This summer, back when I was working full time, I decided to use some of my leave time for a mental health day. I had been stock piling sick days in the event that we got pregnant (the lack of standards for maternity care in the U.S. is disgusting and degrading), but then I decided to quit my job for graduate school and so I had a few days to burn. I slept in, road my bike to the gym, swam laps in the rooftop pool, had lunch at a brewery, read a book by the beach, and finished it with dinner with my husband. It had been a crazy summer with our wedding, moving, and preparing for graduate school, and I needed this day for myself, to unwind and replenish.
These days, my schedule is bananas. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I am usually up at 7 a.m. to take out Annie, get in a run, and do some homework before heading to school to work at my graduate assistant job and then go to class. Because class goes till 10:10, and I live fairly far from school, I don’t get home until 11:00 – 11:15. Then, I work at the bakery Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and when I have free time, I am usually running, doing homework, catching up on errands, spending time with my husband, or trying to see friends (although I am failing pretty hard at that these days). Student life has built-in breaks for holidays and the spring, but in the thick of the semester, I can’t just take a day off. Instead, I have to find pockets of time for self-care, or I will crash.
And, I am crashing. My stress-induced nausea is almost a daily occurrence, I have at least one teary breakdown a week, and I often work myself up into a lather, convinced that no one truly likes me. (Just this week, I apologized for slighting people, thinking maybe they were upset with me, and they responded with, “I didn’t think twice about it.”)
For one of my classes, I recently had to do a photo collage of myself, with pictures from my infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adult phases, and then describe what I was like at that age. Looking through old photos, I got really sad remembering how hard I’ve always been on myself. Like seeing my posed cross country photo, when I was limiting myself to 800 calories a day and refusing to eat dinner after a meet if I didn’t run as well I thought I should have. I called my mom to ask what I was like as a kid, and she said lots of sweet things but also that I was a perfectionist and I was eager to please people. My husband, who was listening by speaker phone, responded sarcastically, “Wow, things have really changed.”
Reflecting on who I was a kid and teenager added some insight to my current life, and all the stress I am balancing with school, keeping our bills paid, being a good wife and friend, and living the way I think I should be. Yes, I am stressed now, but I’ve always been stressed, chasing whatever I think will finally make me feel enough.
I just need to lose 10 pounds, and I then I will feel worthy.
I just need to have a good paying job, and then I can relax.
I just need to meet a great guy and get married, and then I will feel whole.
I just need to get a book published, and then I will know I am OK.
I just need friends to want to be around me, and then I will feel valued.
My whole life, I’ve been chasing that thing that will finally make me feel enough, but once I reach that finish line, the goal morphs, and I am running again. So, yes I am at a specifically stressed time in my life, but this feeling of moving in a hundred directions just to silence the “you are not enough” in my head is not new. And, if I am going to make it out of this program and live contently, I need to stop chasing finish lines and find solace in who I am and where I am right now.
This is where self care comes in. Most people think that self care is about bubble baths and solo dinners, which it can be, but it’s also about putting yourself first and showing yourself love. Honestly, love to myself is likely what I have been missing all along and why all the things I’ve done, the people I love, and the good in my life are not enough to make me feel whole. One giant piece is missing.
Here is what self care looks like for me these days:
- Running. Thankfully, my hip is healed, and despite what a psychic told me last April, I am running again. I have even signed up for two races this year, and I am strongly considering a marathon in the fall. Some people do yoga or meditate to center themselves, but for me, it’s running. Yes, it’s a pain to run in 17-degree weather and some of my runs are more like ice skating, but running is the best calmer to my anxiety. When I go too many days without a run, I usually end up having a breakdown, so as much as I don’t want to go some days, I force myself anyway. Also, I feel so fortunate to run again, and I don’t want to take that for granted.
- Saying no. As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t have a lot of free time these days, so the time I do have is valuable. I hate bailing on things I’ve committed to, but I can’t keep spreading myself so thin in order to please others. Lately, I’ve started to say no to certain things and create stronger boundaries so that I can have more time to cuddle with my dog or write (which I do very little of these days). I am no good to the world, if I can’t take care of myself.
- Watching trashy TV. Wednesday mornings, before I go to school, I make myself coffee and watch a really awful MTV show that aired the night before. It’s not that it is reality TV, but it’s bad reality TV, and I freaking love it. I don’t care that it’s dumb and vain; it makes me happy. I give myself that hour without judgement and then go back to my text books and writing assignments. That little break, filled of made-up drama, is a nice little reset for me, and I won’t apologize for it.
- Silencing voices I don’t need. I have a pretty unhealthy relationship to social media, and it’s a destructive coping mechanism to endlessly scroll after a long day of class, but I have taken the initiative to unfollow people who make me feel bad about myself. There is a running blogger who I’ve long followed and compared my life to, and not only did I obsessively read her blog, listen to her podcast, and read her social posts, but I also followed a GOMI thread about her to see how people were judging and gossiping about her life. She always seemed to have everything I want, and I used her life to prove to myself that I am failing. That was definitely not filling me up, so since the new year, I unfollowed and unsubscribed her completely. There is still plenty for me to feel bad about (P.S. Does anyone else use Venmo to see what friends where hanging out without you? Oh, just me? Cool.) and I need to set better social media boundaries, but at least I don’t have this one person in my space anymore.
- Prioritizing sleep. I need at least 7.5 hours of sleep to function each day, and the older I get, the more I realize that nearly nothing is worth skimping on the sleep. If I am tired and dragging the next day, then I can’t be in the moment and enjoy it. So, I go home early, skip runs, and put my husband on dog morning duty so that I can get in the sleep I need.
- Introducing a new narrative. My head is really good at telling me lies about who I am to other people and how I am not enough. I’ve longed believed these lies, but after years of therapy and some maturity, I am starting to challenge them. It’s not easy, but I am throwing my support to myself when I say, “Yeah, I don’t think that is true.”
- Letting myself breakdown, and then rebuild. I have anxiety and depression, so I am going to breakdown more often than other people. So be it. I need that sometimes, and as long as I can withstand the storm, which I can, then I will be there for sunshine.
I am still going to have bad days, and I won’t immediately feel like enough, but I am committed to working towards that. While I can’t take those mental health days, I can still put my well-being at the center, and when I do that, I am a better person to everyone I am around.
Your turn. Tell me about your self-care routine? What’s the thing you do to make you a better human?