You guys, yesterday took it out of me. Mind you I did almost nothing, but still, somehow I was exhausted from it. It wasn’t until this morning that I fully realized what was going on. It wasn’t anything specific about yesterday at all. Yesterday was great actually: I wrapped some gifts, I listened to some music, I finally got the chance to watch a Christmas special I put in my Netflix queue 2 years ago. I think it was the Netflix special that got me. Seriously. I thought “Why haven’t I seen this before? This is from… wait, 2015? IT’S BEEN 2 YEARS??!!” And then it hit me. I need to rest. My last two Christmases have been filled with preparing for the next thing… and I am still in that mode.
A few years ago I made a significant life shift. I left my job/career, went back to school, and started this whole new adventure. It has been wonderful, and has required a lot of energy. And it required balance. One of the ways that I found balance was to pace myself – get plenty of rest, don’t overload myself with courses or outside engagements, and focus on the work. Slow and steady wins the race. There is a calmness to Slow and Steady that I truly enjoy. There is also a constancy to Slow and Steady that can be both comforting and ever present. The time between classes wasn’t really a break as much as a time to faithfully plod along. Summers weren’t vacations as much as opportunities to lighten my schedule during the Fall and Spring. It worked extremely well: I got good sleep on a regular basis and I completed school in a stress-reduced manner. But, of course, no plan is perfect. This is a great way to operate in the short term, but now it is time to make space for vacations again.
Self-care. It can comes in many forms, and at different points in our lives, it can mean different things. For me it usually means maintaining balance in my life – managing stress and getting enough sleep, experiencing happiness and joy, and expressing gratitude. Also staying true to my values and following my inner wisdom – that part is absolutely key. All the sleep in the world can’t even out a violation of ethics. Whenever I start to feel “off” in some way, it usually means that something in my life is out of balance.
During grad school practicing self-care meant not taking vacations or extended periods away from my school work. I found that too much time away from my school work increased my stress and disrupted my sleep, which then would throw me completely off. As counterintuitive as it may seem, to take a vacation or a “break” was incredibly stressful for me. The task at hand was simply too great, and it was time limited. I could handle the task knowing that there was an end to it, but I could not handle getting behind on the task… at least not this task. So I found other ways to relax – mindfulness, sleep, donuts with friends.
After almost two years I found myself taking my first vacation – a few days away to attend my college reunion. I had a few days in between classes and I was going to make the most of it… and I did. I got there and felt like I was home. I was lighter, more free, and… I could swear I was back in college again! My body eventually fact-checked me on that one… but fortunately it took a while for the data to come in, and for one glorious night I set aside being an old, responsible grad student and was an undergraduate singing and dancing to hair bands.
Today I’m trying to find a rhythm to my self-care – a balance. Getting through difficult tasks in tact isn’t a problem for me. I’m actually pretty great at that. But now that it’s done, and I have a moment to stop, I can see… and feel… how tired I am. And as I keep moving forward – and the goal isn’t quite as large, clearly defined, or time limited – my personal task is to actively make space for self-care, whether I think I need it or not. Because while I might very well be able to keep going, why would I do that? There is so much in this world to enjoy that I am going to miss if I am just “managing”… and may not even realize that I’m missing it.
Self-care is a funny term because it sounds like it is all about the individual. And on one level it absolutely is – it is an individual recognizing and tending to their own needs, caring for themselves. I worked with two women who hated the term – they couldn’t stand it… until I said “self-care, out of balance, is selfishness.” They had both had negative experiences with people using the phrase to get out of work, forcing others to pick up the slack. That isn’t self-care. Self-care is about connection – connection to your vulnerabilities and your strengths, and tending to your needs. Oftentimes when someone practices self-care regularly, one result is that they are able to more authentically and effectively connect with others. Self-care isn’t selfish, it is in service to both the individual and the community.
So here I sit, having spent the weekend doing some light reading, wrapping gifts, watching several Christmas specials, and engaging in canine quantities of sleep. I’m a bit more well rested than I was yesterday, and as I’m typing this I find myself profoundly grateful for my space in life. My current tired is a good tired, a happy tired. I needed to rest, and I need to continue to make space for rest, but on the whole, I feel very fulfilled and grateful. Seems like a good time to plan a vacation.