Growing up I heard the phrase “take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else.” This was prior to my diagnosis and really difficult advice to follow when you think everything is “normal.“
I never took the time to figure out what it meant: care for yourself before others. On the surface, I understood: take care of your needs first before you worry about other people’s needs.
But I did not absorb what that truly meant. Not until after my diagnosis and not until I had Jai. I conflated caring for others as a means of caring for myself. I felt as though their needs were similar to my needs and if I took care of their needs…
You get the picture.
Worn Down and Frustrated
It’s exhausting taking care of others. I don’t begrudge it, it is sometimes necessary if you are a parent or caretaker. But sometimes it can burn us out if we are in a constant state of “I need to heal the world.” In the moments of worrying about everyone and everything else, we tend to forget our own needs.
Whenever I heard someone tell me to “take care of yourself before you take care of others,” I got really frustrated. I would verbally say, “yeah, you’re right,” but mentally I would scream, “how can I possibly do that?” I firmly believed that friends and family depended on me. If I took even five minutes to care for myself, everything would fall apart.
When I had Jai, it finally clicked. Not because of him, but because of a “Smarter Everyday” video I watched on YouTube around the same time. In the video, Destin talks about why flight attendants tell passengers to put their oxygen masks on first before assisting others. While he demonstrated the dangers of hypoxia, he also highlighted how important it is to care for ourselves in any situation before helping others.
When we don’t care for ourselves we may not get a chance to help others.
While we may never be in a depressurized plane at any point in our life, we do find ourselves in situations where we should put on our metaphoric oxygen masks first before helping others.
Illness Requires Self-Care
Chronic illness is similar to the depressurized plane scenario. We are in a situation where caring for ourselves is paramount for our own survival. That care can take many different forms, but it is important to do whatever works best for you.
For me, it’s taking social media breaks. It’s getting a couple hours away from the house every so often. It’s running four times a week and setting fitness goals. It’s admitting that I am not able to handle everything because I have too much on my plate. It’s being okay with saying “no.”
Yesterday, I engaged in some important self-care and because of it, I was in a place to work through some stuff I was avoiding. Prior to this self-care, I was too overwhelmed to respond to some messages and emails. When I felt better emotionally, I was able to handle some items I felt burnt out over.
It’s not perfect, and if you have been stressed/ill for an extended period time, you may find that self-care takes longer than a couple of massages or nights out. Don’t feel discouraged if this is the case, it is an opportunity to listen to what your body and mind need.
I always felt bad after taking time for myself and still feeling like I needed more. At first, I thought it was my depression and escapism, and to an extent, it might have been, but I realized I had been stressed for so long that my body needed to take almost as much time to relax. This isn’t to say that if you were stressed for five years it will take another five years of self-care. It does mean that one massage or night out will not be enough to get into a better space. It will take a more concentrated effort.
Part of Your Routine
The self-care should factor into your day-to-day routine. Grant yourself permission to take that nap if you need it. Allow yourself to take five minutes every day to play a mindless mobile game. By making this part of your daily habit, you may find yourself feeling more able to handle the responsibilities you feel towards others.
When you take this time and you start feeling bad for doing so, try to remind yourself that you are doing this for yourself. Remember those loving mantras we created? Create one that tells you that you are worth caring for in order to care for others.
As RuPaul says at the end of every Drag Race: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love anybody else?”
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