Lockdown Lowdown

Here we are again. Level 4 lockdown ‘bubble life’ as we know it is becoming so familiar and I am one of those people who fully welcomed the break from the world outside.

On top of the usual busy life of being a mother, wife and Samoan daughter, I wrote seven stories that were released in May this year. It involved so much time and energy #BeforeDuring&After because when you’re working to ensure our Pasifika stories are in the spaces they need to be, it’s not just write the story and then sit back and relax #OMGifOnly. Then amongst all of this I was being commissioned to write stories and complete advisory work in schools, AND we moved house where we completed #Chehooo renovations, because in my mind there is no such thing as impossible – but there is definitely such a thing as crazy #RightHereYall

So the first half of 2021 has already felt like an entire year has flown by, and is why I had promised myself an early Christmas break this August which would help me to slide into ‘chill mode’ for our final book of 2021 #TamaSāmoa.

Then Delta arrived, saving me from myself because to be honest, I probably would not have had a break and just kept on going #AsPerUsual.

I have never been good at just stopping. I even remember having so much energy as a child and would get so frustrated and borderline cry from being bored – but not in front of my Islander parents who would have really given me something to cry about LOL. Now as an adult this non-stop energy has manifested in my life as always being on the go, to keep on going, then going further … until I can’t go on anymore – which I am so used to challenging because I am a serial ‘Do-er’, forever preparing, organizing and thinking about what needs to be done which to me, MUST be followed through because my OCD/undiagnosed ADHD & Asperger’s nature can never leave anything unfinished or un-promised. Then when I’m really on a roll the fiabots kicks in and I start feeling like I’m invincible #NoSleepNeeded because by this stage I turn into a machine – like an AI robot with tunnel vision programmed to GET THINGS DONE. This is of course until I hit my kryptonite wall having spread myself so humanly and mechanically thin that my mind and body shuts down and forces me to stop.

And like so many, I know the benefits of stopping, having breaks and the importance of looking after yourself. But why is it so difficult to abide by our own self-care rules? Having had two weeks of level 4 lockdown reflection and meditation I have come up with 3 theories –

First theory: Self-care was not really modelled in our lives growing up. I think about my parents growing up, dad worked during the day and mum worked at night, always making sure someone was home for us kids. There was no holidays or family vacations, Dad even worked 14 hour days with mum working two jobs at one stage. So from a young age, my parents had no choice but to keep going and by the time we were teenagers they filled their spare time with church. So they never really stopped or took time for themselves. No such thing.

Second theory: Patterns, pathologies and cultural values. Education was big in our household growing up and early on I realized that for my parents, success in the outside world meant achieving at school. The more I achieved, the happier my parents were. So I took this as a sign of how to gain approval and love as a child. By doing things, and doing them well, I made my parents happy but then after making them happy, I wanted more of this #NewDrug and without me realizing it at the time, wanting them to be proud of me led me to chasing over-achievement status.

This addiction was solidified by Dad who always praised our achievements and hard work, but ending his comments with something like, ‘But it would have been nice if…’ Like the time I was runner up to Dux at College and after a teacher congratulating my parents, my Dad’s comment was, ‘We’re really pleased but there is always room for improvement.’ My Dad’s standards and expectations back then were #Hardcore and he eventually relaxed when he realized his girls got their degrees and would be okay in life. Then there was Mum who was the original do-er and problem solver – for family, friends, work, church, random strangers even. Girlfriend was nek level. She would always tell us, ‘What goes around comes around,’ and to talk straight, don’t talk sh**, to ALWAYS do what you say you’re going to do and DO IT RIGHT. Something that has stuck with me.

Next was being Samoan, where tautua #Service is one of the golden rules of our culture. If you do not serve your parents, family, church it is basically a sin that reflects on your entire aiga #family. Being selfish and self-serving is unacceptable. So this just reinforces the lifelong duty of service and selflessness that you are born in to and the inherent feeling you have to give of yourself, your time and energy because this was what my parents modelled and just what good Samoans do.

Third theory: How much does society really value self-care? I remember working fulltime and calling in sick, after going 500% for a couple of months at this particular job. Then within the hour I received a phone call from my boss asking me how sick I really am and if I could just come in. This happened regularly. And when I was younger – I would. The harden up and get on with it attitudes in our workplaces to meet deadlines, outcomes and deliverables doesn’t allow for, ‘I really need some time and space,’ or ‘My mental health and wellbeing are suffering at the moment.’ Which I’ve always found crazy because people are a business and organizations biggest asset. So when we feel supported and good about ourselves we are much more effective, creative and productive overall.

But there is hope. Look at some of the world’s professional sports stars who were recently in the spotlight regarding their mental health and stepping down from major events because of it, highlighting the importance once again of self-care. Reminding us all that today’s generation are already positively taking the right steps to change societal attitudes towards self-care and mental health and wellbeing #OurTurnNow.

Since I know what I need and why I haven’t been able to give it to myself #WhatI’mUpAgainst, I’ve figured out all that’s left is: Breaking the cycle. My plan has included taking the first steps of making self-care a priority and just stopping – because this is when I get the chance to think about the good and the bad, gain clarity, feel and heal from things that are otherwise blocked out by the ‘busy-doing-ness.’ It also gives me the space and time to REALLY listen to myself – to trust and know what I need. And this lockdown, my mind and body have needed to just stop.

So as a recovering non-stop addict, I know it will take work to make it a routine part of my life to stop and I have been trying to make the most out of this time in lockdown – which includes rehearsing how to say leai faafetai #NoThanks and not feeling guilty for not meeting people’s requests or demands. This is why in preparation for what God and the Universe has instore for me for the rest of the year I am working on a much healthier addiction of boundaries with work and a new pursuit of happiness that can only be found with self-care. Simply embracing this moment of pressing pause in lockdown.

Author: Dahlia Malaeulu

dah·li·a (dah-lee-ya) / noun: a flower that is widely cultivated for its impact and coloured personality / adj: abundant, bright, bold, fresh, ready-to-bloom / human form: daughter, mother, wife, educator, problem solver, creative, teine Sāmoa / working on: creating more brown spaces in the world / currently: moving in the write direction.

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