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I’ve always been the kind of person to put others first. From the time I was old enough to recognize what helping other people meant, I’d do it. I always wanted to do lemonade stands and donate that money to charity. I was the person always volunteering to help someone move or perhaps watch their kids for a date night.
It extended it’s reach into my mental health too, and instead of taking a sideline while I recovered, I put myself out there as a resource for people struggling with similar issues. I never once stopped to consider myself, and even though I always felt like I needed a break, I’d rarely take one.
Why? Because in my mind, people needed me. If people needed me, I needed to be the best of myself, and being the best of myself meant not taking a break. I had to be on it, all the time, no matter what.
Pretty warped right?
But I lived most of my adult life that way. I never really felt it begin to take its toll on me until last year. I had been striving to be super woman, doing all I could for everyone I could, and only taking time for myself when I slept.
I had a moment though, perhaps a couple months ago, where all of a sudden it hit me: I couldn’t keep doing this. I was literally destroying myself all for the sake of helping others. I couldn’t live like that anymore, because in order to help others, I needed to be my best self.
I think the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup, and while I had been preaching that lesson to every person that would hear it, for some reason I neglected to listen to it myself.
There’s a lot of talk in the mental health community of self-care, and taking time to make sure you are taken care of. I always thought that I had been doing that, by playing video games with my husband or doing an arm knit scarf. But, in reality, that wasn’t really me taking time for myself, because it didn’t feel relaxing. At least, some of the time.
However, even though I enjoyed playing video games and enjoyed making arm knit scarves, I was playing the games to spend time with my husband, or making the arm knit scarf for an order I got.
I wasn’t doing those activities for me, I was still doing them for others. Doesn’t that slightly take away from the point of self care? There may be cases where doing things for others may help you, but for me, my issue was I was spreading myself too thin always consciously (and in this case, subconsciously) catering to the actual or made up needs of others. I still hadn’t made a disconnect, and that was part of my problem.
It’s been a long road, but I’ve finally realized that for me? Self care is taking time out of my day to deliberately do nothing. Its taking time to sit on the couch, turn on a television show that I don’t have to pay attention to, and just breath. It’s making an active choice to avoid being on social media, to talking with family and friends, and separating myself from just about everything but my own awareness.
But most of all, it’s been about setting boundaries. It’s been learning how to recognize my warning signs of panic and going, “I need to take a step back for a minute.” It’s been accepting that my ability to say, “No, I’d rather stay in”, doesn’t make me a bad friend, but emotionally and mentally aware of my own self and needs.
Self care isn’t just about doing things you love, because sometimes loving something and enjoying something isn’t enough to make it self-care. Self-care is about awareness and understanding what you need to feel your best on days where “best” may be just above not great.
Take that mental health day, drink that cup of tea, watch that show you’ve been dying to watch, build a fort out of pillows and listen to your favorite playlist, sleep that extra hour, eat that chocolate cupcake.
Self care is doing what you need, even when that need contradicts what you think you should be doing.
After all, there’s only one you in this world, and the world is a better place because you are here. Don’t let the idea that you have to be on it for people ever take away your ability to focus on what you need. You cannot do what you love if you aren’t in a place to do it.
Save yourself first, you’ll thank yourself later.
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