New Year, New You

New Year, New You

How to Avoid the 80%

Christmas is over.  OVER.  Just like that, the music is gone, decorations have vanished, ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas has wrapped and Lifetime completely cuts you off like it never even happened.  It’s enough to send anyone into a downward spiral of depressive withdrawal.

As we barrel towards the sludge I call January we start to search for something else to look forward to and another outlet for our holiday merriment: New Year’s Day.  The countdown, the kiss at midnight, the promise of a fresh start and a new beginning.  It all sounds so exciting and invigorating.  The first day of a whole new year – what better time to kick it into gear?  We set resolutions, commit to lifestyle changes, freshen up the bucket list and swear that this time for sure is going to be different.  The ball drops to ceremoniously usher in “the new me.”  

Sound familiar?  ME.

80% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February.  ALSO ME.

EIGHTY percent.  Seriously?  That rate sounds about as encouraging as feeding a toddler brussel sprouts topped with sauerkraut.  I stewed over that statistic for a while and tried to disprove it altogether with excellent research and…googling…but quit vetting the validity of the study after realizing from personal experience how it makes total sense and is probably pretty accurate.

But why?  What makes New Year’s resolutions so doggone hard to keep?  Making any life change, even a small one, requires more than good intentions.  If you’re setting resolutions for the new year, these six tips will help you avoid the 80%:  

  1.  Focus on goals, not resolutions.
    Both have important purposes but there is a difference between the two.  Think of a resolution as the final, long-term outcome and the goals as the smaller steps it takes to get there.  It’s important to keep the end game in mind but without goals in between you’ll slide right towards the 80%.  Resolutions are oftentimes approached with an all or nothing attitude and while cold turkey may be the best way to commit for some, for most it doesn’t jive long-term.  Resolutions help reinforce lifelong changes while the goals provide attainable milestones to keep you motivated in the meantime.  Re-working your resolutions into a more goal-oriented process can make a big difference in your outcomes.

  2.  What do YOU want to do?
    Want to jump right into the 80%?  Try giving your all to accomplish a goal someone else has set for you.  If you don’t really care about your goal, you’re setting yourself up for a frustrating, discouraging, and probably pretty quick journey.  Take some time to reflect and decide what’s really important to you, with the emphasis on YOU.  Motivation is born from a value or belief you truly value and something meaningful enough to justify the time, energy, and effort it’ll take to get the job done.  Get out a piece of paper and write down everything you’d like to accomplish, both big and small.  Sky’s the limit.  Try your best to filter out what you think you should do, what you think should be important, or what others are saying you need to do.  There is no one alive who is youer than you.  You do you, mama!

  3. What are you READY to do?
    You may have decided what you want to do, but the success of your goal comes down to one question: are you ready to change?  Wanting to change and being ready to change are very different mentalities and while we may truly want to do different, good intentions alone won’t get the job done.  Be honest with yourself and decide whether or not you’re really ready to make the life changes necessary to commit to something new…and hard…because change is HARD.  It can take time, energy, patience, sleep, planning, sanity, support, money, resilience, and strength.  If you don’t have any of that to spare right now and life is crazy enough already, it’s okay.  Let me repeat: IT’S OKAY.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and life changes aren’t built in a year.  If it’s truly something you value, it’ll still be there when life calms down.  Developing the self-awareness to know your limits takes a lot of strength, too.

  4. Start small and go with the flow.
    Have a goal you can’t shake but know you’re not ready to commit?  You may be more ready than you think.  If you feel like your goal is too big to tackle, break it waaaaaaay down into something smaller and measurable.  Smaller steps can make change feel a little less daunting and overwhelming while still keeping you motivated.  A lot of goals take time to see results, especially those around health and money, so setting smaller goals will give you the chance to celebrate the smaller (but equally important) successes and boost your confidence along the way.  Want to save more money?  Start out with $20 a month and increase throughout the year.  Want to lose 50 pounds but haven’t had success losing more than 20?  Set a more attainable goal of 15 and reevaluate when you hit that number.  Or drop the number altogether and focus on exercising three times a week instead.  Be flexible and adjust as you go.  It’s your goal and you can do whatever the heck you want.

