Last week I wrote a post about how I basically don’t even know what self-care is. Seriously, I had to google it to find the definition for my post. I wrote about how I am finally acknowledging that after several difficult years, my emotional reserves are gone. Helping other people is at the core of my being and I have a strong tendency to just put my head down and plow through my own hard stuff so that I can keep it together for my daughter, and everyone around me. I thought I was doing the right thing. I guess I still think I was.
Now that I’m through some of those aforementioned difficulties, I’m seeing the ramifications of not taking care of myself. I’ve been sick with bronchitis three times this year. Yes, THREE times, and one of those times is right now. I had to reschedule a meeting I was really looking forward to last night because I’m having a hard time breathing. I wanted so badly to be at the meeting. Rescheduling it means that 9 amazing women who I care deeply about will have to readjust their schedules because of me. That pains me.
One of those amazing women, my friend Arvia, happened to be at my office yesterday afternoon right as I was sending the meeting cancellation. It was like divine timing, if that exists. Arvia inspires me in so many ways and she’s been open about her journey towards valuing her own self-care. She hugged me, twice, and told me that breathing is a pretty important function and that I should take care of myself. I told her that taking care of myself makes me feel guilty. I’m not kidding, I was a little beside myself about canceling that meeting. She looked at me with knowing eyes, like she knew exactly what I meant about feeling guilty about my own self-care and she gently mentioned the goddess of vulnerability and self-care, Brené Brown.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” –Brené
DAMN does that ring true for me. What is the root of my inability to value, or even believe in, my own self-care? Perfectionism. Deep down I feel like I should always be OK. I shouldn’t need any special self-care practices because I should be able to handle everything life throws at me. Where does this perfectionism come from? Multiple places but for me, two main areas — childhood and societal expectations.
Growing up with three siblings who each had special needs (in different ways) meant I was the child who didn’t need to be worried about. I saw how tapped out my parents were, especially my mom, in caring for my siblings while working full-time and I learned to pride myself on not having needs. I don’t blame my parents for this, I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been to have 4 young children, let alone children with a wide degree of special needs, who needed constant attention. But this is the truth and part of my own life path: I learned to value not having my own needs and thus began a life of denying my needs even exist.
Societal expectations on women and girls, that we must always be perfect at every moment, play right into this already sensitive spot for me. We’re suppose to be the perfect partners, perfect employees, perfect moms and we’re taught from a young age that we must strive to attain this level of perfectionism. Complicate this even further with a life that’s devoted to helping people and I have the perfect recipe for self-care disaster.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. I wish I had some magical advice to give, so that I could help others who I know struggle with this same issue. But I don’t.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” –Brené
So I’m starting here, with this loving community, in telling the absolute truth about my struggle with self-care. If you see yourself in my writing at all, please know that even though I have no answers yet, you are not alone in your feelings. I’m right there with you. And I’d hug you if I could.