A few years ago, sitting with a client, I posed an often-used query in response to their lengthy merciless explanation about how they got evicted. Their self-judgment far exceeded what I felt they deserved. What, I had often asked, would you say to a good friend who had that same experience?
At that moment it occurred to me that I rarely, if ever, followed that advice. I would make flippant remarks like How much worse could it get? When dating I’d comment wryly I seem to have an invisible-to-me “Weirdos-Only” tattoo on my forehead. When I had a bad day at work, I’d drag myself to my car, sit and mutter, I should have done better; I could have done more. Instead of getting more rest, though, I pushed myself. Always, push-push-push. Longer work hours, time off only to visit family rather than places on my wish list. Eventually something would happen: a torn ligament, food poisoning, a virus that knocked me off my feet. And those were the only times I really took a moment to pause.
A year or more before I left my job to care for my grandkids, I realized I needed to do better with self-care. I returned to meditating and creative writing, knowing that for me they worked well. Days that started with meditation and included time for writing consistently ended with me feeling more content or at peace and less scrambled.
Recently I listened to someone preaching about other-care and how self-care turns us into selfish little beasties. They’d heard this at church and I realized that at one time in my life, I thought that might be true. But from the perspective of the last few years, looking back over decades, I see my lack of self-care created more suffering, rather than less, for others. Caring for an abusive spouse, for example, served no good purpose (he could never feel satisfied so expanded his abuse to include others). Working such long days that I stumbled in a daze through my off-hours: no good purpose (my best work occurred on days when I felt rested).
That’s how the self-care journey started. And it faltered. Most of us stumble now and then, either over an obstacle or because we weren’t paying attention. After pauses, I started again. Eventually the missteps morphed, in my perspective, into learning excursions.
And that’s how I realized the importance of self-care. Writing about it, even just once a week, helps me because it’s not something that comes naturally to me. My life, particularly since the pandemic started, remains chaotic. My old routines have shattered. Building new ones hasn’t worked well. Learning to go with the flow: Eek! I’m getting better at it.
Making time for things that help me feel calm and aware, I’ve noticed, also make me a better person. More patient. When I lose patience, much quicker to realize what I’m doing. More loving. More likely to use statements like “I feel attacked when you raise your voice like that” than “Why the hell are you YELLING?” Nothing big, right? But it feels big. Different. Better for me and those around me.
As a child I adapted to situations. As an eldest child, I never questioned my responsibility to care for others before care of self. Sometimes caring for others makes sense: children need nudges and protection and a lot of support. But we all deserve enough time to feel rested, calm, content, at peace with our lives and who we have become. In a culture where we have so much, I remain convinced that self-care (not to be confused with a sense of entitlement) makes us better people.
We all deserve the gift of time to engage in activities that uplift and fulfill us (without causing harm to others[i]). Whether it’s meditation or taking a walk, dancing or listening to music, journalling or writing a novel, slowing down or speeding up, solitude or time in a crowd, staring at the ocean or skiing … find a way to incorporate what fulfills you into your life.
That can feel daunting. Most of us have limited resources. Exercising your creativity may help.
For example, some venues rely on at least a few volunteers and by volunteering I’ve been able to attend events (fairs, theater productions, speeches, expos, community events) free that I otherwise couldn’t afford. I’ve also known folks who started side businesses that filled their lives with joy. A social worker I knew wanted to travel, so started a travel company providing unique small group tours to distant destinations for people with physical or other limitations who were unable or uncomfortable traveling alone or in large groups.
The old airline guidance about putting on your own oxygen mask first still stands. Take care of yourself. You deserve it. And it will give you the strength and courage to be there for others in your world.
May you find the time to do what uplifts and comforts you. May you discover resources to support your journey. May you remember to support others, too, on their journey.
May you be healthy, happy, strong, and safe.
Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis
Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.
[i] By causing intentional harm, I refer to actions like leaving children unsupervised, violence to self or others, and exercising prejudices like racism, sexism, fat-phobia, anti-LGBTQ+, ageism, and others.
[ii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .
[iii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.