Tell me if this sounds familiar: You know that your needs matter and that you deserve your own care. Also though, that doesn’t always happen––actually between work and friends and family and all of your other obligations, your own care tends to get back-burnered more often than not. You feel worn down most of the time. You go out to have fun but you feel distant, like you’d rather be at home in your pjs. When the alarm rings in the morning you hit the snooze button two, three, four, nine times before you finally drag yourself outta bed with *just* enough time to get yourself presentable and out the door. Part of you says, that’s just the way it is. Part of you says, there’s a better way. How do I get to it?
Friend, I feel you. Let me tell you a story.
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In 2009 I was #crushingit. While the news was abuzz with financial crisis, I was capital-M-capital-I Making It in the one and only New York City. I was engaged to be married in 2010. I was five years deep into my paralegaling career, regularly pulling 50 to 70 hour weeks so I knew I was really good at my job. I was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist and a chiropractor on the regular, so I knew I must be taking pretty good care of myself too.
Granted, I hadn’t been to the dentist to deal with my ever-more-painful wisdom tooth problem, because who has the time for that nonsense? And sure, I *noticed* that I never had time for my art or writing anymore. And that most / all of my meals came out of packages or from food courts. And of course I was drinking some form of caffeine four or six times a day––who doesn’t? And yes, I was having debilitating migraines more and more frequently, but whatever, I had a pill for that. And yeah, I was frequently so maxed out from work that I would hysterically sob from exhaustion and dread in the evenings and sometimes in the mornings too. But that’s just what adult life is like, right? Just keep on plugging. Just give 110% to everything all the time. Buckle down. Grin and bear it. Just do it.
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In March of 2010 I was married. And I want to tell you that my wedding day was the most wonderful day of my life. I want to tell you that, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that I was awake all night the night before with pain from my wisdom teeth, and as a result of that and many other sleepless nights I was physically ill for my entire wedding day. I was 45 minutes late to my own wedding ceremony. The day after the wedding (which was in fact lovely, all the guests said so), I couldn’t stop crying. Like, emergency call to my therapist crying.
And y’all? That was just the beginning.
One Saturday morning that May, I woke up with the strangest sort of stuck feeling in my back. That stuck feeling quickly escalated to the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. The pills I’d been taking for my ever-worsening migraines? I hadn’t really listened when the prescribing doc talked about drinking lots of extra water while taking them. I had decidedly not been doing that (coffee, after all, is not water), and as a result I had developed not one, not two, but SEVEN kidney stones. One of them was causing a blockage. My kidney became infected. I spent three days in the hospital, two months with a ureter stent, and a couple more months fully recovering.
That October I did it all over again. Another obstruction, this time on the opposite side. Another hospital stay. Another lithotripsy. Another several months to get fully recovered.
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I think I can honestly say that my real self care journey began in that fateful year, which in ways was both the worst and best year of my life. I had been running too hard for too long, and my body had decided it was high time for me to know it. It gave me no choice but to start taking better care of myself. For real. No more just paying lip service to work/life balance, to getting enough sleep and drinking enough water, to eating well, to moving my body regularly, to tending to my emotional and creative and spiritual self.
My self care journey has been a long one, and has included small changes (carrying a water bottle that I really like and actually drinking from it) and huge ones (leaving New York City and, more recently, leaving paralegaling). But I can confidently say that I take good care of myself now, and that my life is tangibly better because of it.
Better how? I feel more energetic as I move through each day. I recover more quickly from physical and emotional traumas. I have the time and desire and strength to move my body. I can and do make space to write and create art and have fun and do new things. I snap at loved ones much less frequently. I only ever need to cry from exhaustion when there’s been a crisis, and I definitely never cry over the dread of going to work anymore––because there isn’t any.
I created these changes in my life through devoted, consistent action. And you can too.