You cannot give away what you do not have.
I say that to my friends all the time, reminding them to put themselves higher on their priority list- or even on the list at all. I know a lot of women who are not on the list.
Put on your own oxygen mask first.
I trot that one out pretty frequently, too.
I’ve always been a great one for giving advice that I never heeded.
I have been thinking a lot about self care, lately. Probably because it is a relatively new concept for me. I am forty-four years old, and for the first time in my life, I am taking care of myself. And, perhaps even more importantly, I am unapologetic about taking care of myself. I no longer feel like I have to justify doing the things that I need for myself.
Part of that is born of seeing the damage that can be done by not doing so. I’ve spoken before about my lifelong inability to be still. About my constant need to hustle, to prove my worth. To earn my right to be here.
I would wake up in the morning and leap out of bed, no matter how tired I was- regardless of whether or not the kids were up, or needed something. Dinner would barely be over before I left the table to load the dishwasher. I was a stay at home mom, so it was my job. The problem with that particular job is, of course, you are never not at work. The other problem with that need to hustle is that from the outside? It looks an AWFUL lot like martyrdom- and while one might ADMIRE Joan of Arc, I’m not entirely sure how delightful it would be to live with her.
I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I take care of myself, now. The basics, of course- eating, sleeping, drinking water. Exercising. Or, at least, wearing yoga pants. Those are the nuts and bolts of self care when it comes to your physical health. Where I think we are all very unique is the way in which we nurture our souls. The way we fill ourselves back up.
Most women I know are caretakers, in some form or fashion. I actually scrolled through my contacts list earlier today to see if I could find a woman I would not classify as such. Nope. Not a one. As I went through the list of mothers and wives and daughters and friends and teachers (My God am I blessed to know a ton of teachers) and social workers and nannies- caretakers, all.
When I first knew I wanted to write this essay, I reached out to my friend Julia, who is a mom, but also a doula. Talk about a caretaker. As she says, her job is to “help walk with women as they transition out of pregnancy.” That is important and meaningful work, supporting women as they give birth. One of the other aspects of Julia’s job is supporting last minute bereavement clients- families experiencing unimaginable loss. She says, “Without self care there is no way I could serve those families.”
Julia takes a very holistic approach and has what she refers to as a self care team. She has a therapist, gets massages, and has identified close friends she can call when she needs to lay down some heavy things for a while.
I think that’s a big one for women- the girlfriend factor. I don’t know a single woman who, if pressed to identify the ways in which she takes care of herself, wouldn’t say talking to her friends was a piece of it.
Your self care doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. No one else gets to decide what fills you up. Back when I was working in a special ed classroom, we had a therapist come in during our professional development time and talk to us about self care. Being a teacher or a para-educator is important, fulfilling, AMAZING work- but it is also incredibly stressful at times. It takes a toll physically, mentally and emotionally.
The therapist gave each of us a cup, and talked about how stressors poke holes in that cup, draining us, essentially. Then she asked us to think about the things that fill us up. It was really interesting to hear what the different versions of self care look like.
Quiet is big for me. Especially when I was working in the classroom. For someone as talky as I am, when I am really tapped out I need periods of silence. I used to set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. because it was the only time of day that I could guarantee nothing would be required of me. I would read, write- even just play around on Facebook.
Teaching art was another way I filled back up. The process of picking an artist, and an inspiration piece, and then planning the lesson. Trying to figure out how it could be achievable for each of our students, how I could adapt it so that they could all be successful. It was work, but it wasn’t- you know?
Creating my own art, too. Whether it’s writing, painting, drawing- doesn’t matter. I always feel replenished after I’ve accessed that part of who I am.
Canine therapy. Honestly- how do people without dogs function? I hope I never find out.
Music is big for me- though if I am really emotional or feeling fragile it can be like Kryptonite. Sometimes, something that you love but that makes you feel all the feels is not the way to go when you are trying to replenish.
We fill back up so that we can be the mothers and wives and sisters and friends that we want to be. That our loved ones deserve. You cannot give away what you do not have.
I’m reading what I wrote above. It’s all absolutely true, I think. All valid points. But here’s the thing- none of it really matters. I mean, taking care of yourself matters, of course. But you shouldn’t take care of yourself just so you can take care of someone else. You shouldn’t fill your cup just so you can pour it out. You should take care of yourself because YOU MATTER. You are worthy of taking care of your body and nourishing your soul, even if not one person depends on you for a blessed thing.
Sisters, you do not need to earn the privilege of taking care of yourselves. You don’t need to wait for Mother’s Day to deserve a break- which, by the way, is probably why Mother’s Day is so frequently a let down. If you ignore your needs for 364 days out of the year, thinking they will be met on that one day is a recipe for failure.
What if we decided that we mattered? What if we decided to take care of ourselves for that reason alone? Would other people benefit? Yes. But EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T- wouldn’t it still be a worthy endeavor? Aren’t we all inherently worthy of that?
What if we were all the loves of our own lives?