  5. Start in the spring.
    Hear me out on this one.  Raise your hand if you feel rested, reinvigorated, and energized right after Christmas.  If your hand is up and you’re not lying, I commend you because I feel the exact opposite: full of joy and happiness, yes, but also exhausted, lethargic, and still nearly comatose from stuffing my face all day/week/month.  It takes me until Valentine’s Day just to fully recover the house, purge abandoned toys, and find homes for all the new schtuff.  The very last thing I want to do is anything else.  I know, I know, there’s a certain symbolism of a January 1st D-day; new year, new start, new you.  But a goal for the new year doesn’t mean you have to literally start on day one.  New Year’s Day is a single day on the calendar.  There are 364 others to choose from, and it may be a good idea to choose a day after fully recovering from the holiday fatigue.  Take the first couple months of the new year to mentally prepare and get your head in the game for the changes to come.  I know March doesn’t quite have the luster of New Year’s Day, but March has SPRING, and if that’s not a season for new beginnings I don’t know what else is.
  1.  Shrug it off and carry on.  
    So you fell into the 80%.  Meh.  So did 80% of everyone else.  Falling off the bandwagon doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon your goal.  Figure out what didn’t work, adjust accordingly, and try try again.  You have the rest of the year to tweak and figure out what’s going to work and not work.  Most people who have achieved any goal can attest to falling off the bandwagon multiple times in the process.  Change is a journey of trial and error.  Be patient with yourself and try to accept a little of the same grace you offer everyone else.  You may feel bruised and discouraged but what really matters is how you keep trying.  In the end, the juice will be worth the squeeze and you’ll come out stronger and more resilient than before.

Listen mamas, even Mother Nature gets tired and shuts down for a few months.  Literally nothing in nature blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to either.  Whatever you choose to take on this year, whether it be big or small or nothing at all, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Where Are You Christmas?

Where Are You, Christmas?

Why Can’t I Find You

Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can’t I hear music play

I cry every time I hear that song even after the hundredth time.

As a meager attempt at self-preservation I try to avoid it altogether.  I turn off the radio when it comes on, fast-forward through The Grinch and give it a thumbs down on Pandora so it doesn’t play.  It’s a beautiful song but it hits a nerve in my heart in a way that only the raw, honest truth can. It’s just too real.

The holidays have always been such a special time for my family and I.  Christmastime has been in my blood since the moment I came out of the womb, when Christmas carols lulled me to sleep and paper chains decorated the entire house as soon as my fingers learned to use scissors.  I hung lights around my room, designed elaborate countdown calendars and slept in my Santa hat. I was the original Buddy the Elf.

My childhood was filled with love and support and warm memories I carry with me every day.  Family values were instilled in me at a very young age, and a true extrovert (and Greek) at heart, these values came naturally to me.  Family and tradition have been two of the most important things in my life since as long as I can remember and at Christmastime…those cups runneth over.  My family will never truly know how the impact of my upbringing has shaped me into the person I am today, but as an adult I’ve tried to do a decent job of letting them know how everything I am today I am because of them.  They taught me about everything truly important in life.

I’m beyond grateful I had a childhood that allowed me to feel safe and carefree enough to deck the halls with all of my might.  My biggest worries back then were whether or not I’d have enough construction paper or if the lights on the tree were going to burn out again.  I was free to take in the world through my innocent and hopeful eyes, full of dreams and promises of things to come.

