I’ve been wanting to write this post forever. I’ve started it in my head countless times. I kept stopping though, I could never get it out. I want to say so much and I want to say it well.
It’s just that the message is so much more important than simply, “You have to take care of yourself.” And yet, that is the message. I hope that saying something will be better than saying nothing at all. I hope that you will read this and that it will touch you to make a change in your life, a change that you very much deserve.
It’s been a month and a half since I found my way out of the darkness, again. The past few years have been a roller coaster in every way. The only constant has been my lack of self care. Sure, there were a few times when I stepped up my game and did something positive or healthy for myself; but all of those attempts fizzled quickly.
The thing about self care is that it’s a massive undertaking. It’s not about one thing, or even a series of short term efforts. It’s about a lot of things: a permanent, holistic picture of healthiness, happiness, fullness, and balance. When I “woke up” at the beginning of this year, it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting to, as it was a matter of necessity. I was literally slowly dying.
Over the past six weeks, everything has changed. It had been so hard to take care of myself for so long, because I fell into the trap that a lot of women (and men) fall into–I believed that I mattered the least. It’s a natural belief, easy to fall into, especially when you are a mother or a caretaker. It’s instinctual to a degree, to want to put your babies or loved ones in front of yourself in every way.
The unfortunate thing is that ultimately, and almost always, it ends in disaster. When we do not take care of ourselves, we fall apart. Our health suffers and our mind suffers. We run ourselves ragged trying to do everything, and be everything, for every one; and even if that works for a little while, eventually, it always falls apart.
Sometimes we think that by neglecting ourselves, we are serving others; but that is not the truth. When we are broken, the love and the care that we give to others is inadequate at best. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
I have found that there are five key areas of nourishment when it comes to self care. If we can meet these five areas, truly and completely, then we are, indeed taking care of ourselves. When we are our best selves, we can also care wholly for the people that we love. In order to effectively, love and care for the people and things in our lives, we must first love and care for ourselves.
There are five areas of nourishment for self care:
Emotional: First, we must be nourished emotionally. Self-love and emotional wellness are the very basis of self care. If we do not love ourselves, everything else in our lives will be out of balance. The challenge of emotional nourishment often comes down to our beliefs about what we, ourselves, deserve.
When I started my journey of self care, I struggled intensely. For a long time I would start only to stop again quickly thereafter. I finally found lasting success when I began using my self-love mantra, “I deserve to be happy and healthy.” When I feel like I can not (or should not) reach personal success, I repeat my mantra to myself. It empowers me to keep going.
Physical & Nutritional: These two go hand-in-hand. Physical and nutritional wellness are the bedrock foundation on which wellness is built. For some people, these things come naturally. Regular physical activity and a healthy balanced diet are staples in some peoples lives. For others, however, it’s just the opposite. Sedentary lifestyles equate to constant aches and pains. The diet consists of almost entirely unhealthy, processed garbage food.
I could write a novel on this bullet point alone, but for now, I’ll simply say two things.
Exercise–You must do something that stretches your muscles and elevates your heartbeat every day. A brisk walk, a dance party in the living room, a ten minute yoga video on YouTube. Any of these things will suffice. Further, you must exercise hard–until you sweat–between one and three times a week. If you think this sounds impossible, start with a mere fraction of what I am recommending and go from there. It is not impossible. Wherever you are today, just start. Even if you have long forgotten its magic, your body is still a wonderful, powerful temple. It is waiting for you to reclaim it.
Diet–Imagine that your body is a garden. If you want it to grow and flourish, it needs certain things. It’s very simple. We all know that gardens need water, sunlight, and rich soil to grow. Our bodies are similar. We need water, vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber. There are many ways to achieve this, thousands of diet plans in the world. But most basically, what we need is real, organic food. Fruit, vegetables, lean meat (in moderation or not at all). It’s that simple. Everything else, other than the things that I’ve described here, is garbage. With very few exceptions, all processed food is garbage, loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Cigarettes, alcohol, and drug abuse–would you pour battery acid all over your garden?
Spiritual: Once we are emotionally, physically, and nutritionally nourished, we can turn attention to our spiritual lives. Spiritual nourishment comes from a whole host of areas, and for each person, it means something different. For many, religion plays a part in soothing the spirit. For others, time spent alone in nature is critical to spiritual health. Almost everyone can benefit from art–reading nourishing books, listening to touching music, visiting a museum, watching a moving play, and so on.
When it comes to spiritual nourishment, it’s really simple. Do whatever it is that makes your spirit come alive.
Interpersonal: Relationships are the final piece of this puzzle. Ten years ago, I was in an amazing place in my life. I had just overcome anxiety and depression. I had lost seventy pounds. I was living a life that I had always dreamed of living. At that time, I absolutely loved helping people. I was building my career on my ability and desire to help people. What happened next, however, I never could have anticipated. My desire to help people almost killed me.
I was so blinded by my desire to help that I dove into it headfirst without caution. Both in my professional life and in my personal life. I was so committed to helping and healing others, that I completely forgot about me. I fell so hard and so quickly into a trap and I never, for a moment, realized that in trying to help, I–myself–would be destroyed.
By the time I finally realized what had happened, I was so far gone that I was unrecognizable. My life had fallen apart into a million broken pieces. One day I looked in the mirror and I had no idea who I was. It’s taken me a year and a half to slowly crawl out of that hole. I can finally see the light again.
My point regarding interpersonal relationships is that you have to be extremely careful about who you allow into your life and how. Not every person can be helped. Not every person wants to be helped. It is critical that you choose relationships that nourish you, build you up, and empower you to be your best self. Do not settle for anything less–whether in friendships, romantic relationships, colleagues, or acquaintances. Never, never settle. You do not have to tolerate toxicity in your life, ever.
When I first started therapy, again, I received some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. She said, when you are talking to yourself, speak as though you are talking to your children or to your best friend–to someone who you love very, very much. It took me awhile to fully come around to it, to truly embrace it. I still stumble occasionally, but mostly I am here now. I treat my self with the love and care that I deserve. And thereby, I can love and care for the people around me with a full, strong, nourished heart–which is the greatest love that can be given.
Every morning when you wake up, think of the best compliment that you could ever receive–and then give it to yourself. Say it in your mind. Say it out loud. Say it again, and again, and again. Then say it again at lunchtime. And again when you’re getting ready for bed. Not just today or tomorrow, but every day. Then watch the magic in your life unfold. ♥
Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.
You can’t help anybody when you’re dead.