International Cat Day 2021

NOTE: This post was written to go up yesterday, on 9th August 2021. However, my phone – which, of course, had the video of the cats on it – completely died and only recovered this morning. Following some further technical difficulties, the video has finally been retrieved and this post can go up. So happy belated International Cat Day!

Happy International Cat Day! Yes, it’s a real thing!

When I first started writing this blog, I made a post introducing the animals in my life and talking about the importance of pets. There have been significant changes in the animal contingent of our family since then and given this holiday, I thought it was time for an update and, if nothing else, a post full of cuteness.

A short note before I get into the main post… if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that our family dog, Lucky, had to be put to sleep at the age of fifteen just before the pandemic hit the UK. Although he obviously wasn’t a cat, he may very well have thought he was one (he did spend almost all of his life surrounded by various cats after all) and most of our cats adored him. He was an honorary member of our cat family and we miss him dearly.


LUCY

Lucy is the queen of the house. She always has been and she most likely always will be. And that is very clear. Having been an only cat, she can be a bit aloof and irritable with the younger generations, like it’s a great trial for her to have to share her house, her garden, her people, and so on. Sometimes she’ll smack them as they walk past for no apparent reason. But most of the time, she’s very affectionate, especially with me but with all familiar people, the other cats, and she adored Lucky when he was still with us. She demands her time with me in particular and gets somewhat ratty if she doesn’t get it: she hangs out in the bathroom with me whenever I’m in there; she’s the only one allowed to roam the house at night and she always sleeps on my bed (or nearby if we’re having hot weather); and she spends most of the day in whichever room I’m based in. It’s very sweet. She doesn’t always want to be snuggled up with me but she does like to be close by.

“I’m not sure why I like cats so much. I mean, they’re really cute obviously. They are both wild and domestic at the same time.” – Michael Showalter

MOUSE AND TIGER

Lucy had her first litter of kittens in 2016 which was a wonderful experience. We found them all homes (homes that were all linked actually, which was kind of adorable) and went back to being a one cat household, which I had missed. We discussed having Lucy spayed before deciding that we wanted to have one more experience of kittens, which resulted in Mouse and Tiger, both girls, in early 2018. They were, of course, unbearably adorable and I loved every moment with them. They also really helped me through the traumatic experience of moving house: their playfulness and innocence and general wonder at the world was incredibly soothing to my anxiety and distress. We hadn’t planned to keep them but both my Mum and I had just fallen head over heels and one day, watching the two of them play with Lucy in the garden, we acknowledged that the decision had already been made really. After that, we had Lucy spayed, content with our little family of three.

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Mouse is the elder of the two and she’s just the most beautiful cat: silver, sleek, and utterly gorgeous (as ridiculous as she looks in this picture). She looks very much like a Nebelung cat but given that Lucy and Tiger look nothing like her, I’m not sure how that would be possible. She’s pretty reserved and quite skittish but when she decides she wants affection, she will not leave you alone; it’s very cute. She’s very playful and very vocal, sometimes for no apparent reason, almost like she’s just making sure you haven’t forgotten she’s there.

Tiger is the younger and ever since she could wriggle across the floor on her tummy, she’s been following me around, climbing on me, and snuggling up with me. She’s somewhat obsessed and it’s kind of hilarious. As a kitten, she once climbed up my shirt (whilst I was sitting in bed) and fell asleep curled up on my shoulder. She demands my attention – loudly – and won’t leave me alone until I have thoroughly patted, cuddled, and appreciated her. There have been a handful of very funny Zoom/online class experiences over the last eighteen months where she just wouldn’t leave me alone for anything as I tried my hardest to maintain some semblance of professionalism. She can be a little skittish too, like her sister, but on the whole, she’s calmer and more obliging.

“You can not look at a sleeping cat and feel tense.” – Jane Pauley

SOOTY AND SWEEP (their birth order is actually Sweep and Sooty but, of course, we call them Sooty and Sweep)

When Mouse and Tiger reached the age of being spayed, we had to decide whether or not we wanted to do kittens one last time. After a lot of discussion, my Mum and I decided that it would be really nice to have one more litter. Tiger had been my baby since the moment she was born and I just couldn’t imagine her as a ‘grown up’ – if that makes sense – so we had her spayed and decided to just wait and see what happened with Mouse.