Things came, as they always do, and like it or not one of them was adulthood.  As I learned and understood more about the world, I saw how protected I really was as a child, how there were indeed very real adult issues taking place all around me that I was either blissfully shielded from or didn’t fully comprehend.  Addiction.  Financial struggle.  Marital strife.  Heartbreak.  Mental Illness. Unemployment.  Health issues.  Infertility.  Lost friendships.  Loss of a loved one.  Confusion.  Anger. Stress.  Loneliness.  While there was still joy and happiness in my life, I saw everything in the world that makes this time of year so goddamn heavy for so many people…and it became heavy for me too.

My world is changing
I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too?  

Now I’m the shield.  I’m the mama. I’m the protector.  I have a job and a marriage and a mortgage and the weight of another human’s proper survival on my shoulders.  Now I’m the one who puts on a brave face to shield my daughter from the realities of life and in the process of becoming a shield…you lose your own.

I grieve the loss of my shield.

I grieve the loss of my innocence.  I grieve the loss of my family under one roof, playing the Nintendo 64 for hours on end because it was the most marvelous piece of technology we’d ever seen.  I grieve the loss not just of my own youth, but of my daughter’s youth as well, because I know that every Christmas season that comes will pass and leave me one season closer to the loss of my innocent, protected baby who still believes in Santa.  I grieve the loss of paper chains and my merry and light heart, because although it’s now full of more love than I could ever imagine, it is not light. I can’t go back. I know too much that I can’t un-know.  Growing up comes with some heavy stuff.

Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I’m not the same one
See what the time’s done
Is that why you’ve let me go

I don’t think we talk about grief enough.  When most people think of “grief” they think of grieving a death, which is obviously appropriate, but grief is SO much bigger than that.  You can grieve the loss of anything that meant something to you.  A loved one. A job. A relationship.  Family. Time. Health. Your tiny little babies.  A dream. The life you thought you’d have…the life you used to have.

Grief is all around us and it’s not always a bad thing, but I think it’s what makes this time of year heavy for so many.  The Hallmark movies and carols all around reminding us to feel merry and bright only amplify the fact that sometimes we DO NOT feel that way anymore, and we’re reminded of what no longer have instead.  Then we feel guilty because this only comes around once a year and we’re wasting it away with heaviness, feeling like now we can’t even do Christmas right. The contrast between what the season “should” be and what’s going on in our hearts can be enormous.

And it’s OKAY.  

It’s okay to feel heavy this holiday season.  It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to feel lonely but please know…you are not alone.  The rest of us are trying to figure out what the heck Christmas means now, too, and I think there’s hope.  It may look different, seem different, feel different, BE different, but the spirit of Christmas is still there.  While the entire weeks and years of merry simplicity have faded, I think Christmas hides in the little moments, waiting to be found by a weary grown-up who needs to rest their heart for a while.  

Christmas is on your couch, watching a cheesy and unbelievably predictable Hallmark movie.

Christmas is in the smell of your child’s head, and the gentle curve of their nose.

Christmas is in baking cookies, even the break and bakes and ESPECIALLY the break and bakes.

Christmas is in your partner’s arms.  

Christmas is in drinking hot cocoa, even if you never finish a full mug.  It’s just a merry thing to do.

Christmas is in saying no to over-commitment that will leave you sad and exhausted.

Christmas is listening to Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays by N’SYNC on blast.

Christmas is in taking time off work.

Christmas is in snuggling with your pet and buying them a holidays sweater just BECAUSE.

Christmas is in the smell of your holiday candles.

Christmas is in spending time with your loved ones because tomorrow is not promised for anyone.

Christmas is in making a paper chain every year because it’s still who you are deep down.

I feel you Christmas
I know I’ve found you
You never fade away
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us
Fills every heart with love

Do one thing for me this Christmas.

Watch The Polar Express…by yourself.  Just one time, curl up on the couch and let yourself be totally immersed in an hour and half of Christmas magic.  I’ve seen it a billion times and I’ve never walked away without feeling a little lighter than I did before. You’ll know exactly what I mean when you watch it.   

