Last November, I sat in tears with my son’s therapist, at the residential treatment center where he had been living for over a year. Lack of sleep that week had turned into despair, as we continued to face uncertainty about whether or not he could move home. The despair began to snowball into all or nothing thinking: Could we keep him safe at home? Would he ever be able to live on his own, independent of our help? Would he go to college? I had hit bottom.
Have you ever experienced these moments? Where the world begins to snowball, the flood waters of fear threaten to break loose and take you with them? Where God feels very far away, and you cannot get your head above water to even reach out to grasp for his hand? Me too, my friend. Me too. There have been times in my life where the darkness seems to envelope and hold me for ransom. Where I am in a miry pit and cannot find a way out.
As I sat in that office with this young and single therapist, crying big crocodile tears, she gently asked me, “What are you doing for yourself? How are you taking care of yourself? What is one thing you can do for yourself today?” To tell the truth, my response was an enormous, inward eye roll. Does she know what it is like to be a mom? The demands? The worry? My schedule was booked with team appointments for my son (therapy/school/legal), teaching in my music studio, trying to prep meals for my family, preparing to lead Bible study that Friday, and all the other regular mom-things you sign up for when you birth that first child. I left the meeting that day feeling better for having let the floodgates open, yet remained unconvinced that taking care of myself was going to help my situation.
I saw her two days later in court, and as you can imagine, she said it again, “What is one thing you can do for yourself today?” Well, friends, this time I decided to give it a try. I would attempt to block out some time for just me. That November day happened to be a Colorado bluebird sky kind of day, gloriously warm and sunny. I had two hours in between meetings, so I laced up my running shoes and took off, running a local trail that backs up to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was during that run, as I felt the sun on my face, the strength return to my body, the cobwebs clear from my head, that I bought into this idea of selfcare. That, in order to be fully available and present for my family, I would need to take care of myself. And like any good Enneagram 3, I knew I would have to be all in and make it a regular rhythm, which would have to include some sort of accountability. An idea sparked to use social media to keep track of my journey (thank you Another Mother Runner Podcast #388). Thus I began my #365daysofselfcare.
Is Selfcare Self-help 2.0?
I grew up in the height of self-help books. Help yourself become a better person. Help yourself become rich. Help yourself become more influential. Help yourself to help yourself. Self-help books were included in my syllabus readings for psychology classes in high school and in college. Christian bookstores along with large retailers like Barnes and Noble dedicated entire sections of shelving to these help-filled books. They probably still do, but who goes into a book store anymore in the age of digital and free library lending? Not me, I confess. And are books even labeled “self-help” anymore? Has selfcare replaced self-help? While I do not buy into the theme of self-help books (unless it is how to parent my child, or how to run a music studio), and while the term “self-help” still does not sit quite right with me, my understanding of selfcare has shifted in the last year. No longer do I believe that selfcare is a self-involved-help-yourself-to-help-yourself trap. Or at least, I hope I do not. Rather, for me, selfcare has become a message of help yourself so that you can help others. Selfcare has become a matter of survival.
In my world of special needs parenting, parenting a child with mental health risk and juvenile delinquency, selfcare becomes essential for survival. It is not just a flowery buzzword so that you can be a better person, or become a better version of yourself. It becomes a lifeline of survival. And not just for survival. It can become a path to the fountain of thriving.
Three Lessons in Selfcare
As I have embarked on this #365daysofselfcare journey, I have come to notice three things:
- Selfcare helps me to reframe my day. I am able to step back from the hard things and look at my day through a different lens. Through that lens I find space. I look at my day and ask: What is one thing I can do for myself today? Where are there tiny gaps of space where I might breathe today? Where are there bubbles of quiet where I can simply sit and be? In the car, in those few moments before the kids wake, in the shower, when I am folding laundry and everyone else is happily occupied. In the early morning hours when I can’t sleep so I sit by myself at the kitchen table. By reframing my day through a lens of selfcare I find that I am able to slow down, breathe, find calm even in the midst of a storm. That bubble of quiet can be grounding, and can help me to listen to what God has for me that day-from his Word, in prayer, in the words of truth and encouragement from others.
- Selfcare can be energizing. Finding that small moment where you breathe in and out, releasing the tension from your body, noticing that God has given you such a sweet moment. Did you know that this can actually change your brain chemistry and give your body energy? Whether I am on a run, or taking a relaxing bath, there is a new sense of energy afterward. And more than just energy, I am often filled with new strength, perspective, and resolve. An ability to face the day with confidence and less fear. I have leaned into God and found a peace that surpasses all understanding, which leads me to joy, even in the toughest of circumstances.
- Selfcare leads me to thankfulness. When I take moments to care for myself, where my body and mind have an opportunity to calm down, where I find a few moments to breathe, I am able to find at least one thing to be thankful for…and in this one thing I can see God’s goodness. When I am overwhelmed and overcome with feelings of self-doubt, fear, anxiety, and hurt, my focus is often turned inward and I inevitably am trying to find grounding in my own strength…and that strength is honestly as strong as sinking sand. Yet, even in the darkest of days, when I take that moment to take care of myself, a glimmer of light and hope start to break through and begin to actually shatter the darkness. Sometimes it takes several selfcare moments over several days to begin to see hope and light and goodness. Yet, without fail those moments come. God speaks his promises of faithfulness in that space that selfcare has created. The noise of lies and self-doubt are silenced, and I can hear him speak his love over me. Finding and naming what I am thankful for has become a part of my selfcare journey, and in that I find strength and resolve to face even the toughest of days because I know tomorrow is coming and God will give me another day with a moment to breathe.
Thriving with Selfcare
Wouldn’t it be amazing, especially in this time of COVID-19 pandemic, to thrive and not just to simply survive? That is my desire anyways. I believe that God did not make us in his own image just to survive the hardships of life. Instead, he created us in his image so that we can thrive and experience emotions of love, peace, and joy. But life is hard and challenging and unexpected.
In this last year, along with the essentials of faith, family and friends support, therapy and being part of my church community, I have found that selfcare is a piece to the puzzle of thriving…a piece that continually and consistently helps me thrive, not just survive. I have learned that selfcare is life-giving to me and those in my path. Rather than being a selfish use of my time, selfcare has helped me be intentional with my moments throughout the day. It has opened my eyes and given me clarity, changed my perspective, given me energy, and has grounded me through the hills and valleys.
What does your selfcare look like? Do you struggle to find time for selfcare? When would be a moment tomorrow where you can practice selfcare?