Life went on and nothing happened in the kitten department. Meanwhile my mental health plummeted and I was struggling to get by. In the end, the idea of things changing, of anything new happening, just felt too overwhelming so we decided to have Mouse spayed. We took her for the pre spay check up and the vet said she was fine, although she could lose a little weight so we should reduce her food some.

And then about a week later, we came home to find Mouse pacing by the front door. As soon as she saw me, she headed for my room, stopping every few feet to make sure I was following and yowling the whole way. We went into my room, she curled up in the cat bed in the corner, and a few hours later, we had two new kittens. So that threw us for a loop: just as we’d decided against more kittens, we had them. (The vet – who’d said that Mouse absolutely wasn’t pregnant – thought this was all very funny. As you can imagine, we don’t go to them anymore.) But despite the shock, it was wonderful to have kittens around, even though it took Mouse a while to figure out what she was supposed to do. Watching them explore and learn and grow was a very untainted, therapeutic experience. And their calming influence was especially appreciated when I started my Masters and was having almost daily meltdowns due to stress.

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“A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden.” – Robert Southey

When they reached rehoming age, we did look for a home for them (ideally, we were hoping that they could go to the same home together) but we weren’t in too much of a rush given how high my anxiety levels were. But time kept passing and I was still struggling and in the end, we decided that the joy they brought to the house outweighed everything else. So we kept them and I’m so, so grateful that we did.

Sweep, we believe, is the older sister and in full fluff, she looks very like a Norwegian Forest Cat but like her mother, we don’t know how that would be possible. I’d love to do DNA tests and find out the breeds of our whole pride but that would be incredibly expensive – too expensive just to satisfy my curiosity. She’s super chilled out, happy to curl up – or stretch out! – anywhere and starts to purr immediately when you stroke her. She’s very obliging – cuddling, anything medical, grooming, etc – as long as you let her go when she’s clear that she’s had enough, which rarely means more than pulling away a bit more forcefully than usual. She’s very sweet and has the cutest little face with these gorgeous green eyes.

Sooty is the baby of the family. (They all have their own nicknames: we refer to Lucy as ‘Queen Lucy,’ Mouse and Tiger as ‘the kittens,’ and Sooty and Sweep as ‘the beans’ and Sooty is very often ‘baby bean.’) She’s little and skinny with a ridiculously long tail; she’s like a monkey. She’s super chatty and makes a clear noise of ‘hello’ whenever you enter the room or stop to stroke her. She’s very inquisitive and affectionate and during the winter, she’ll spend hours curled up on the sofa with me (preferably stretched out in between my legs. Like Tiger before her, she’s always been very attached to me; now there is some degree of competition between the two of them and they’ve had to figure out how to take turns in getting my full attention.

While Lucy kind of separated herself from Mouse and Tiger after a certain point (I think she felt she’d done her job and didn’t understand why they hadn’t left like the previous litter had; I think that, if they’d been her first litter and she hadn’t already had the experience of mothering and then watching them leave, things might’ve been different but who knows), Mouse has remained very maternal, especially with Sweep. They curl up together, they cuddle, they groom each other, they play… The two of them in particular are two peas in a pod. Mouse and Sooty are close too but Mouse and Sweep are a special little unit. It’s very sweet.

And that’s our family of cats, also known as the pride of cats. I love them deeply and… Not to say that I wouldn’t love them as much if not for the pandemic, but they were (and still are) one of a handful of things that have kept me going through the hardest parts of the last eighteen months. They were there for cuddles when I needed them, they made me laugh (which was not easy to do), and their complete obliviousness to everything going on in the world was very soothing when my anxiety got overwhelming. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve made it to this point in the pandemic without them.

Over the last year, ever since I discovered that International Cat Day was in fact a real thing, I’ve been collecting clips of them. I thought it would be something fun to post today…


Over the last eighteen months, my pride of cats have been one of the great joys of my life. Managing five cats isn’t always easy and when something goes wrong, it’s incredibly scary – as any pet owner will know – but when all is good, it’s so good. They are truly wonderful little souls… I can practically feel the glare I’d get if they knew I was calling them ‘little souls’ so I’ll amend that statement. They are truly wonderful, big and beautiful souls in little bodies.

