In 2012 I began my self-care journey and it changed my life in ways I’d never imagined. Sharing this story has become part of my mission because every time I do, someone inevitably shares their story with me in return. Sharing our stories with each other is comforting, inspiring, and encourages a supportive, empowered community. I am passionate about building that community. I invite you to read my story and, if it feels like something you’d like to do, I hope you’ll share yours too.
Before the “Breakdown”
My second child—my first daughter—was born seven and a half years ago in September of 2011. I was overjoyed to have a daughter and I delighted in her every day. When she was four months old I returned to my work as a teacher at a small charter school, and things pretty quickly started to disintegrate for me. At least, it felt that way.
With all the pressures I was putting on myself with work, being a new mom of two, and holding everything together, I quickly became overwhelmed, stressed, and overcome by guilt. I wanted everything to be perfect and I had a need to be good at everything. I also wanted everyone to think I was fine. So, I pretended that I was. But the truth was I wasn’t fine and it wasn’t easy for me to pretend for long. I was falling apart on the inside and I was in despair.
The Day I Cried Over Spilled Milk
It was a seemingly normal morning at my house. My husband was home and my mother was visiting that day. We were eating breakfast when my three-year-old son spilled his milk on the floor. A toddler spilling a drink isn’t an unusual occurrence, but in that moment I didn’t have a usual reaction. Instead, I exploded at him and then I melted down.
Everyone in the room saw me collapse on the floor into a crying puddle of overwhelm, confusion, and embarrassment. It was then that I knew I was at my breaking point. My mother and my husband knew it too. This wasn’t the first time I’d exploded at a loved one and it wasn’t the first time I’d cried over something mundane, but it was my biggest reaction and it felt different to me. I felt helpless and hopeless. It was clear that I needed some help and that something needed to change.
That day in my kitchen, curled up in a ball on the floor, when I completely lost it over spilled milk, I realized I needed help. With support and encouragement from my family, I made a call to a therapist and set up an appointment. That phone call was the first act of self-care I’d taken in a long time.
At my first appointment I told my therapist how unhappy I was and how I didn’t understand my unhappiness because I had everything I’d ever wanted. I had a good job, a wonderful supportive and loving husband, a nice home, two beautiful children, and yet I was feeling so unhappy and so unfulfilled. “What is wrong with me?” I asked her. “Why do I feel this way?”
In response, she asked me what I enjoyed doing, what I liked to do that was just for me. I had no idea. It had been a long time since I’d asked myself that question and it felt unfamiliar. I began to realize that I had lost myself and I would soon discover that self-care would be my road back to finding me.
That journey of self-care and self-discovery began right there in that office, when we started writing my list together. My therapist invited me to write down anything I could think of that brought me joy, peace, or good feelings. I listed small things like getting coffee at Starbucks, big things like Hawaiian vacations, and everything in between. It was so empowering just to write the list!
Now the list writing exercise has become one of my most favorites to do with my clients. I made a short video about it here, if you’d like to watch.
For me, that list began the work that has continued for the past seven years, and will hopefully continue for the rest of my life. And yes, I use the word work on purpose because that’s what this self-care journey has been for me: work. It’s challenging work to remember to take care of yourself every day and, even more, to let go of the guilt associated with that. It’s work to remember to pause and take deep breaths when things feel stressful and overwhelming.
I’ve worked hard to get to know myself, to learn what I need, and to actually give it to myself so that I can continue to give to my loved ones. This work has lead to so many huge changes in my life. I left my career as a teacher, became a stay at home mom, started two businesses myself, and much, much more.
As part of my self-care journey, I’ve also worked very very hard to embrace the fact that I am enough, just as I am. I don’t believe it every day but thankfully I believe it much more often than I used to. Embracing my “enoughness” was completely unfamiliar to me before I began this work.
My Big Lessons
Over the past 7 years I’ve learned a lot about self-care and about myself. Here are my 5 biggest and most important lessons:
- Self-care is not selfish. I hope you know this by now, too. You know that cliche about putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your kid? Well, it’s a cliche for a reason: because it’s freakin’ true! You absolutely cannot take care of others if you can’t breathe. Self-care is your breath. It’s your oxygen mask. Get it?
- Self-care doesn’t just mean pampering yourself. It can mean pampering but it’s also so many other things. It’s anything that helps you breathe. (see my first lesson above.)
- It’s possible to take care of yourself, put yourself first, say no to other people, and still be a good, kind, loving person. I don’t think this needs much explanation. It’s just true. I’ve had to work on this a lot and it’s not easy but I know it’s true.
- Asking for help is necessary and totally okay. Yep. See my story above. If I hadn’t gotten help when I was in despair, who knows where I’d be now. We can ask for help even when we aren’t in despair, too. If you need some help, please ask for it.
- We are all enough. I am enough. You are enough. Get up every day and do your best. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. The end.
Where are you on your self-care journey? I’d love to hear your self-care story too.
If you’d like to have more support with self-care, I invite you to join Take Care of YOU, my self-care community on Facebook. It’s a place for support, motivation, and inspiration. I’d love to see you there!