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you joy this holiday season, however that may look for you.  And if I could give you one gift, it would be the gift of BELIEF. Belief in the good of humanity.  Belief in brighter days. Belief in love and in being enough. Belief that there are hidden moments of holiday joy waiting for you in the nooks and crannies of adult life.  Believe that maybe, just maybe you can have yourself a merry little Christmas after all.

“Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”
-The Polar Express

4 Weeks of Wonder Week Four: Taking Care of Yourself – PART TWO

4 Weeks of Wonder

Week Four: Taking Care of Yourself – PART TWO

Self-care took me a lot longer to write about than I thought it would.  

The further I explored, the quicker I ended up elbow deep in a cluster of hard questions and even harder answers.  I felt like I’d opened Pandora’s box. In Part One (conveniently located here) I shared all about how a little wooden sign from Target was the catalyst for realizing I was a serial pyromaniac who needed to take better care of herself, and that I committed to at least trying to do so.  What I didn’t share was that the commitment was only half the battle.  Figuring out what exactly that meant was the other.

All I knew was how I felt.  Exhausted. Burnt out. Lonely.  Hollow. Overwhelmed. Hungry. Impatient.  Irritable. Taken for granted. Sleep-deprived.  Indeed, I was a jolly woman. I knew I reached a breaking point.  I knew I felt like something had to change.  I knew I finally decided I mattered enough to not settle for a life of constant all of the above.  I knew I deserved better.

I also knew I had grown totally unfamiliar with my own needs.  I knew I needed to take better care of myself but was often so resistant to the idea because I didn’t know how and I was too tired of thinking to figure it out.

Can someone please tell me what “self-care” actually is?  Whatever it is, I’ll do it. 

 It took a lot of reflection and heartwork to unpack the baggage I had around the idea of supermom and the guilt of falling short of that illusion.  Somewhere in that Samsonite 5-piece nested set I found the curiosity to get to know myself again. I read books. I googled A LOT. I talked with my girlfriends, my husband, my mom, my sisters.  I reawakened old hobbies and remembered what I was like before I became a mom. I tried new things, ate new things, watched new things, and eventually ended up with a patchwork of new and old that reflects who I am today.  Mama got her groove back…

And without my biggest deal breaker, lots of extra time away from my family.  We already spent enough time away from each other during the week and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice much more, at least on a regular basis.  That ended up being totally okay. What I learned about self-care is that while time, money, and grandeur are lovely to have, they’re not absolutely necessary to the process.  I found just as many small, daily, seemingly insignificant ways to take care of myself that were just as effective as the vacations, girls nights, and time at the spa. I made it work for me, my lifestyle, and my schedule.

What I learned along the way still helps to douse the flames of my old habits.  The good thing (or the bad thing) is that none of it’s concrete and a lot of it is contrary to each other…because people aren’t concrete and are often contrary to each other.  Everyone is wired differently. What works for one person might totally deplete another.

It’s okay to be egocentric and find what works for YOU.  Whether it’s big leaps or baby steps, what matters is the forward motion. 

Do what you did before you were a mom.
Think back to life before you had babies.  Who were you and what did you like to do? Try some of that stuff again.  Maybe you’ll reignite a passion you forgot you had or maybe you’ll find it’s just not your thing anymore.  That’s okay too. It’s all part of the journey. Getting in touch with who you were will help you figure out who you are.
Me:  Crafts and art projects.  Ever since I was a little girl nothing jazzes me more than a trip to Hobby Lobby and uninterrupted project time.  While I still aim for this whenever possible I just don’t have the time for it to be a regular occurrence anymore. What I do have is a toddler who loves hands-on projects just like her mama, so I found a way to take care of myself through her.  It may be a popsicle stick house instead of a Pinterest-perfect holiday wreath, but it still fills up my craft cup in a way that works for my lifestyle. The quality time together is an added bonus!