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And to finish this post, I want to include a particularly apt quote. Of all the cat related quotes I found, I’m not sure there are any more perfect for me…

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” – Albert Schweitzer

A Week in My Life (February 2020)

So I thought it might be fun to document a week in my life, both as a person with mental health problems and Autism and as a person doing a Masters in songwriting. So recently, for a week (one of my more interesting weeks), I took notes on each day so this is those days collated, a week in my life right now.


MONDAY

My Monday started at home in Brighton (doing origami for the #30dayfeb) but I was hugely nervous (and excited) because I was playing my university’s songwriters’ circle that evening. And what made it extra special was that it was the LGBTGIA+ History Month Special. I proudly come from a proudly LGBT family and identify as queer myself, although that label is as far as I’ve gotten. When your mental health and Autism take up your whole life, there’s not a lot of time for figuring out your sexuality. I haven’t talked about sexuality on here much because I felt like I needed to know specifically what I identified as (gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc) before I said anything but now I’m thinking that not knowing yet is also important to talk about. I don’t want to do too much of that here though because I think it deserves its own post.

Anyway, I was nervous but also really excited.

I caught the train to London and the tube to uni where the songwriters’ circle was being held. I met Richard (Richard Marc, my best friend and writing partner) there and we practiced for a bit: we were playing a song we’d never performed before. So we worked that out, ran through it until we were confident with the performance, and then went to get food before going back for our soundcheck. That went well and we met everyone else who was playing; they were all absolutely lovely.

The special guest was an alumni, RIS, described as: “an up-and-coming Sofia-born electropop artist based in East London. The queer singer-songwriter’s brooding vocals bring euphoric melodies to life over dramatic alt-pop tracks, rich with sizzling synths and sonic ear candy.” They were really lovely and I absolutely love their songs: I can’t wait for them to release more.

The other students, Lea Frances, Francesco Pio Ricci, Becky Kerly, and our host tutor, Anjali Perin, were all amazing and interesting and different and it was a really  incredible experience to be a part of. You can actually listen to the whole circle here and hear everyone’s beautiful music and stories. There’s something strangely spiritual about a songwriters’ circle and I hope you can feel that without actually being there. Speaking for myself, it felt magical and exactly how songwriting and songwriters’ circles should feel: a coming together and sharing of stories, of songs, and of souls. And holding it in a music university, getting a sing-a-long isn’t difficult and that’s one of, I think, the most special things you can experience as a songwriter, as a performer. The whole event was so wonderful and I felt so lucky to be a part of it.

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TUESDAY

My lecture didn’t start until eleven so I got a bit of a lie in after the late-ish night and all of the emotion but then I had a bit of a headless chicken morning, running around, back and forth, getting ready and packed up for uni. But I made it on time, a little early even so I got to chat to my friends. It felt like a very weird morning: I just felt super emotional and like crying at every little thing. It was hard work to stay composed.

The lecture covered the grading criteria for the assessment essay, which was really helpful. I find the language really confusing so going through it with a tutor explaining it in detail and in real, human language made is much more accessible and easier to understand.

But the main part of the lecture focussed on Max Martin – we cover one songwriter a week and look at techniques they use and so on. It’s really interesting, especially because they’re all really different. So, for Max Martin, we focussed most on melody, syllable count, and melodic math: a device used to make melodies really tight and memorable. It was fascinating, especially to someone who puts lyrics before melody. I don’t know if I could ever do it consistently because lyrics are so important to me but it’s definitely something I’d be up for trying out, just to see what the result sounded like.

Then I have a four hour break before the next class but I spent some of it hanging out with my friends, an hour at a meeting about the upcoming Nashville trip, and then two hours writing with one of my best friends on the course, Luce, while our other friend, Sharné sat in the room with us and worked on some of her own work. We worked on a song for a couple of hours, getting quite methodical and looking at the deeper message of the song and so on but I don’t think either of us were in quite the right frame of mind to write so the three of us just ended up talking. They’re such lovely people that talking with them, whether it’s about random stuff or intense, emotional stuff, the conversations mean a lot to me.

