Sunday, January 29, 2012

Putting Myself At the Top of The List

I remember the first time I heard the term "self-care." From a psychologist, naturally. I remember being flummoxed, thinking "Huh. Now what does that mean?"

I shudder to think how not care-ful I used to be (sometimes still can be) with myself. I was the high emperor of powering through, staying up all night, forgetting to eat until I was ready to collapse. I was my own slavedriver, poised above the sled yelling mush! mush! Faster into the night!

I see now some of what it was about. It was about saying yes to everybody so that they would love and approve of and be pleased with me. It was about asking for permission to be alive, to exist. It was about having no clue who I was. It was about the Cinderella thing, and the martyr thing, and a general lack of control and/or self-worth.

I remember that the psychologist wouldn't pin down for me exactly what taking care of oneself meant. As always, I was looking for someone else to give me the rules to follow. Eventually I figured out that it's tricky, because it means different things to different people, and even different things to the same person depending on the situation, the day, the hour.

Some days it means realizing that I'm almost out of food and I should go the grocery store before I start rampaging through the kitchen, starving, gnawing on raw pasta from the back of the pantry. Some days it means powering through some work because I know I won't be able to relax until it's done. Some days it means saying "Eff it, I'm going to happy hour!" and others it means saying "Eff it, I'm skipping happy hour and going home to my jammies." (Jammies tend to factor huge in my self-care schemes.)

I guess basically it's about meeting your own needs. Part of why I had so much trouble with that early on was that I couldn't even identify my own needs. I was living in a hellish fantasy world in which I was pretending I didn't have any needs, or if I did they were the least important needs in the room. (The possible reasons for this could fill a long, boring book, which I will generously spare you from reading. Yet!)

But, after years of hard work, soul-searching, and transformation, I'm here to tell you that I am finally capable of feeding and bathing myself regularly. Wooooo!

No, I know it goes deeper than that. It's about, respec-choself. It's about, you take care of your shit, and I'll take care of mine. It's about taking responsibility for your own life and not waiting for someone to tell you you have a right to be here. It's about you saying to yourself, for yourself, I have a right to be here. And I have a right to be happy and at peace. I have a right to maintain my equilibrium. And what am I going to do about it?

Lately I've been writing a to-do list in the morning, but as I write it I cross-check with a list of my longer-term priorities and goals-- things like friends, financial stability, career goals, maintaining a pleasant place to live, creative pursuits, etc. It helps me remember to do things in the "Important But Not Urgent" category like calling my aunt, making coffee dates with friends, setting aside time in my day to do the things I actually want to do in life. Otherwise I tend to get bogged down with the pressing yet mundane tasks of the day-to-day. 

But at the top of this list of priorities, at the advice of several of my most cherished self-help gurus, I put - -  drumroll, please... myself.

It's really shocking how not-naturally this came. Even writing about it to you, dear diary-slash-world-of-anonymous-internet-readers, gives me a moment of panic that it sounds decadent, narcissistic, selfish, fluffy.

Eff that, though. Because after all the years of strung-out heartache, I've learned that I can't come through for anyone unless I come through for myself. I've learned that I'm seriously no help when I'm unhealthy, fatigued, depressed, filled with hunger-rage, bloated and guilty on junk food, stressed, overworked, wrung out like a dirty dishrag. And I've learned that even when my impulse to totally bleed out for someone or something is triggered, the impulse is not actually as selfless as you might think.

So there. I'm saying, I've been putting myself at the top of the list lately and it's a good thing. I'm better, happier, more patient, more energetic. It feels awesome, actually, thank you very much. It's a relief. To quote Robert Hass, self-love is the one weedy stalk of every human blossoming.

On the one hand I'm thinking, damn this all sounds so freaking remedial. What kind of grown adult needs to learn how to feed, clothe, bathe, dress, rest, love herself?

But on the other hand, life as a grown adult is hard. W-2 forms? 1040-E? What's that all about? Rent gas electric, plus all these human beans and their human bean relationships, and then you've got the vast chasm of your own human moods and emotions and thoughts, plus you're supposed to eat right and exercise and get involved with the community and remember to take a canvas bag instead of using plastic? Plus trying to make your dreams come true here and there? Plus periodic wrenches of illness and death thrown in? This shit's a gauntlet. To quote the woman in period garb who taught the colonial candle-making workshop I went to yesterday: "Life is terminal." 

Meanwhile, I'm trying to learn to trust a little more. Not sure to whom exactly this trust is targeted (universe? higher power? laws of karma? flying spaghetti monster?) but I don't think it matters that much. It helps to feel like I'm being taken care of.  Like, I'll do what I can for myself (and when it comes down to it there's a lot that I can do) and after that, you know what, life? It's on you.

Human spawn finding a parking lot hilariously fun and entertaining.
Frankly if I were the deus ex machina there are some things I would set up a little differently. But I'm not. And when I'm able to pull my head out of my own navel for a few seconds and look around a little and see things like, I don't know, the brussels sprout. The sky. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. This hand-stitched quilt my friend C made for me. The ocean. Impressionist paintings. My nieces and nephew, little tiny pink balls of life that came out of my cousin's body and started growing into these tiny little hilarious people... I look at these things and think, you know what? Whoever or whatever set all these things in motion, maybe he/she/they/it is smarter and more awesome than I'm giving it credit for.

What do you think, Gentle Reader? Is life to be trusted? How are you wielding the stalk of self-love in order to blossom?

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