Do what brings you energy.
What gets your heart thumping?  What brings you to life? What’s your release?  Exercising. Working on a project. Playing with your kids.  Gardening. Girls night out. Planning a trip. Eating a good meal.  Dancing. Singing. Sex. Coffee. Sleeping. Resting. Time alone. Taking a walk outside.  Traveling. The more energy you release into something you enjoy, the more energy you’ll feel in return.  Funny how the body works.
Me:  Bringin’ SexyBack.  I could have been a backup dancer for JT.  Sometimes after wrestling my toddler to sleep I go straight to my bedroom and audition in front of the mirror for a few minutes.  My husband wonders why I come downstairs all sweaty. Sometimes I drive the long way around my neighborhood with the volume on max even though I know they’re waiting for me at home.  They can wait for a few. My inner diva CANNOT.  

Do what brings you peace.
What brings you stillness?  What slows your breathing? What relaxes you?  Reading a book. Writing in a journal. Writing anything.  Coloring. Watching your babies sleep. Snuggling. Napping.  Netflix and chill. Painting. Creating. Animals. Grocery shopping alone.  Spending time outside. Yoga. Starbucks. A bubble bath. Listening to music.  Meditation. Prayer. Parenthood is wonderful but it’s not slow and serene. Slowing down is hard to do but it’s the only way to take in the beauty of the stillness.  Moments of silence and calm are the only way to survive…the rest of the moments.
Me:  Watching HGTV.  One of the few things that brings me peace is sitting in front of the TV like a vegetable while watching a plotless show that I don’t really have to pay attention to.  I can’t watch TV shows that involve energy or emotional stimulation. I have enough emotions all on my own. I also fall asleep halfway through then get pissed next week when I’m lost and behind.  Then I just quit and turn on HGTV.

Do what makes you happy.
What brings you laughter?  What makes you smile? What do you enjoy?  Getting a pedicure. Buying something new…for yourself.  Your favorite dessert. Any dessert. Youtube videos of people wiping out.  Sassy lipstick. A haircut. A good fart joke. A new outfit for your dog. Favorite song on repeat.  Spending time with people. Spending time alone. Having cake for dinner. Fresh, clean blankets. Haters gonna hate.  You do YOU.
Me:  Christmastime.  Everything is happier for me during the holidays.  Last year, for the first time in 31 years I broke my hard and fast rule of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING CHRISTMAS BEFORE THANKSGIVING.  Screw it, says who? For the past two years my Santa hat came out and Christmas music came on right after Halloween and I’m not sorry.  It makes me happy. We still celebrate Thanksgiving…just as a part of Christmastime.

Do what makes you feel guilty.
Can we talk about mom guilt for a minute?  What a killjoy. That little snake weaves its way into every thought we have and action we take.  We can’t just have pleasure, noooooo, we have to have guilty pleasure.  Want to know the dictionary definition of guilt?  “…the fact of having committed a specified or implied crime or offense.”  CRIME OR OFFENSE. For feeling pleasure.  Lawd, take me to jail.

I’ve come to accept mom guilt as a permanent part of me.  I think motherhood just wired me that way. I spent so much energy reasoning with myself, talking myself up about how I need to take care of myself and how this is good for all of us and blah blah blah and you know what?  I still felt guilty as sin in the end, every single time.  So I stopped trying to fight it and learned to carry on with it instead of wasting energy fighting a losing battle.  I always remind myself, I’m worth it, and end up thanking myself in the end.

Faking a bathroom break.  Real Housewives. Social Media.  Early bedtime for the kids. Going bra free.  Chocolate baking chips right out of the bag. Trashy magazines.  Swearing like a sailor. All leggins all the time. Eating all the fruit snacks.  The expensive makeup. Getting off work early for some time to yourself. Listening to the Jonas Brothers…in the car alone.  Catching a few extra minutes of sleep when you see quiet, wide eyes on the monitor.
Mine:  Celebrity gossip magazines.  I check US Weekly at least three times a day.  It’s blocked on my bloody work computer so I take my phone with me into the bathroom stall to stay up to date with Hollywood’s latest.  Added gullty pleasure…sometimes I also lean my head up against the stall for a micro power nap…sometimes this is why I go to the bathroom in the first place…  