The second and final class of the day was the workshop, where we play songs we’ve written based on the previous week’s artist’s techniques. A lot of people don’t turn up, presumably because it’s not assessed and they need the time for other things, so it was just me, Luce, and Sharné, which was actually really nice. There was a lot of time for feedback and I really enjoyed working on their songs and my song more intensely than we would usually have time for. They had both written great songs, both of which I really loved.

My only complaint about the classes is how cold the classrooms are. They’re absolutely freezing, so cold that we’re wearing our coats, scarves, and gloves in class. The air conditioning is on even in December and January. We’ve asked them to turn it off but there’s been no change. Especially on a day when I was very emotional, being so cold just made me want to cry.

Fortunately, my Mum was working in London and the end of our days coincided so she picked me up and we drove home together, catching up about our days. We got home and I was so exhausted that I went straight to bed. It had been a long and emotional couple of days.


WEDNESDAY

After my busy Tuesdays (and this busy Monday), I take Wednesday as a rest day. And I tend to work on at least one weekend day. I might technically be doing my course part time but I have to be very flexible about the way I work because of Autism and mental health problems cropping up and making work difficult. I can’t write a song or research an essay if I’m recovering from a meltdown for example. It sucks, because it means I have to plan my life very carefully to allow for these problems but also be very flexible in case they do. It’s so frustrating. I hate it.

I did my origami and then spent the day bouncing between writing my diary and the continuation of moving my songs all into one notebook. They were very calming tasks. I tried to work on a song but just couldn’t make my brain work (I think I was too tired) and then, when I gave up, I lay down on the sofa and accidentally had a three hour nap.

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All of the cats!

I finished the day having dinner and watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit with my Mum (it’s the show that just the two of us in the family watch). It was very relaxed and really nice to spend some time with her.

I had had serious anxiety about the work I have to do all day but had been managing it with Diazepam. It’s something I deliberately try not to think about on rest days because they’re my weekend where I have fun or recharge. I’ll spend the other days of the week working on those things but rest days are for resting. It’s still hard to shut off that anxiety though, even with the Diazepam.


THURSDAY

As had become my pattern, I started my day with my piece of origami for #30dayfeb. On this day, it was another bird. I did a lot of birds. They were pretty and not too challenging (I wanted challenging but some of the origami tutorials I watched were virtually impossible for a beginner like me).

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Most of my morning involved going to therapy. It ended up being a very intense, upsetting session – therapy can be a bit of a funny paradox because if you leave feeling exhausted and drained, chances are you’ve worked really hard and done some important work; you’ve just got to look after yourself afterwards. We were talking mainly about a difficult relationship in my life and how to handle it as well as my OCD and how it’s affecting my Masters work. Trying to control it enough to get the work done is gruelling and exhausting and sometimes it feels just too hard. It spiralled into harder and harder stuff and I ended up in tears. Getting myself together to leave was a struggle. And then, to make things worse, the cab I needed to get home didn’t turn up and I was left waiting in the rain for half an hour, until my therapist came to check on me. She lent me her phone and I called another one.

I eventually got home and called my Mum at work, sobbing down the phone because it had been just too much after a difficult session. Plus changes in plans really throw me. Talking to her managed to calm me down a bit and I felt a bit better when we hung up. I was tired enough to sleep but my brain was whirring too fast so I was still awake but groggy when Mum got home.

We had some dinner (and some red bull) and caught the train to London. We were going to see Waitress again, mainly so that I could try and meet Sara Bareilles after the show. She’s had such an impact on my life that I just really, really want to meet her and thank her. And getting to see the show again isn’t exactly a hardship. I love the music, the cast is fantastic, and the story always inspires me; it makes me feel like I might end up happy, even if it’s not in the way I expect or currently want it to. That’s big for me. And Sara is just amazing. She just is Jenna. She’s plays the part like it was written for her and she sings like Jenna is a part of her. ‘She Used To Be Mine’ is one of my favourite songs ever and there’s something magical about hearing her sing it live. This show is so important to me and it always will be.

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Sara’s bow!

