A Self-Care Journey, Part 1 of 3
I’m terrible at self-care and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I never really understood what self-care is. I’ve always had this impression of self-care as “girly-girl” activities, such as manicures, pedicures, facials, spas, hair dos, body sugaring, etc.
I was a tomboy throughout my childhood and adolescence and so was my mom. I never did any of the above-listed activities with my mom or sisters. Instead, I preferred to run around outdoors, riding my bike, playing soccer or baseball in the yard, climbing trees, jumping on the trampoline, playing hide and seek, and collecting rocks and bones (yes, as a kid, I collected animal bones that I found in the ground because I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up).
I couldn’t and wouldn’t sit still for too long, unless I was watching TV, reading a book (usually a Fear Street thriller by R.L. Stine), or writing a story. I was constantly on the go. I had so much energy that my friends often couldn’t keep up with me (one of my friends once threatened to make me ride a chicken because I had neglected to tell her that our bike ride was going to be four miles long!).
I grew up with parents who were always busy. My dad worked long hours as a pipe fitter for a natural gas company—sometimes twelve or more hours a day, and when he came home somehow he still had energy to play with us.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was fifteen and then she returned to work in the evenings for a little while and then day shifts once my younger siblings were a little older. During the day, she was always busy cleaning the house, cooking meals, baking bread and all kinds of sweets, gardening in the summertime, canning and freezing our garden surplus, sewing clothes, and keeping four children occupied.
It’s not like my parents never rested. On weekends in the summertime, my dad would build a bonfire in the backyard so we could roast hotdogs and marshmallows or my parents would take us to the beach to swim or have a picnic in the park. In the wintertime, my dad would take us snowmobiling or help us build snow forts in the yard, or my parents would pile us in the car and drive to the city to look at Christmas lights on people’s houses.
Sundays were our rest days. We went to church in the morning and then we all had a nap after lunch. Sometimes we went to my grandparents’ house for supper, sometimes they came over for supper. Other times we visited with other relatives or had a picnic outside in the yard followed by a soccer game. In winter, we spent our weekend evenings playing board games and card games or watching the evening TV special as a family.
Somewhere along the way, however, I began to subscribe to the lie that productivity is the key to success. I don’t know exactly when this idea took root in my life. Perhaps the seeds were planted in university when I spent all my free time studying and writing essays, or perhaps it started in my first professional job.
Slowly, I began to stop doing the activities I loved, the activities that made me happy, and replaced them with “productive” habits, such as ensuring my house was IKEA spotless and gourmet meals were served on my table every night.
Soon I began to adopt this “productivity” attitude in my job and pushed myself to work harder, produce more, and keep the bosses pleased with my performance. My bosses were certainly pleased with my performance and demanded that I do more, so I began to sacrifice other aspects of my life so I could work overtime just to meet the demands work expected of me.
I sacrificed a little more each day. I stopped eating properly and opted for convenience meals to save time. I went to bed later because I couldn’t finish everything that was on my to-do list. I stopped hanging out with friends and family because I was too busy. Even my marriage began to suffer because I didn’t have time to invest in my husband.
Soon, I began to chew my nails or pick at the skin around my fingers until they started to bleed. I stopped applying lotion to my skin after taking a shower and my skin started to flake and scab from dryness. I gained weight from overeating and not exercising.
After a while, I stopped writing—the activity I loved the most—simply because I didn’t have time anymore. I was so tired after a day of work that all I could do when I got home was plop down on the couch and turn on the TV. I even stopped cooking and asked my husband to do it. Then I asked my husband to take over all the chores. I couldn’t even manage to wash dishes after supper.
I had this foreboding sense that there wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything that needed to be done, so I stopped sleeping. I didn’t want to go to bed because I still had things to do. During the night, I woke up to add items to my mental to-do list. I planned the next day while I should’ve been sleeping. In the morning, I was too tired to get out of bed and browsed on my phone until I absolutely had to get moving so I wouldn’t be late for work.
I started to rush everywhere I went. I even started running—running to catch the bus, running to the photocopier, running to get my day started. I HATE running. I was never one to rush about everywhere like a stereotypical busy bee office employee drinking Red Bull to stay alert and awake. Yet, I became a stereotype.
The changes were so gradual over a number of years that I didn’t even notice my life had changed all that much until one day I collapsed from exhaustion and had to visit my doctor. And that’s when my self-care journey began.
My doctor didn’t just prescribe medication to help me handle the anxiety and depression that had arisen as a result of my stress; she also prescribed a two-week “staycation” of zero work (not even housework), daily exercise, healthy eating, and therapy.
It was the first time in a long time that I had received permission to rest and I was relieved. It was like being freed from a prison of constant movement.
Of course, I didn’t just recover in two weeks. It has been a year-and-a-half since I first received permission from my doctor to rest and I’m still peeling away the lies like the skin of an onion. I’m still learning about what self-care actually is and I’m still terrible at it.
But I’m slowly getting better at it, and I think I will improve at self-care over time with practice and discipline.
Next week I will share an article about what self-care is and what it is not and how you can develop healthy self-care habits to improve your life.
What has your own struggle with self-care been like? Comment below to tell me your own story.
You are not alone.
You. Are. Loved.
I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.