When I was in Kindergarten my teacher asked me to help her pass something out to the class. I don't remember the details, but something she said stuck with me for almost 20 years afterward. I was going to give it to myself first and as I went to lay it down at my desk, she said, "always serve others before you serve yourself."
That was the approach I took for the next 2 decades of my life.
I love people! In my efforts to please people I would often bend over backwards to do things seeking approval or do things for others that left me unfocused. (More on that in the upcoming post some day about boundaries).
I also did it because it was easier to pour into others than have to tune in to myself. It can be easier to be too busy focusing on others than to have to feel.
I also had guilt. I didn't realize that subconsciously I had fear to love myself. I didn't want to appear narcissist.
As I grew from girl to woman, I accumulated other reasons. Most also centering around guilt, but also overwhelm. With 3 small children in 3 years (Sennika turned 3 in May and Leland was born that same August), I literally could not get to everything already. I was struggling with even basics. I could hardly keep 3 little ones fed, clean diapers, and dressed, let alone keep up with laundry and housework. How in the world could I possibly carve out time for myself more than quick personal prayers and usually about a chapter of scriptures a day? There was NO WAY...or so I thought.
The irony is that I thought I was doing my family a favor by continuing to press forward day after sleepless night after day. Having little ones so close together followed by our journey with addiction compelled me to understand that actually wasn't the case. I was seeking to give to my family and others; however, my cup I was drawing from was empty.
I was also seeking to fill my family in ways that I have now come to realize I cannot....just as other sources cannot fill me past a quick fix. As I have learned to drink deeply and be filled by the atonement, I am carried to do more and be more.
YES my self care does come in trade-offs. I cannot do everything for everyone all of the time. Things are left undone. He helps me to be more effective and efficient at those things that I do need to take care of. Plus, we all do better when we feel better. When I am taking care of myself, I am a completely different wife, Mama, and person!
TCOY---I was overjoyed when my daughter came home from Kindergarten one day last year and told me what her teacher had taught her. TCOY or Take Care of Yourself. I am thankful for the lessons of the past and I am thankful that my little one is learning a lesson earlier in life than me.
We must TCOY to be able to give. President Erying said:
"Even though extended and loving service to people is richly rewarded, you have learned that there are physical, emotional, and financial limits to what is possible. The person giving care long enough can become the one who needs care.
The Lord, who is the Master Nurturer of people in need, gave inspired counsel to weary caregivers in these words delivered by King Benjamin and recorded in the Book of Mormon: 'For the sake of retaining a remission of your sins … I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.'6
But then He goes on to warn those of you who might fail to respond to the evidence that you are pushing on too far and too long in your loving service: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man [or any caregiver] should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”7That counsel can be hard to apply when the choice seems to be balancing a desire to do all you can to help others with the wisdom to be prudent in meeting your own needs to retain your power to serve. You may have seen others struggle with such hard choices."
Partnering with God---So what does focused look like? I think we know when we are focused and feeling filled. I know sometimes that fact that my focus is off may be easier for me to recognize. I truly believe the details of what makes and keeps us filled are unique; however, they fit into the categories of physical, emotional, and spiritual. It is the self care, or what we are doing to TCOY, that brings this feeling of being fed. I have learned that it is only filling when we cover all 3 areas consistently.
eating well with well-balanced meals, low sugar or processed foods
adequate sleep at night or naps
drinking enough water
vitamins or supplements
hobbies (running, reading, etc) whatever lights me up
positive "time outs" (go in the bathroom with the door locked and flip the fan on if I am starting to lose my cool)
keep schedules and commitments as simple as possible
check-in's with Mark (explained in a future post)
date night weekly
personal time out of the house without little ones (grocery shopping counts!)
Occasional girls' nights
reaching out (who can you call or text, any time of the day to get out of your head?)
counseling sessions (private or group)
"new age hippie" stuff such as essential oils, energy healing, guided imagery, yoga
serving somebody else
personal prayers x 2
weekly church attendance
...Hopefully you catch the idea. Just because your self care didn't make the list, don't sweat about it. WHATEVER keeps you in a good place is what you need to do. Also, my self care routine changed based on what I needed. There are a few core things from each category that have stayed constant, but for example, when I was doing deep trauma work I found I needed to increase my exercise, sleep, and do more to treat myself like a bubble bath or extra time to read a good book so I could process through things in a healthy way.
It's important to realize that I am not advocating for a "list" mentality. Self care can become more than something we check off for the sake of saying we did it for the day. It gives me an opportunity to tune into myself, my needs, and what is going on with me.
If I am feeling unstable, I ask myself what I need. Maybe I am impatient with the kids because what I really need is a nap, not necessarily toys picked up. Maybe I feel rushed and overwhelmed because what I really need is to clear away a few things from my calendar, not necessarily the appearance of having it all together. If I feel off, it's usually because I cut corners in my self-care or need more self-care.
You are probably going to guess my challenge to you. It is to rough out a self care plan AND write it down. What do you need from all 3 of these categories daily, weekly, monthly, or as needed? If that seems overwhelming, what is one thing from each of these categories that you can do or need most.
THIS talk from Elder Sabin "Stand Up Inside and Be All In" was so good! In particular, I loved the story he told of being at a scout campout. In the morning he has one scout how he had slept. He found out that the scout had been cold. When he asked if his sleeping bag wasn't warm enough, the scout sheepishly admitted to leaving his bag rolled up all night. He had gone through hours of shivering and being cold because he didn't want to go to the 5 minutes of effort it would require to roll his bag up in the morning. He points out that we may think it's silly, but we all do it. This is how I feel about self care. In my mind I my tell myself I don't have time or whatever else to do my self care. But if we just take the time to do self-care, we can be in our sleeping bags comfortably, rather than freezing as we stare right at the answer.
Also, consider this fabulous speech given to women at BYU-Idaho Devotional "Live in the Present, but Keep your Eye on Eternity," by Sister Wixom. She gives the "why" of learning to be still and do those things that help us keep an eye on eternity.
Let me offer one caution to consider. It isn't self care itself that gives us strength. It's not about the things we do, but the ways God and Christ can fill us, arm us with truth, and help us stay on course. Yes, when my body and my mind/emotions are cared for, it is easier to see to spiritual needs. However, for me, my self care is much more than just something to do or check off the box. Just like I plug in my phone or iPad to recharge it, self care is my time to plug into God. To turn to my power source so that I am filled. This seemingly tiny discovery has been really important to deeper understanding. Self care can't save me. Jesus Christ can (He will work through means to guide me back to God. Even still, it is Him, not those means that hold the power to heal, teach, and improve).