We rushed outside to see if I could meet her and we met some of the other cast who kindly chatted with us and signed my ticket but Sara herself didn’t appear. After a while, the security guard said she’d left but I was reluctant to just go, having been told the same thing in the past and gone home only to see people posting selfies with her on Instagram. But this security guard had been really nice to us earlier in the night – so I felt I could trust him and his explanation – and he told us that she had an early engagement the next day and so she’d had to leave straight away (as it turns out she was on This Morning the next morning so it was entirely true). So we went home. We have one more opportunity to meet her before her run ends so hopefully I’ll get to meet her then. I know a lot of people don’t get my dedication to seeing shows more than once (I often get overwhelmed mid show and so seeing them multiple times allows me to get the full experience – and why would you not want to see a show you love more than once, especially if it’s only on for a limited time?) and meeting the artists but they’ve really shaped my life and therefore become part of my life so it feels important to connect, even if in the tiniest way.

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Marisha Wallace (who plays Becky – she has an incredible voice and is utterly hilarious) signing my ticket.

We caught the train home and fortunately got back not too late, considering we’d waited afterwards (I appreciate that they hadn’t just left us waiting in the cold). I went straight to bed and was asleep in seconds.


FRIDAY

I did my origami (an apple) and then spent the morning doing some reading for my Masters, working on my songwriting book when I needed a break. It was very gentle and chilled after the emotional day and late night from the day before – the perfect antidote.

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Lucy keeping me company.

I had a late shower but ended up sitting on the bathmat, sobbing because there’s just so much sadness in me. There’s so much sadness, past and present, happening in the world and to the people I love. It overwhelmed me and I just got so upset. It happens sometimes, quite a lot in fact. I’m an emotional person but I’ve been particularly emotional recently.

In the afternoon, I had an appointment with the doctor. Mum always comes with me to these appointments, especially with doctors I’m not familiar with (the Autism specialist doctor has been away), in case I get overwhelmed and because she knows my mental health and Autism history really well, sometimes better than me. We talked to the doctor about the pain I’ve been having from my fingers to my shoulders (I was, at that moment, having some really bad pain in my hands and left shoulder), which is obviously cause for concern. We talked about support for people with Autism, which there still seems to be a distinct lack of, plus several other things. I found it very unhelpful and distressing but Mum seems to think that the information we got, good and bad, means movement – in her plans and research, I suppose. So I guess that’s something.

To cheer me up, we went home via the nearby pet shop. We need to replace the cat tree/scratcher so we went to look at the ones they had and there were some possibilities but we need to do some measuring before we commit and buy one. But we did buy a couple of little cat toys, mainly to make me happy: a little unicorn and a little Grumpy Cat (we try to avoid buying toys that look like real animals so that they don’t give us a huge shock, thinking the cats have brought in a mouse or something). They’re really cute.

The unicorn toy and the Grumpy Cat toy.

Then we came home and had a gentle evening. I did some reading for my essay and then me and Mum had dinner in front of SVU. When I finished eating, I did some diary writing. It was an attempt at calm but I was still very anxious, even taking Diazepam. I’d intended to go to a friend’s gig in London but I just had too much pain in my hands, arm, and shoulder that I just couldn’t do it. I felt so bad because it’s been so long since I’ve been to one of her shows and I felt like a bad friend for ‘not supporting her.’ I could’ve managed the show but the travel just made it too much. I felt really guilty for not going, something I struggle with a lot – guilt, that is. So it was a difficult evening.


SATURDAY

I spent most of Saturday songwriting (after doing my origami). I tried to write both with a pen and on a computer – diary, blog writing, or research – but my hands felt thick and stupid (which we think was a side effect of a medication I’ve now stopped taking since it wasn’t helping and there were too many side effects – none of them serious but all of them unpleasant and unhelpful) so it was a real struggle. Playing piano was really the only thing that wasn’t difficult in that sense and so I spent a lot of the day playing, writing, and editing songs, several of which I really like.

I also put up my blog post about Lucky, which I’m really proud of.

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Me and Lucky on Christmas Day with his new toy.

Me and Mum spent some time in the afternoon and early evening talking about a presentation I have coming up, talking rather than writing since my hands were still struggling. Then we had dinner and watched some TV together. I ended up falling asleep on the sofa at seven because I was so exhausted by everything going on and Mum had to all but drag me off the sofa and steer me to bed.


