“To live life to the fullest means to feel life to the fullest.”

This quote from writer and artist Mari Andrew’s new book, My Inner Sky, is always a tall order, but maybe never more so than during the pandemic.

To live fully this past year meant to feel grief, loneliness, fear, and uncertainty—and for so many of us, all those feelings within the same day.

But throughout this pandemic, Mari’s led by example with illustrations and writings on her Instagram @bymariandrew, an account now followed by over a million people.

Her vulnerable posts about her feelings demonstrate what it looks like to hold ourselves with compassion instead of criticism, with care instead of shame, and with courage instead of fear.

Here, Mari shares with Shine how she’s personally practiced self-care while quarantining in New York City, how she’s embraced “self-parenting,” and the compassion she’s showing to her creativity during the pandemic.

On what self-care means to her:

For me recently, self-care means self-parenting in the most attuned and engaged way. A sort of ideal parent that’s super attuned to a child’s needs and is also teaching them accountability.

To me, accountability is a really big part of self-care. It means I’m caring enough to respond to things I see and hear and read about in a really attuned and integrity-filled way.

To know when I’m messing up and when I’m cutting corners—I think the more accountability we have for ourselves, the more compassion we’ll have for other people.

On how she practices self-parenting daily:

These days, it’s a lot about knowing what my body and soul need that the more toddler part of my brain doesn’t want to do—I want to keep scrolling on Instagram, I’m trying to numb my feelings, I want to shy away from apologizing to someone because I know it will be really uncomfortable, I want to dull my loneliness by drinking wine and watching reality TV.

The self-parenting is that little nudge that’s like, “Hey, that’s not very good for us. Let’s do the right thing here and why is it important to do the right thing?”

And then there’s the self-compassion piece too when I do make the mistake—which is a million times a day.

It may sound like I’m letting myself off the hook, but it’s encouraging more accountability. It’s saying, “Hey, we messed up there and that wasn’t great. But we have an opportunity to do something with that. That’s OK, we all make mistakes.” And to just bring a lot of sweetness and also naming things that don’t go well.

On creating space for uncertainty:

I think a lot of us are thinking about uncertainty and not sure what the light at the end of the tunnel is going to look like. I was thinking about how so many cultures throughout history have actually really treasured the in-between times as sacred—the Tibetans have the concept of “bardo” which is in-between time.

It really is this modern, patriarchal, capitalist society that wants to make binaries and say, “You’re here, or you’re there. You’re not in the middle.” Which is what’s harmful. It’s actually not that uncomfortable to be in between. It’s uncomfortable to think: I should be here or there.

'It’s actually not that uncomfortable to be in between. It’s uncomfortable to think: I should be here or there.'
- Mari Andrew

If we could embrace the fluidity and uncertainty, that would make our lives a lot easier.

One way I do that is through personal rituals. And to me, rituals are anything that names what I’m going through and marks it as important. That could be anything from journaling and saying “I’m feeling this way, and I’m going to be present to this emotion” or it might involve a ritual with candles or letter writing or anything I would need to move through an emotion.

On recognizing and releasing her creative expectations:

Before I send art or a book or writing out into the world, I write a little letter to the audience. They’re never going to read it, but it’s what I hope for them. And I also write down expectations that I have. And then: I burn it.

I feel like it’s so important to remember that the joy for me is the writing and creating, and whatever people get from it isn’t my business and it’s really about their own experience.

It’s both bringing in what I hope for this and then releasing what is out of my control.

On coping with loneliness:

I have felt isolated at many times in my life, and I’ve had to be so affirming of what was going on for me.

A lot of times, when we hear these messages in our body that say, “I’m so alone. I’m so lonely. No one cares about me,” the easy thing to do is self-soothe and say, “So many people care about you, so many people love you, you’re not alone—you’re fine!”

It’s such a lovely impulse, but sometimes it makes us feel like we’re not being heard by our own selves. I think to have a dialogue with yourself and say, “I’m so lonely right now—this is really hard isn’t it?” And to just keep affirming those feelings. That’s when you can enter that creative place where you can actually think of ways to really soothe yourself as opposed to just trying to throw a blanket over it.

On being kind to her creativity during the pandemic:

I like being productive. I don’t see that as a negative thing—I like it. It makes me feel good. But this past year, I haven’t had a thing to say and I feel like I’ve been in this really gray creative space—not a lot to offer, not a lot of insight, feeling like everything I could say has already been said in much better ways.

So what I’ve had to remind myself to do is live in it and be present to it. I know that I’m a really slow processor, so maybe in three years the pandemic is something I can write about.

This has not been a creative time in a traditional sense through writing and art, but I have been creative in problem-solving, in feeding myself, in ways that I was working on my romantic relationship, in staying in touch with people. That creativity wasn’t being shown on Instagram, but I think it was actually at work.

I did experience a real scarcity and I did get jealous of people I really admire—like, how did she say that so well? And how did Zadie Smith write a book so quickly in the pandemic?

And that’s my reactive little toddler self, and my self-parenting self says: “We’re so lucky to have so many artists and writers who are real-time processing, and there are a lot of us who need a lot more time to process and that’s beautiful. Or: Maybe we’ll never really process it and that’s beautiful too. We’ll write about other stuff.”

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.