Balancing all the various facets of my life has never been my strong suit; sometimes I manage better than others, but the fact remains that even during my “best” times I often joke about my life being a series of “short attention span theater” vignettes. I race around, wearing my various hats—I’m a mom! I’m a writer! I’m a wife! I’m a volunteer!—and if things are going relatively well, most everything gets done and I feel pretty good.
But right now I don’t feel good. In fact, I pretty much feel like crap all the time. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and the last however many months of stress have definitely left their mark. I’m working less, ostensibly to give me the time to take care of everything else, yet I feel like I’m accomplishing pretty much nothing in every area of my life, at the same time. (It’s a nifty party trick, if you feel like accompanying the final “TADA!” with a demonstration of exactly how long it’s been since you bothered to, say, dust your house.)
And then came the inevitable question: “What are you doing for you?”
(For the record, yes, the question came from my therapist. It’s almost like when I sit there complaining about how stressed out I am she thinks I can change that, somehow. Weird.)
I rambled a while about how hey, I finally gave myself permission to work less, so there’s that. And I take naps on the weekends, sometimes. And just last week I went for a nice long walk with a friend, one day! See? I am totally taking care of me!
The reality, though, is that I’m just not very good at doing non-necessary things that actually take care of me in a way that helps to restore balance and order to my life. Sure, I nap whenever I can because I really, really like to sleep, so that should be great for me, right? It isn’t, though, because I nap because I’m exhausted, and I don’t wake up feeling relaxed and refreshed—I wake up feeling like I have a million things I need to go do.
I joke a lot about the time I spend on the couch watching terrible television in the evenings, and I definitely view that as my “relax and unwind” time, but I think it’s more a habit than something that’s actually working for me. It allows me to spend some time with my brain switched off, sure. But (like napping) it doesn’t actually leave me feeling any more balanced. It allows me to stop doing other things and sit still. But that’s not necessarily restorative.
Now, the walk with my friend was great—busy schedules mean I don’t get to see friends as often as I’d like to, and the time to chat and catch up was wonderful. Plus I got some exercise, which I don’t do often enough. So that was a great example of something for me that was truly productive: I got the emotional support/camaraderie my brain needed along with the exercise my body needed. Perfect! Yay me! Unfortunately, that seems to only happen once a month or so… probably not often enough to count as really excellent self-care.
In fact, my therapist pointed out that she normally has patients do something nice for themselves every day, but because I’m having so much trouble with this particular assignment, for now she’ll settle for me doing one thing a week. And honestly, when she asked me what I’d do for myself this week, I had a hard time coming up with something.
It’s not that I’m a martyr or always doing stuff for other people. I’m just as selfish as the next person (maybe even more so); but I have somehow lost touch with the ways to use my leisure time to nurture myself. (I even sort of hate that word. It sounds so pretentious when you’re talking about anything other than babies. Really, I need to nurture myself? I can’t just watch television and call it a night?)
Theoretically, if I find my way back to taking better care of myself even in the midst of all the crap life has handed my family lately, everything will improve. I’ll be more efficient in my work, I’ll be a better wife and mother, I’ll be happier. I know this. And yet when the time comes to do something different… old habits die hard. Why am I so reluctant to make better choices for myself? Why I am so unlikely to do something nice for myself? Something has to change.
I’m starting to think this may be the hinge that holds together everything else. Now all I have to do is figure out what works for me—really works for me, not just carries on the status quo—and do it.
What do you do for yourself on a regular basis that actually recharges your batteries? How do I figure out how to start working this kind of self care back into my life?