Learn your limits.
I was an expert at blowing past the point of no return, leaving me so overwhelmed and wound tight that a panic attack was unavoidable.  I don’t think I’ll ever totally rid myself of the monster I call anxiety, but I’ve learned to stay one step ahead of him. When I started listening and paying closer attention to myself, I learned to read the warning signs that I was headed down the wrong path.  Can’t sleep. Skipping meals. Eyes hurting. Chest tightening. Learn your body, your signals, and your red flags and listen to them closely. It’s much easier to snuff out a small flame than a raging inferno. Only you can prevent forest fires.

Accept help…or ask for it.
I really mean it.  You have not failed.  You are not less of a mom.  You are human, and humans are meant to live in villages.  Western culture doesn’t support this instinct; the more independent and self-reliant you are, the better you’re doing.  In many other parts of the world the second you give birth your mom or grandma or both move into your house whether you like it or not because parenting is hard and people need help.  This is just the norm there.

I used to have an awful burden complex.  I was afraid to ask for help because I didn’t want to stress anyone out or make them feel obligated to help.  A while back I went through a really rough patch of worry and sleep-deprivation when my daughter was sick with the flu.  Even though I felt awful for doing it, I was desperate and finally took my friend up on her year-long offer to bring me (us) dinner.  It was the greatest thing ever. A good meal that I didn’t have to pick up or prepare. Should’ve done it a year ago. I was so happy to eat and she was SO happy to help.  

Even though you may feel like it, you are NOT a burden to those around you who are offering to help.  They care about you and it makes them feel good to take care of you. LET THEM. It’s a win-win.

No offers on the table?  

In a perfect world the people around you would notice how tired and overwhelmed you are and offer to help, but this isn’t a perfect world.  Sometimes people get caught up with their own stuff and it’s not personal towards you. It’s okay to ask for help. Chances are your villagers would be glad to help.  If you don’t have any villagers, reach out to a local parenting program or social support agency to get some more people in your corner. They would be glad to help too.  I know this for a fact because I work for one of them.

Have a meltdown.
It’s okay to have days where you’re not okay and everything feels totally overwhelming and exhausting. It’s okay to have days that you just get through.  You’re allowed to have human emotions other than happiness and gratitude. Some days are just going to be BAD and the best way to get through them is to just let yourself feel it and try again tomorrow.  Not to get all mathematical here but thus far your survival rate of bad days is 100% and you’re promised a re-do every 24 hours.

Don’t set yourself on fire.
Learn to protect yourself.  When you feel yourself nearing your limits, learn to set boundaries and know it’s not mean to do so.  It’s okay to do what you need to do in order to maintain your wellness and sanity. Saying no to someone taking advantage of you.  Canceling a playdate. Passing on a family gathering. If you can’t manage to drive around like a crazy person just to see everyone on Thanksgiving, exhausting the kids and eventually losing your shit…life will go on.  There may be some initial disappointment but I’m pretty sure they’re still going to love you. You are not required to exhaust yourself to keep others happy. You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.       

Raising tiny humans should qualify for sainthood.  Being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  It’s challenged me on every level and stretched me way past any breaking point I thought I had.  Another human’s livelihood, health, and survival resting on our shoulders is a heavy load to carry but we can handle it because are MAMAS.  We are nurturers and we are caregivers. I still have to remind myself that part of taking care of my child means taking care of ME, too.

Being a mom means operating on all cylinders, all the time, all the days, making self-care not just important but necessary.  I don’t know what that means or looks like for you, but I know you’re worth finding out.    

4 Weeks of Wonder Week Four: Taking Care of Yourself – PART ONE

4 Weeks of Wonder

Week Four: Taking Care of Yourself – PART ONE

This past month my 4 Weeks of Wonder Challenge has been just the catalyst I needed to make the lifestyle change to simplify life, slow down, wonder, and find adventure in the mundane.  This past month has also reminded me that motherhood requires an incredible amount of presence and energy…and all of the other junk in between that usually doesn’t include much leftover for ourselves.

