saving my sanity

I forgot to be nice to myself for a long time, and here’s what happened

Things have been, shall we say, stressful. As someone who scores pretty damn high on the privilege scale, I feel like a jerk for enumerating those stresses because they are totally the problems of the privileged. I have a very busy (full time, salaried, benefits paying, secure) job that costs me plenty of missed downtime and sleep, a major renovation looming (on a home we own in a city we love), a dissertation that demands lots of time and energy (which is part of a PhD I’ll be completing debt free), a couple of side research projects that are ramping up, and a history of sliding into states of (luckily mostly mild) depression, the triggers for which tend to be major stress and the failure to exercise self-care. And as a confirmed perfectionist, I’m very bad at cutting myself slack.

But–first world problems are still problems, especially when they start to become debilitating. And when Saturday came around–a beautiful sunny day that I’d normally give anything to be outside in–and all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch, mainline Friday Night Lights on Netflix, have a little sniffle and feel sorry for myself, I knew something was wrong. After weeks of pushing myself to my limits, my limits pushed back. That this was about to happen shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since Saturday was presaged by a whole bunch of warning signs that I had been ignoring, most of which involved my total failure to practice self-care. Carrots replaced with chocolate? Major lack of exercise? Mindless surfing taking the place of reading? More takeout than cooking? Work upon work upon work? Meditation practice off the rails? Waking up in the middle of the night to obsess about all the things I was doing and all the things that I wasn’t getting done? Incredible difficulty getting out of bed in the morning? Failure to take my vitamins? Checkity check check check. It amazes me how thoroughly I can put my mental and physical health on the back-burner when work and stress come ‘a calling. 
Just as a studies have started to show that frowning may cause depression as much as depression causes frowning, my failure to take care of myself exacerbates stress and depression just as much as stress and depression make me fail to take care of myself. It doesn’t help that we work in a culture that tells us that work should come before everything else. Or that that same culture subtly reinforces the idea that our bodies are just vehicles for our brilliant brains and deserve only as much care as we need to give them to keep functioning. But after Saturday’s meltdown, I realized that I needed to do better. Waiting to treat things once they become problems doesn’t make much sense, and practicing some self-care is the best way for me to prevent something mostly manageable from become major.

So, little by little, I’m trying to regain the practice of self-care that my body and mind forcibly reminded me I need. It’s hard to do when all you want to do, and feel capable of doing, is a whole bunch of nothing. But the more you do, the more you do. I’ve gone for a couple of runs since then, and spent some time in the garden. I’ve cooked dinner almost every night, and started in again on my giant “to read” pile. I’m taking a four day weekend, starting tomorrow, and I’m not going to think about my office job one bit.  And I’m finally celebrating the birthday that largely got lost amidst all the craziness.It helps, too, to know that it’s not just me. Even with all my privilege, I really can’t have it all (can anyone?), although that doesn’t stop me from trying. But I need reminders, like Boyda’s, and Jana’s, and Aimee’s, and Erin’s, and Margrit’s, that there’s more than work and responsibility, and that slacking and self-care are not synonyms.

How about you, dear readers? Have you had a facepalm total self-care failure recently? How’d you turn things around? 

3 thoughts on “I forgot to be nice to myself for a long time, and here’s what happened

  1. Thanks for this Mel! I had a long rambling comment typed out, but really it just amounts to that I appreciate you sharing this with us and that I also struggle with this. Personally I feel like the facepalm moments and the turnaround happens on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. And it's the constant self-correction that is difficult, the forming of new habits that keep you healthy & sane. Maybe we should form some sort of accountability association: How much time did you spend looking out a window today? Did you move in the last 25 minutes? Stop eating pastries! . . . .That sort of thing. 🙂


  2. A timely reminder, indeed!
    Over the years, I've become better at checking in with myself, at having boundaries between work and leisure, etc. Nonetheless, the academic life is not conducive to any kind of separation, and a lot of virtual ink was dedicated to explaining why that's a problem. I'm including here your post on the trouble with loving what you do. Therefore, a lot of the time–especially at the tail end of a long winter–I feel very close to the edge, so it takes something very ordinary, e.g., kids' sickness, to nearly tip me over. Good thing for the extended weekend, as you say! I'm banking on it to refuel, replenish, renew, insert your cliché here ;-).


  3. I need to stop booking myself on overnight flights, or flights that leave so early in the morning, that I have to get up in the middle of the night. I always am trying to “save” time, but this particular strategy does nothing but screw up my sleep patterns and exacerbate my jet lag.

    And! Here's something I continually fail at: I go to conferences that normally seem to span weekends, then when I get home on Monday or Tuesday, I go right back to the office. I just happened that I travelled two weekends in a row, and went to campus to work every day I was in town, such that I flew to two coasts in two weeks and worker for 15 days straight. And had a total flaming meltdown when every last bit of energy reserves I had left petered out.

    Oops. I do that EVERY YEAR. I never learn. I need to stop that.


Comments are closed.