Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask… Or Whatever They Call It.

I am looking backwards on a fairly insane 20ish months that I have survived (and even thrived in at times). In the last ten months, I finished grad school, started a new job with a steep learning curve, added a commute, sent the baby to school, survived MRSA, and I have had mountains of personal struggle. I was living all of this ridiculousness while accomplishing the extraordinarily ordinary tasks of raising a family.

There was a moment early last month that I was sobbing, and I knew I was overwhelmed, exhausted, emotionally fried, and I was taking terrible care of myself. My anxiety was at an all time high, and I wasn’t taking care of it. (The nasty short-tempered kind of anxiety.) I was using “busy” as an excuse to always count myself last. Well that’s bullshit.

Through tears, and several miles of my commute it dawned on me that I am way too strong, smart, and resourceful to let all of this nonsense leave me feeling like complete garbage at the end of everyday.  I really had a moment of “ain’t nobody got time” to feel this terrible. When I really looked at how I was feeling, I realized that I was feeling like garbage not because of all the stupid amounts of hard nonsense I was facing, but because I was paying little to no attention to myself.

It was little things at first. I stopped blow-drying my hair.  I wasn’t reading. I didn’t have a project outside of the 100,410 work projects. I wasn’t championing a cause outside of my professional work. I wasn’t listening to music. I didn’t have an audio book going with Livi. I wasn’t managing our goals. I was drained in all of the wrong ways. I wasn’t even pretending I would pack a lunch some days. I wasn’t running, or moving at all. I wasn’t writing. All of the things that keep me whole, and let me enjoy life, manage anxiety, and thrive; I had slowly stopped. All the loss was in the name of being “too busy” and feeling super overwhelmed. I was also playing a victim, and lets face some truths here, I am white, employed, partnered, a homeowner, and over educated. I never get to be a victim.

Finding a new mission. #paintthishouse

So back to the part I call bullshit to. The reality is I can’t climb mountains over night. However, I am feeling worlds better than even just thirty days ago. I did not go to a spa, or higher extra babysitters for “time off.” I didn’t buy anything. I just returned to caring about what I use to fuel my body. I returned to waking up earlier to have a few moments to actually get ready in the morning. I returned to reading the Sunday Times (a huge joy for me), and leaving for an hour for pedicure every other weekend. Things I have always done, that in the madness and insanity of new, stress, and illness I had stopped doing. I started to take care of myself, again.

The entire self-care industry will tell us that spa days (which are lovely), and products, and “more time” will heal all of our woes. The reality is that I can’t manufacture more time, and spending money I don’t have is just another stressor. What I can do is return to

my boundaries, find respite, and make better choices. For example, I will never be at anything early on a Saturday. It’s my time to recoup, recharge, and rest. I gave up this boundary too many weekends in a row.

Another unsung hero in this narrative is my spouse. It is okay to fall hard and depend on your partner. I realized this month (ten years into parenting) I could ask someone else to do back to school physicals. He didn’t even flinch or mind that I passed off that chore. It is okay (and important) to share the work of raising tiny humans. David also does all of our family meal cooking. When I suggested I needed healthier choices at dinner, he quickly jumped on board, and asks for my preferred veggies with every meal, and then goes to the store and buys them, and prepares them.

The hard part is that I know I am a terrible human to my

family, and myself when I do not take care of myself.

So here I am again on this journey of figuring out how to be my best self. I changed nothing drastic. I spent almost no additional money. I am only making better choices, again. I’m reading, writing, and caring about food, and respecting my own boundaries. I am really hoping this time I learn this lesson for good. I probably won’t, but I will have the last few months to remember that I have tools and resources to help myself be a better self.

I certainly do not want to be obnoxious or sanctimonious. I am aware of this privilege. However, if we don’t take care of ourselves, how on earth do we take care of the people who depend on us for everything they need? Self care is extremely important. Find your needs.

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