SUNDAY

I woke up stupidly early (at half past four) and couldn’t go back to sleep as hard as I tried. Eventually I got up and moved to the living room, putting the TV on low and getting to work: sending emails, social media messages, and so on. I’m better in the mornings, more awake and less anxious, so those things feel easier.  I organised my diary and did some blog writing. It was a productive start to the day, despite the painfully early start.

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Mouse keeping me company while I worked.

Once Mum was up and we’d had breakfast, we did some house jobs (such as fitting the new cat flap) and I talked to a friend who was very upset before getting down to work on my presentation. I’d been talking to various people since it was set as an assignment so I felt prepared when I sat down to make the presentation slides. I spent the day working on the slides and beginning a script for what I was going to say.

In the evening, I ran it past Mum (who does a lot of presenting as part of her job) and she critiqued it for me. Then one of my other parents came over and we had dinner in front of Tim Minchin’s Orchestra Tour DVD. He’s truly an incredible musician and performer.

It was a productive day and I went to bed as late as I could manage – about ten o’clock – and took a sleeping pill to make sure I got a good night’s sleep.


I hope that was interesting, that it gave you a glimpse into my life. Let me know if you want more of these because it was definitely interesting to write.

30 Days of Self Care

A while back, I discovered the 30 Day Self Care Challenge (here) and I’ve been really wanting to try it. I’m always on the look out for more and better ways to help myself manage my life. As April was Stress Awareness Month, I figured this was a good opportunity. Stress and anxiety aren’t necessarily the same thing but there is an overlap and anyway, we could probably all use a little more self care in our lives.

I’ll admit that I was only semi successful at completing the daily challenges. I managed most of them but there were busy days, illness, and various other roadblocks. But I tried, and I thought I’d share some of the ones I did manage to do:

Day 4 – Write down 3 things you love about yourself

  • That I’m honest.
  • My hair – when it behaves.
  • My scars.

Day 7 – Burn a candle/incense

I burned my pink pepper and grapefruit candle (my absolute favourite candle) with the special wooden wick from The Candle Bar in Nashville. The wooden wick makes a crackling noise, like a fire burning. It’s lovely and the smell always relaxes me.

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Day 8 – Unfollow people on social media who don’t inspire you

I don’t think I’ve unfollowed anyone since I joined Twitter and Instagram and it definitely needed doing. I was following a lot of people and organisations that only stressed me out. More and more, jobs are involving social media so it’s not always possible to just unfollow every account that doesn’t bring you joy but there were definitely some that were unnecessarily stressful. So I started unfollowing. I went through my Following lists and unfollowed thirty accounts on Instagram and forty on Twitter. My social media sphere has felt a lot safer since then.

Day 9 – Take yourself out on a date to eat/see a show/go to a gallery/museum

I had to shuffle things around a bit for this one but for one of my parents’ birthdays we went to see Waitress the Musical. She’s always encouraged my love of music and the music in this show is so good. We decided to do something together for her birthday and this is what we landed on. We had so much fun and we laughed a lot. It was a good night.

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Day 26 – Read a chapter of a book

I technically failed this one but the day before, I read the whole of This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. It’s a collection of diary entries from when he was a doctor and it’s hilarious and disgusting and tragic in equal parts. It was a really good read and it reminded me of why I always loved reading. It’s like the rest of the world stops for a bit and I really needed that, even if it wasn’t the easiest read.

Day 27 – Take a nap

Mid morning, I went down with a migraine and the only coping mechanism I have for migraines is to sleep through them. So I ended up having a six hour nap.

Day 29 – Explore affirmations, and write three of your own

Before this, all I really knew about affirmations was that they were positive phrases that you repeated to yourself. But I did some research and it’s a really interesting practice – this article was particularly good. So I’m having a go at it:

  • I have the skills to do my job.
  • I am competent and confident.
  • Every action I take makes me more comfortable in my life.

Self care isn’t a one size fits all scenario and what I think is so great about this challenge is that it allows you to try all these different things that you can incorporate into your routine as self care. Some will work for you and some won’t. The last day of the challenge allows you to reflect on the successes and failures and while some were practices I already use as part of my self care routine, there were others that weren’t but will be now: I’m getting back into reading, I’m learning about affirmations, and I’m more comfortable on social media. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re not sure where to start with self care; it gives you a lot of options. Hopefully there’s something for everyone.