Yesterday I wrote about the experience of powering through a day focused on tasks at hand, just to restore some kind of even emotional keel. Today I reaped the benefits of that in spades and was able to get back in my usual groove. I slept long and well, ate good food in quantities that made me feel nourished and satisfied without being stuffed, and ran 6 miles in a perfectly grey, cool afternoon with nary a drop of rain. Somehow as I slept I made the transition back to being a grownup—responsible not only for discharging my responsibilities but for making sure I’m not so exhausted or anxious or just plain crabby that I’m doomed to fail before I begin.
There are a million books and articles and blogs out there about how we allow ourselves to be sucked dry by the desire to please and nurture others, and the harm we do to ourselves when we allow that to happen. Nothing new in that idea. What I keep coming back to, possibly because I’m a late bloomer in this respect, is that it’s actually FUN to take care of myself. It’s enjoyable to excuse myself from the family bustle and say “I’m off to bed early, have a long day tomorrow,” and hie myself bedward. It feels good to survey a kitchen full of the rich leftovers and desserts that my family loves and make myself some sautéed spinach or warm up some bean soup so that I feel alert and energetic all day long. And as anyone out there who exercises regularly can attest, there’s nothing like a good sweat and a surge of endorphins to restore a sense of balance.
Even apparently trivial things matter in this context. The quiet hour after work with music and a glass of wine, the fiercely-guarded time to knit or read or write, the early-morning coffee and the lunchtime phone call to a friend, these are the building blocks upon which productivity and commitment and devotion rest. And they’re wonderful! They feel great! Unlike the endless things we do which are “good for us,” like dieting and starting new fitness regimens and putting up with rude, annoying people for the sake of getting the job done, these things we do for ourselves are actually fulfilling and pleasant while we’re doing them! What could possibly prevent people from embracing them as a daily way of life?
Four and a half decades into a life which has been unfailingly interesting and rewarding even in its darker moments, I can’t quite explain why this is only dawning on me now. Was I afraid that doing what I love and enjoy might be self-indulgent? Dangerous? Disloyal? Did I fear that the people who love me might not if I showed signs of healthy interest in anything that wasn’t them? Did I feel so necessary to the people around me that I denied myself basic maintenance because “they needed me?” Or did I need to feel necessary to mask my own hidden thorns of self-loathing? Every one of these suppositions is more horribly embarrassing than the last, given that I very much like to think of myself as insightful and self-aware. But it seems that some combination of them must have been at work, and that they did a thorough job of keeping me firmly focused on the wrong things for a good chunk of my life.
No worries, right? Better late than never, and all that jazz. I’m still healthy, in control of most of my faculties most of the time and able to learn new things if I pace myself. So now that I’m headed back into the groove of taking care of myself, I have to say it doesn’t take as long as it used to. 10 years ago I could wallow in hand-wringing with the best, and blame anything and everything for the fact that I was tired or conflicted or anxious. How much less effort it would have taken just to step back and make sure I wasn’t starving or sleep-deprived or nailed to the couch for too long! I haven’t been able entirely to shake the impulse to jump the rails when things get tough, but I can say that it doesn’t upset the applecart like it used to; I find myself getting bewilderedly back on the horse without wasting too much time or energy. I’ll take it—every step forward counts.
©Mary Braden 2013