve got trains to catch and laundry to fold and friends to call and a lot to do before Wednesday evening, and I don’t want to wish it away waiting.

The Art of Self-Care

I had no plans for the Easter long weekend. 5 days of freedom, and no plans. At the outset this sounds glorious, but knowing myself I’d get maybe 12 hours in before the lack of plans drove me into a deep pit of lazy discontentment and snappish irritability.

I chose, instead, to dedicate my long weekend to self-care – doing things I like, things that are good for me, for no other reason than making myself happy. This weekend, slef-care meant long hours writing or reading, baking and cooking for my family, afternoon naps and board games with friends, long hot baths, buying new make up and an especially lovely breakfast by the harbour on a rainy Autumn morning.

Self-care is different for everyone – to some people, it means going for a run, to others a lazy morning sleep-in, or a trip to the beach, seeing a movie. Self-care plays an extremely important role in maintaining my wellbeing and improving my outlook, but I have a tendency to feel guilty for dedicating time to myself. Somehow it feels wrong, selfish, neglectful of the people in my life and my responsibilities to them.

I’ve struggled with that for a long time. Taking time to read or write can be especially hard for me. I feel like I’m doing nothing with my time, even when there’s no one there to see it. I’ve had to challenge that part of myself, sometimes more successfully than others. But this past weekend, I finished and submitted a short story I was convinced I wouldn’t complete. I slept late and woke when  I wanted and didn’t punish myself for it. I spent a large sum of money on things that I wanted and didn’t second-guess myself or feel guilty for it.

I feel there’s a powerful stigma attached to acts of self-care – investing time in yourself is so often dismissed as vain, selfish, arrogant or attention seeking. I believe we need to challenge this perception, starting in our own lives. We cannot rely on others to validate us, to take care of us and fulfil our every need. Self-care, in whatever form it takes, is about learning to meet your own needs, to offer yourself comfort, to find strength and contentment internally rather than depending on others granting it to us.

Take time to look out for yourself. Do things that make you happy. Be selfish. Be vain. Give yourself the attention you deserve.