Fasten Your Own Mask First
Self-Care has gotten to be trendy these days – ads for bath bombs, massages, pedicures, etc are everywhere. But self-care is so much more than a quick escape. I recently read a really good article that self-care is about creating a life you don’t need to escape from. I like that the article said self-care goes beyond a bubble bath and a massage. I like the message about eating healthy and taking care of your body. And yes, creating good savings habits, not procrastinating, basically adulting is really helpful because you have less fires to put out, hence less stress and less need for escape. But I took issue to it for two reasons – one travel is so much more than escape. You can never really escape yourself, because you bring all your baggage with you. That being said, travel is good for the soul; new places, new people, new experience help us grow. The other issue is that sometimes we all need a break, a time to refresh ourselves enough to face the next day, the next challenge.
During my junior year in college I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My days consisted of 3-4 hour cycles of school, sleep, work, sleep, homework, sleep because I couldn’t stay asleep longer than 3 hours and I couldn’t sit at a computer longer than about 20 minutes without intense pain. I stubbled my way through those last two years of college, somehow putting one foot in front of the other. I learned a lot in those early years of living with this condition. Most importantly I learned about self-care - the real kind that allowed me to make it through another task, another day, another class, another job interview, until slowly I built a life for myself. In those early days it was so debilitating that I didn’t know if I could hold down a job, or enough of a job that allowed me to support myself and live independently. I was raised to value being independent, not relying on anyone. That is the first lie we tell ourselves – being independent means not needing help from anyone. The truth is, I don’t know how I would have made it out of those pain filled days without my mom trying everything she knew and a few things she didn’t to help me. When traditional medicine failed to provide much relief beyond the drugs to help me sleep, she turned to alternate medicine. She paid for acupuncture and private yoga lessons where I learned to hold my body in optimal alignment and slowly regained flexibility and strength. She paid for a naturopath to run every test he could think of, supporting me through 8 weeks of allergy elimination diets and more. She never let me think failure was an option. Looking back on that time, her determination fueled my own. I know other people who were diagnosed in college that ultimately dropped out, unable to find through way through the pain to focus on the studies. It never occurred to me that it was an option to quit.
There are two lessons that have stuck with me from that time. The first lesson is that we have to treat our bodies and our energies like a bank. You can’t make withdrawals (spend your energy) if you haven’t made a deposit. For me deposits looked like getting enough sleep, weekly yoga classes, eating healthy (yes I still indulge my sweet tooth too often). I learned about meditating, journaling, and SoulCollage®. I made sure I didn’t take on more than I could chew financially so that I wasn’t stressed about how to pay the next bill. I learned how to not overcommit myself (although I still re-learn this lesson from time to time).
That leads me to the second lesson- the power of “NO”. I love to help people. People will mention they have an issue and I pitch in, sometimes even before they actually ask for help. I saw a counselor on campus because I was so stressed about all the changes I was facing with this new condition. I remember him asking me what all the activities I was involved in. I mentioned my classes and all my church activities. His response was well, no wonder you are stressed, you need to cut back on your commitments. He told me I needed to learn how to say NO to people when they ask for my help. I cried and never went back because he didn’t tell me anything I wanted to hear. Eventually I found ways to say no. I would ask if I could think it over and get back to them. That gave me time to get into my own space and decide if it was something that would serve me and if I had the energy to devote to it properly instead of doing it just to please the person who was asking me. I learned my limits. I learned how to say “I’d love to help, but I don’t think I could do it justice.” Or “I don’t have time in my schedule to take on something else right now.” It turns out that little two letter word, “no”, can lighten loads and it isn't’ hard to say with practice. My kids think I’ve got the word “no” down pat now.
This is what long-term sustainable self-care looks like. It is about making sure you are making regular deposits in that bank. Its about spending your energy wisely. It is about saying, no when you know it is a mistake to take it on. Its about saving your energy for those things that are most important to you. For me that is my kids, my husband, my business. I’m writing this because I want other mom to know that it is okay, even desirable to take care of your own needs. Heck even the airlines tell you to fasten your own oxygen mask before assisting others. We don’t need to be martyrs for our kids or husbands or jobs. Yes, some days those things zap our energies and it can’t be helped. What can be helped is how we deal with it. So, I want to know, how do you fill your energy bank?