I’ve been a bit MIA lately for 2 reasons. The first being I went away over Easter break and I wanted to just unplug from everything. The second is because I’ve been really stressed lately. Like the most stressed I’ve been since going to Western Psych. And it’s honestly getting kind of scary. I’ve found myself returning to old thoughts and tendencies. I’m tired all of the time, I’m retreating and isolating myself, I’m moody, I’m continually saying yes, I’m working (whether that be career, personal, side projects, helping others, etc) into late hours of the night, I’m not sleeping enough, my appetite is going, my happy demeanor is faltering, self-harm thoughts pop their head here and there. And to make it “worse” per say, this time I’m completely self-aware of everything that I’m doing - and I’m STILL doing the things that make me feel miserable, alone, sad, and exhausted.
But the other side of the coin of being self-aware this time, is well, I know it’s happening. And even though I’m having a hard time stopping it right now, I know I have the tools to keep it from escalating. And technically, wasn’t that the point of therapy and outpatient treatment? Life is never going to be easy, but the way we face life doesn’t have to be so difficult we feel we can’t do it anymore.
So let’s talk about self-love. It’s something I was really good at doing during therapy, when I was in my therapy bubble, focusing only on my mental health. I’d take my dog on long walks and really immerse myself in nature. I’d workout and push my body to new limits, which in turn began allowing me to really appreciate ALL of the things my body can do, regardless of how it actually looks. I'd take my meds and vitamins religiously. I’d read the books I wanted to read. I made a lot of art. I’d experiment with hair masks and face masks. I’d teach dance and got to really enjoy it and not worry about the million other things I’d need to get done. I could take an actual long weekend and see Greg - we'd go on so many adventures. I was learning how to communicate and ask for help. I was learning how to say no to tasks I couldn’t fit into my life. Because I was taking the time to take care of myself, I was falling in love with the girl I was becoming. It was magical and liberating. It gave me so much hope.
Yet here we are, a year later, and I’m slipping. I’m back at a 9-5 – well more of a 7:30-4:00. I’m taking the practice paperless, planning a client appreciation event, designing marketing pieces when needed, and generally doing anything else that's asked of me. I’m looking for a new position in the company (or an entirely new company) so I've been updating my résumé, created a website, and am sending out more cover letters and applications I'm willing to admit. I’m now considering (read that as most likely will be) getting my Masters - I’m doing research into online programs from Northwestern, Georgetown, Syracuse, and USC. I’m teaching dance 4 days a week for 2-4 hours at a time. Competition and Recital season are in full swing – meaning choreography is being completed and we’re cleaning everything. Costumes have been set and pictures have been taken. Days are spent at competition venues. Spirits need to be continually lifted as this is the most stressful time for the kids between school and the studio – meaning I’m playing mentor and older sister as well as teacher. I’ve been hit with 4 freelance projects in the last two weeks, on top of design work from the studio, on top of personal design work to update my portfolio. I’m doing my best to help my mom with her school's play – costuming, makeup, design, set pieces, dance choreo, etc. I workout with my trainer twice a week and on my own three other days a week. I try to go to weekly yoga (though that hasn't happened in a month because of everything going on). I'm in a wedding in three months - so I've been stressing over finances and the scheduling of showers, the bachelorette party weekend, flights, hotels, and the wedding itself. My cousin is engaged and my mother and I have been helping in the planning of engagement showers, save the dates, and I'm sure we'll help with whatever else we can because we are so excited about this wedding (this will be the first cousin on either side of my family to get married). When I'm able to, I drive 3.5 hours to Toledo after a full day of teaching on Saturdays so I can spend actual "in person" time with Greg - even though that "in person" time is really only a night and a day. Most days I leave my house at 7 am and don’t get home until 8 or 9 pm. Maybe it's a good thing that my closest friends live out of state because I really don't have time to do anything else. I'm lucky breathing is an involuntary process, because I'd probably forget to do it. Or rather I'd stress out about not breathing enough ha.
Now I’m not using that last paragraph to complain. I’m choosing to do everything. I’m fully aware I'm doing this to myself. I’d be less busy if I didn’t teach. I wouldn’t be incurring debt and more stress if I don’t get a Masters. I don’t have to take on personal and freelance projects. I didn't have to agree to be in a wedding. I don’t have to do any of this. But I’m choosing to because I want to. Extra design projects let me create when my career job tends to focus more on the marketing side. Dance is an outlet and the kids (most of the time) make me so happy. Watching them grow this year alone has been so rewarding and knowing my time with them influences who they will one day be as grown humans fills my heart with such joy and love. Working out makes me happy and only progresses my healthy relationship with both myself and food. Getting a Masters is only going to help cultivate the stable future I want for myself. How could I not be in one of my best friends weddings? How could I not offer to help my future cousin-in-law with her wedding details either? Why wouldn't I suck it up and drive to see Greg if I'm able to? I’m trying to see all of this in the larger picture, that the sacrifices and hardships now will be worth what’s to come.
But at the same time, I need to get better at taking care of myself. You know about oxygen masks on airplanes right? And how you need to put your own mask on before you can help anyone else? Because you can’t help anyone else if you pass out from lack of oxygen. The same thing goes with our emotions and mental health. You cannot help anyone else if you aren’t taken care of first. It’s like trying to pour a glass of water from an empty pitcher. It’s just not possible. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll think you can beat the system and you can do everything without taking care of yourself, or at least taking very little care of yourself. But heed my warning, you can’t. When you try to do that, you end up at Western Psych or worse.
So class, repeat after me. “Self-care isn’t selfish.” Did you actually say it? Say it again with me. “Self-care isn’t selfish.” Set aside at least 10 minutes each night just for you. I've been the worst at this lately, but I did it for the first time in weeks last night. I listened to a breathing exercise from therapy and actually did it, twice, and guess what, it really freaking helped. Do a facemask, color, write, light a candle, do some yoga, take a walk, play your favorite album – anything that lifts your spirit and sings to your soul. Anything that can take your mind off of the stresses of your life. When you’re able to find them, the positives in life completely outweigh the negatives. But you’ll never find that overwhelming positivity if you don’t take the time to find it. Start with small steps and you will get there. You just have to be patient with both yourself and your journey. And it’s okay to fail. I’m essentially failing right now, but even just writing this post acknowledging I’m not okay and I need a game plan to address it is a step in the right direction.
So please, if not for yourself, do it for the people you care about. Find the things that make you happy and go do them. Life is too short and precious to swim in a sea of anxiety, doubt, and exhaustion. That kind of life is easy to give up on. But a life of taking care of yourself? Now that’s a powerful life. And in time, by taking care of yourself and your needs, by showing yourself you are worthy of your own love, the stresses will start to overwhelm you less, and more importantly, you’ll be able to deal with those stresses and not let them ruin the life you’re cultivating.
You can do this. But more importantly. You deserve this. I love you.