You need to slow down.
You’re doing too much.
You need to get some rest.
Go to bed early.
The dishes can wait.

Great idea.  Your to-do list will be waiting for you on the counter.  Don’t you dare fall asleep before moving the wet clothes to the dryer or else the whole load will be ruined and the dishes legit need to be washed because they’ve “waited” for days and now they smell and there’s ants.       

Sound familiar?  Don’t I know it.

I work full-time outside of the home as a supervisor in a child prevention program.  I don’t like the phrase “working mom” because in my book you’re always a “working mom” whether you’re inside the home or outside the home, but it’s the best phrase I can think of to help describe the madness I call my life so I’m just gonna go with it.  I’m a working mom.

I work in social services and you know what that means.  Families in crisis mode. Financial struggles. Domestic violence.  Substandard housing. Substance abuse. Addiction. Mental illness. Child abuse and neglect.  I staff the most challenging cases and I’m the one who makes the really tough calls, sometimes resulting in the involvement of law enforcement and/or children being removed from the home. 

You know, super light fluffy stuff.

It truly is my life’s calling but after nine years I’ve grown numb to the insanely stressful demands of my career.  Usually I compartmentalize it and don’t talk about what I do unless asked, but when the subject comes up the wide-eyed “holy crap you do WHAT” look from an outsider always reminds me of how much I’ve adjusted to working under a constant level of stress that’s inherent and unavoidable in my field.  It’s just normal to me.

Self-care is especially important in maintaining sanity in my line of work and no matter what your job is or isn’t it’s critical when you’re a mama.  I knew this. I learned about it in school. I read books about it. I researched it on my own. I went to workshops about it, conferences about it, talked to friends about it, did trainings with my own staff about it.  And yet…

I used to dismiss it for myself entirely.  

Smart huh?  Looking back I can see how it happened.  Life’s grind had exhausted and overwhelmed me so much that I didn’t have the energy to problem solve how to fit in ONE MORE THING, even a good thing like self-care.  I heard the phrase thrown at me so often that I grew tired of hearing about how much I needed to care of myself without any substance behind the suggestion.  It sounded lovely to drop whatever I was doing to rest and take it easy but I often felt like this wasn’t realistic or possible without dropping the ball in another court.  So like any good stubborn person would I learned to tune out the idea right along with my toddler’s meltdowns and I juggled away every day, doing anything and everything needed to take care of everyone else.   

I thought I was doing the right thing.  I was mama bear.  Unbridled selflessness was always a part of my personality so the lifestyle change was seamless when I became a parent.  My entire existence shifted towards putting my baby and her needs first, above all else. The shift happened naturally and instinctively and it should have, it’s how we bond and keep our babies alive.  What’s tricky about the shift is that there’s no end.  You never shift back.  Motherhood is amazingly, joyously, thankfully….forever.

I think that’s when I started to lose myself.

What began as an innocent, beautiful instinct eventually morphed into a vicious cycle of justified self-neglect.  I learned to push my needs so far behind everything else that eventually they disappeared altogether and in my mind, I had successfully adjusted to what I thought life was supposed to be like as an adult and as a parent.  

It really was the perfect Category 5 storm headed straight for my soul.  It took a solid year of tears, panic attacks, late nights, skipping meals, physical pain, and chronic exhaustion to realize how burnt out I really was.

About eight months ago I was having a really rough day at work.  I hadn’t slept well the night before (like usual) and I’d skipped eating lunch again (like usual) and my patience and energy were non-existent…(like usual).  I needed some space so I drove up the street to Target, my favorite spot to grab a Starbucks and unwind for a few minutes while mindlessly binging at the Dollar Spot. 

That’s when I saw it.  

