I have a confession to make. It’s one of the hardest things for me to admit about myself and to all of you. The truth is, I am horrible at self-care. I am entirely co-dependent on a world and people who I believe need me, and therefore I am regularly finding ways to ignore myself and ignore my own needs.
I hate to admit this because I understand at my very core how important taking care of yourself is. In fact, if you dig into my writing over the last year, you will find numerous moments where I am reminding others how important it is. I often say I have no problem being selfish as a way to prove I take care of myself, but the harsh reality is that while I may indeed be selfish, self-care escapes me entirely. And let’s be clear, there is a difference between selfishness and self-care.
As I grabbed a hold of my physical health over the last few years and even of organizing my schedule in a way that makes me feel in control, I believed I was accomplishing self-care and in some ways I was. I feel better when I go to a yoga class or exercise in the morning, have more energy when I am eating well, and definitely sleep better when I read at night. I take a bath nearly every night and meditate all the time. I am sure that just like me, many people would interpret these rituals in my life as self-care. Many are even thinking they only wish they were doing some of these same activities. Maybe, some people who are working out, meditating, getting enough sleep and saying no to a schedule that makes them crazy are achieving self-care. The reason I am not, even after conquering these pieces of my day, is because I am not doing them for myself. That’s the truth of it.
I have unconsciously mastered the art of turning even the most selfish parts of my day into activities I do for other people. When I mediate, sleep and exercise, I do it so that I have the energy for others. In a moment of harsh truth, I realized that if I lived an existence that wasn’t entirely driven by what others think or feel, I am not sure I would have the motivation to do much of what I do. I had this realization because despite a healthy lifestyle and a structured existence built to reduce stress, I hit a mental wall on a regular basis that makes be so tired I can barely function.
I go, go, and go, doing everything I said I would, making myself feel awful for missing a workout or not getting enough sleep. And then every few months, I crash. I have begun to realize these crashes are mental burnout of a person who never stops taking in the thoughts or feelings of everyone else. Said more simply, I care way too much what people think about me.
I do not stop to think about what I think or how I feel enough. I take on feedback all day long, both through verbal conversations and cues I believe to be feedback. I believe at the deepest part of me that I will disappoint someone if I stop and just do nothing for even one second. Worse, when I do this, I get so mad at myself and then project that guilt onto those closest to me as if they are actually upset with me for slowing down. When I truly think about, I have turned even things I used to love to do, like workout, into chores. I think about my morning workout as a must do vs. a good to do, and not for mentally healthy reasons. I believe it is ok to let others motivate you to be better and do better, but I believe nothing is sustainable unless you understand how to do it for yourself and only yourself.
So here is where I sit, trapped in my own mental jail of self-criticism and critique. And what I now know for sure is that when trapped in the loop of mental self-critique, you can never truly experience a life that is truly inclusive of regular self-care. I can go through the self-care motions every day but until I learn to escape the fear of what people are thinking about those motions, they are just motions. The mental nonstop has proven as detrimental to my physical wellbeing as if I never got up and went to the gym. I get tired to the point that everything has to just stop. I sleep, I pretend to rest but mentally, the double down of not being or doing what I think I need to be actually intensifies. I recognize now how brutal this cycle is and how trapped I am in it.
I am not writing this blog or sharing this shame because I have one single answer. In fact, all I have is the realization of the relentless damage I am doing to my own mental health with this horrible habit of literally giving a shit what everyone thinks. It is the equivalent of feeding my mind McDonalds for three meals a day. My mind has become obese because I have not figured out how to take care of it by burning mental heaviness.
I believe the first step to recovery is to recognize my problem, and I am admitting it out loud so that I can at the very least start to chip away at being ashamed of the mental roller coaster. I can only imagine the number of people who are carrying the mental weight that I am and how shame has kept them from sharing. So, I am going to share how twisted the mind battles can be for me, and when they become too much I get anxious, depressed or angry at those around me for not “taking care of me”.
What I know for sure is that I have not figured out how to take care of myself yet, so I cannot ask others to give me what I need either. Hopefully this is the first step towards caring a little less what people think, living less of my minutes for the approval of others and more of my minutes in self-love and self-approval.
Maybe I can begin to think about what I need first or even more hopeful, maybe I can have times where I am not thinking about much at all.