When I was twenty-four, I broke myself. My whole darn self.
I was a passionate, young teacher, coach, and administrator. I threw myself into doing everything I could for the school where I taught and my kids (I called them my ‘cute ones’). There was never going to be that day again, that kid, that moment. The finality of it all was so evident to me that everything was urgent. I was the kid running down the beach trying to save every single starfish.
In perhaps a bit of precocious wisdom, one of my students wrote me a thank you note that said, “You give until I fear you might give out.” Less than a year later, his compliment turned prediction. I gave out, literally, on the floor of a pharmacy, no ID on me. I awoke to firemen calling an ambulance for Jane Doe.
I know who I am, I told them. I still got sent to the emergency room.
A week later, I was back in the emergency room, coughing up blood. The same doctor was on call– the one who had told me the week before that he was willing to keep seeing me in the emergency room if I was willing to keep landing myself there.
Landing myself? I sputtered. I have infections. I didn’t give myself these infections. I scoffed.
You also didn’t stop yourself to rest, the doctor reminded me.
I have this theory that life keeps handing you the lesson you need to learn until you learn it. Looking back now, I can see all these ways that life, the universe, the God of my understanding was telling me to slow down, to care for myself, to find a sense of sanity in the madness that I was not just swirling in, I was creating. And, yet, I can also see all the ways I validated ignoring those cues until life amplified the volume so profoundly that I found myself in the same emergency room within days of each other, the same kind-eyed doctor staring me down, telling me it was not the infections that were doing me in. I was doing me in.
That ended up being a pretty big lesson for me. It inadvertently forced the end of a slowly blossoming but lovely relationship (That said, looking back, how much is really inadvertent? I do remember, at the time, thinking that my inability to care for myself at all- not even enough to eat or drink at reasonable intervals- surely meant that I couldn’t care for/about that particular man at all right then and that the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ subtext of what I told him really was true in this case), it led to a career change, a new way of life, my adult-onset athleticism (as I like to call it). If I am honest with you, I need to admit that this wasn’t the first time life had tried to bring this lesson into focus for me. I had a comeuppance with self-care in high school and a few teachers intervened. I went another few rounds in the boxing rink with it in college (Caring for myself is selfish, damn it! I need to be doing for others, always, I insisted). And though, perhaps, I got out of the dismal health binds I descended into at those times, I hadn’t yet fixed the problem. Hence, there I was at 24, broken again in a way that was familiar to me, suddenly aware that I had to fix this situation.
Forced to stay home to recover and armed with a diagnosis of hypoglycemia among other things, I pulled a bunch of tools out of my tool kit (it wasn’t that I was tool-less, in fact, as an educator, I was a passionate collector and creator of tools. It was that I was reluctant to care for myself) and met with a nutritionist to create a personal wellness plan. It was a time where I learned that food and choices and movement and quiet could be medicine. I used the wheel of life exercise, my birthday list, journaling, and movement and nutrition to create wellness in my life.
And for a long time those lessons stuck.
Lately, though, I’ve found myself in that place where the list is too long and the days are too short again. Where every single thing feels like it matters- it does matter- and I can’t figure out what I can give up so little parts of what matters just to me are being given up- I haven’t worked out this month- this from a girl who likes to be in motion, our dinners are becoming simpler and simpler (at least they aren’t nutritionally devoid, there’s just a whole lot of roasted and steamed veggies going on over more intricate fare that I love to create and cook with the kid and then enjoy as a family), I’ve read about 30 total pleasure pages this month (as opposed to 30 in a night), I revert to the list at every moment but it is so dense that no amount of effort seems to put a respectable dent in it.
When I was in high school and things were frenetic, I would sometimes wish that a little thing that was big enough but not too big would happen to give me some breathing room– a broken arm, let’s say, or walking pneumonia. That truth about high school Rosie makes me so, so sad. It is such a statement about how stuck I felt, how disempowered I felt to meet my own needs when I felt so empowered to meet the needs of others.
Recalling that coping mechanism grounds me. I don’t want to be the girl (woman) who can’t get her own needs met. I don’t want to still be learning this lesson 20 years later. I don’t want to wish for medical intervention because I can’t facilitate my own. I want to be honest and authentic and empowered with myself in the good times and the bad times and the dense times, too.
So, it is dense right now. It just is because of what I’ve said yes to and, right now, there’s no saying no- there’s just through. I have to get myself through it to the other side. But I have to do it in a way that’s kind to me and whole-hearted and takes into account the things that I love, the things that I need, and the things that I need to do (not JUST the things that I need to do).
At the beginning of each semester, I ask my students to tell me in their body image autobiographies how they care for themselves each day and how they show themselves a lack of care and concern. Ultimately, I will have them write a prescription for their self-care at the end of the semester. I’ve written my prescription in the past, but it’s not enough to just know what it calls for; I have to do it, too. So, next week, I’ll share my prescription here and, with it, I’ll shift some of my laser-like focus away from just doing it and put some of it on being, on my being, too. Because I am just too old and, hopefully, too smart to break myself again.
Do you have a prescription for self-care? What does it include? Has your life made a case for self-care in some way? How are you doing with self-care right now?