Right next to the holiday decor and adorable office supplies I didn’t really need but put in my basket anyways, I saw this little wooden sign:

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks.  Right then I felt the weight of exhaustion hurt deep in my bones, my white-hot, charcoal bones.  This is my life, I thought to myself.  I pulled out my phone and looked at a picture of my beautiful daughter as my eyes welled with tears thinking of how desperately I was trying to keep her and everyone else around me safe and warm.  

No wonder I’m so burnt out.  I’M ON FIRE.

I cried right there in the store.  God love Target. That little wooden sign hit my soul in a way the “you can’t pour from an empty cup” metaphor never did.  It released something in me and for the first time, whether it was from God, my conscious, or the manufacturers in China I finally felt like I had permission to stop drop and roll.  I looked at my daughter’s picture again.  She was beautiful, always beautiful.  And smart, and strong, and brave, and healthy.  All I ever wanted was to be a good mom, and I was…to her and to everyone else.  Just not to myself.

I trudged out of Target knowing nothing else except that something had to change.   

That night I sat on the shower floor, putting my head between my knees so the hot water could run over my back.  How are you here?  You SO knew better than this.  I took a deep breath in and thought of my daughter again.  I always think of her when I’m sad.  She was tired that night and went to bed early so I was missing her more than usual.      

I spend a lot of time away from her and I carry guilt about that every single day.  I’m a glutton for punishment so one time I calculated how many waking hours I spend away from her in a week and I cried for an hour straight afterwards.  Mom guilt is one of the most awful emotions in existence.  It’s an ugly, vicious monster that plants seeds of doubt in every corner of your soul and wreaks total havoc on your heart.  And on that shower floor, for the hundredth time that day I felt like an awful mom.  I work full-time by choice.  Which meant I was choosing to be away from my daughter by choice.  Which meant I was missing out on her by choice, letting others shape her and raise her by choice, missing smiles and laughs and milestones by choice.  And only an awful mom would do that.

You don’t deserve to take care of yourself.   

Exhaustion was my punishment.  I leaned on the excuse of not having time for myself for so long when what it came down to was that I didn’t even feel worthy of having time for myself.  Pretty deep for a little wooden sign from Target.  It’s funny because as much as I loved that sign I didn’t buy it.  I bought an outfit for my daughter instead.  I never, ever bought things for myself.

There’s something about shining a light on a monster that scares it away, or at least shuts it up long enough to catch your breath.  I didn’t know how I’d do it or what it would look like or when, but on that shower floor I gave myself permission to just try stepping out of the fire.  I was worried.  Worried about dropping the ball, worried I’d miss out on more time with my daughter, worried things would fall apart if I stepped back.  I thought of what I’d tell my daughter if she were on the shower floor.  If you change nothing, nothing will change.  You can do hard things.  

And so, I stepped out.  And my village stepped up.  We adjusted and set new boundaries and when I stepped back from certain projects or commitments you know what happened?  They figured it out.  Because people will always figure it out. The world turned without me and it was beautiful. Turns out I was pretty egocentric for someone supposedly so selfless.  I had to find other ways to validate my purpose besides putting the world on my shoulders.  

Eight months later and I’m still a work in progress but I’ve taken responsibility for my own health and well-being.  I’ve found what self-care really means for me and I’ve found creative ways of pulling it off.  I’ve found my limits and I ask for help when I know I’m on the edge.  I’ve made it a habit to eat lunch every single day and I gained 10 pounds.  While I still have plenty of exhausting, overwhelming days, the panic attacks are gone.  It would take me a whole other post to talk about what self-care actually IS and how I’ve made it work for me.  That’s why there will be a Part Two.  

Most importantly I’ve learned that when you stand outside the fire instead of standing in it, you stay a nice toasty warm.  And when you’re toasty warm, it’s so much easier and HAPPIER to keep the others around you toasty warm, too.  And you deserve to be happy.  You deserve to be toasty.  

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.