It's Valentines Day. Which means all the beautiful love-filled posts are in our feeds. It's a polarising day where many cynics are ready to scoff with statements such as: "it's only one day of the year" and "it's just a hallmark holiday".

Truth be told I'm a romantic at heart. A big softie who enjoys showing my love and affection with cute cards, surprise presents, thoughtful gestures and loving words. Giving and receiving love simply makes me happy. Do I feel this way all year round? Yes. Do I do said gestures consistently? No way. Life gets busy. I get tired. I have my moments of snappiness where I'm less than loving or affectionate. I'm not perfect. None of us are. I'm human. I enjoy Valentines Day as my reminder to focus for a moment on the things I appreciate. Whether it's my husband, children, girlfriends, family or simply those who bring me joy.

The last few years I have marked this day with a blog post listing those who inspire me the most. I adore them and those lists still ring true today (you can go back and find them here and here). I sat down this morning to write the annual post and started thinking about what 'love' has looked like for me in the past year. I reflected on everyone I have loved dearly. I'm not saying I've been the perfect wife/Mum/daughter/sister/friend/business owner but I know I've tried my damn best.

There is one person I've neglected to love and respect this past year though. I haven't treated her as I would my nearest and dearest. I've been hard on her, said harsh words and been the most critical - more than I would dream of treating anyone else the same way. I've pushed her to her absolute limits and then questioned why she broke down and burnt out. I prioritised everyone else above her and then didn't understand why she felt lonely and unheard whilst being surrounded by people at the same time. She's been smothered in love by her children yet at the same time she felt so touched out. I made her feel guilty for that. She's seen the Facebook memes, our babies grow up so fast and are only small for a limited time. So many people are craving what she has. How dare she complain about feeling frustrated.

That person was me. I didn't just loose touch, I completely forgot how to love myself. How to show myself kindness. How to be gentle, breathe and relax. How to go to bed early if I'm tired, nourish myself with good food and talk about what I'm struggling with. All the things ironically I encourage my kids to do.

Unsurprisingly I crumbled. I withered. When you don't give a plant the love they need they droop, wilt and refuse to bloom. I should know this given the amount of pot plants I've killed with my black thumb. I'm not sure if anyone knew how much my insides were truly curling up.

I reached breaking point (probably surpassed that) and the offer of some guidance was reached out. I was hesitant. I was in so deep I didn't even see how mean I was being to myself. I thought I deserved all the critiquing. I thought I was just being weak.

To be honest I'm not really sure what my exact turning point was that made me take control. Much of 2019 is a hazy blur of memories in my mind. All I know is that I took teeny tiny baby steps to give myself more love and kindness. And it certainly didn't come naturally.

The term 'self-care' gets bandied about and associated with bathtubs and face masks. These things are fantastic and are definitely a form of self-care but there are also many others. And some of them are less glamourous. Personally for me bathtubs, face masks and walking in nature weren't enough by themselves (also my house only has a shower so slight hurdle there). For ME to feel happier I needed to understand my inner dialogue. I needed framework and structure on HOW to be kind to myself. I was so lost I had completely forgotten how to do that without guilt attached.

Seeing a counsellor and entering therapy was the most important, beneficial and caring thing I have done for myself. It's been the rich soil to my plant (if you want to go back to that analogy). It's enriched me in ways I didn't know I needed and given me the power to soak up the lighter-yet-still-important forms of self-kindess without the guilt (such as doing things for MYSELF). And suddenly I can look back without the fog and see that exercise, nutrition and sleep has reappeared with less resistance and guilt attached to it. It's been baby steps and forcing myself to have the clarity to look after myself even in the moments it feels the least natural.

Learning to love myself hasn't been easy but it's been incredibly important to my overall health and wellbeing. It's the hardest thing I've done and I'm still learning but I'm confident I'm on the right path.

So for my 2020 Valentines Day post I want to dedicate it to every person reading this who has struggled with self-love. Man or woman. May this year ahead give you the strength to take that first baby step.

Tess x