Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Choose Yourself: An Introduction to Self-Care

If you move in certain circles, you may already be familiar with the term self-care. You've seen the #selfcaresunday hashtags and you may even have a balanced routine that includes taking time out to meet more than your own basic needs.

If you're where I was – oh let's say 10 or 11 years ago – you're thinking you can barely take care of all the people who depend on you. Yourself? You're the afterthought and you're probably poised somewhere between locking yourself in the bathroom for a good cry and having a full-on nervous breakdown. You're doing it all...maybe you're stuck at home with your kids all day. You're cleaning house. You're shopping and running errands, and changing diapers and washing clothes and kissing boo-boos and listening to endless stories about Pok√©mon and hearing about the lovely lunch and adult conversation your partner had with co-workers while you were stuck at home feeling your brain dissolve. Maybe you get out of the house for an hour or two to take the kids to a playgroup where you gorge on Goldfish and apologize to your friends for your unwashed hair and stained t-shirt, but you never really get the interaction you want with your new mom friends because you're all constantly interrupted. Maybe your story is a little different...throw in a career, rushing to pick kids up from aftercare, make dinner or grab fast food, get everyone to practice or help with homework, then crash into bed after one too many glasses of wine. The end result is the same.

You feel broken and depleted and sometimes you don't remember who you are anymore. You feel as if the essence of the woman you were before you had kids has vanished. And you feel like maybe that's how it's supposed to be. You've bought into the myth that the only way to be a good mother is to sublimate your needs for those of your child. 

I am here to tell you that this is absolutely not true. And if someone had told me this, I might not have wasted a decade or more hating myself, hating my life, falling into depression and letting the wounds in my marriage fester into wounds that could only scar over rather than being fully-healed.

September is National Self-Care Month, so this seemed like the perfect time to introduce those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept to the idea that you matter. Yes...you! And if you're not already, it's time you started devoting a little bit of time each week to yourself. (I was going to say every day, but I know some of y'all aren't ready for that.)

The first thing I want you to do is find a quiet place where you can be alone without kids or your partner for 5 or 10 minutes. In fact, here's a trick my friend K just taught me if you want to steal 20 and go get into a bubble bath while we do this exercise.... Tell your husband and kids you're having tummy troubles and you'll be in the bathroom. Lock the door, run a bubble bath, light some candles, put on some soft music, and ignore them when they inevitably come knocking. I'm not even kidding about ignoring them. If you're a single mom, you may have to wait until they're in bed, but do take a few minutes to do this exercise.

Now...close your eyes and think about the days before you were partnered up or had kids. Who were you? What did you love doing that you don't do anymore? And don't be ashamed of what you find there...we all...okay a lot of us...loved drinking and partying and having a wild time. That doesn't mean you have to do it now, but let yourself remember what it felt like to be purely yourself without worrying about what anyone else thought. Are you running a 5K or marathon? Reading a book in a quiet room while sipping tea? Did you feel most alive while hiking in Colorado or the Smoky Mountains and sleeping under the stars? Do you miss loving your body and the way you looked in certain clothes? Or having highlights in your hair? Do you see yourself sitting on the porch of a beach house laughing with your girlfriends until your snort or cry? Is there something you love doing that you quit because your partner doesn't enjoy it? Or something you love but you're worried your friends or your partner will mock you for? What makes you feel like the happiest version of yourself?

Okay...once you've got that image, the next step is to figure out the steps it takes to get you there. It won't happen overnight. Trust me.

It took me years to work up the courage to reclaim myself. In fact, I'm still discovering parts of myself that I buried. But, we're all always works in progress. the important thing is to start where you are and figure out what self-care looks like for your personally. For me, it meant taking care of my physical well-being which is closely tied to my mental health.

I was never very body confident. But after having kids it was even less so. I was ashamed and embarrassed and hurt every time my husband averted his eyes from me. But finding time to exercise felt impossible if I was going to be a "good mom" and on all the time. Part of my definition of being a good mom meant keeping a pristine house and while it wasn't June Cleaver perfect, I did okay. And honestly, while I did a yoga class once a week and occasionally walked, I was never an athlete. But there were two things I craved after having my first son: adult conversation and to feel attractive again. Through playgroups, I was able to cobble together some human interaction and eventually I met women who became life-long friends. Figuring out that I loved physical activity and where my passions lie took a lot longer. And some trial and error. But, what I was able to do, was to express to my partner the deep sadness and longing for the parts of me that were missing. And while it was difficult to ask for help, I did eventually let him know that I needed him to take care of his own kids one night a month so I could meet up with my girlfriends for a girls' night out free of children. And I made the decision to invest in myself by joining a gym and working with a trainer. My kids were in school and preschool by this point so that helped. But, I'm telling you, Mama, make time while they're little if fitness is something that matters to you or if you're struggling with your body image. I was amazed how wonderful I felt after each workout. Tapped out for sure, but stronger, healthier, and over time far more confident than I had ever been. And I wish I hadn't waited so long to care for myself.

Because here's the secret no one tells you.... When your spirit is depleted and you feel like you're nurturing everyone around you but you're not taking care of your own needs, you have less to give. It weighs on you and you get short and angry and frustrated and feel put upon. You start to resent the people you love who depend on you. And eventually, you will end up physically and emotionally wiped out.

So, if it's physical activity you crave, find a gym with childcare or sign-up with a Beachbody coach and access their online workouts and do one every day while the baby sleeps. Laundry and dust bunnies will be there later. Your sanity might not. If you want to get outdoors, ask your partner to commit to watching the kids one Saturday or Sunday a month while you go for a hike or go kayaking or whatever it is that makes your heart sing. Join a book club or Bunco group or the choir at church. Take a cooking class or pretend you're not feeling well and hide in your room reading a book. If you're single or you have a partner who refuses to help out because he works, find a girlfriend in a similar situation and trade childcare. If your parents or sister lives nearby, ask them for help. Or save $10 of grocery money a week and hire a sitter once a month so you can get out of the house and do something for yourself. Recognizing that you are a human being with needs of your own is nothing to be ashamed of.

Looking for smaller ways to start? What's your favorite type of music? Do you listen to it every day? Or do you only listen to crappy children's music? Next time you're in the car, crank up that Led Zeppelin or John Mayer or Ludacris or Sam Hunt or Miley. A bad word in a song isn't going to scar your kids and you'll have a chance to influence their future musical tastes.

Or maybe you feel more like yourself when your hair is washed and you have on makeup but you never find time to do it. This is a case where you may need to rob Peter to pay Paul by sacrificing 30 minutes of sleep in the morning. But whatever it takes, if being clean and having a little color on your face makes you feel good, then get up and do it. Shower and throw a little BB cream or tinted moisturizer on, put on a coat of mascara, and a tinted lip gloss and you're good to go. And don't let anyone make you feel ashamed for taking care of yourself. You'll be a better, happier mama for it and your kids will see that and, in turn, they will be happier.

So...what does self-care look like to you? I'd love to help you map out your path to a happier, healthier you. 

Post your answers in the comments below. Then, like Belle of the Blog on Facebook and follow @belleoftheblog on Instagram and you will be entered to win a free bottle of Young Living Stress Away essential oil.