Hard Lessons in Self Care

A few years ago, I was hit by a car. I was surprisingly okay, considering what happened, but I was left with a lingering back issue that I maintained mostly with exercise, massage, and chiropractic care. Until I wasn’t.

You see, what I do is really important. I work for nonprofits as their behind-the-scenes, fixer-of-all-problems consultant. Something like an organizational McGuyver. And on top of that, I’m a mother of an almost-two-year old. Between my constantly urgent work and my commitment to my daughter, I found myself taking care of me less and less.

And then I was taking care of me none. Absolutely none. And then? I woke up yesterday with an arm I couldn’t completely feel and a neck I couldn’t move.

Unable to comfortably sit to type or to focus through my pain, I was useless to my clients. But more importantly? My daughter was suddenly aware I couldn’t hold her, and the absence of this affection made her crave it even more vehemently. Talk about a heartbreaking moment? She asked me, “Mama, please pick me up to cuddle?” And I had to say no. I said no, to a delicious baby snuggle. I was failing everything I cared most about, because I failed myself first.

We do this so often. We overextend. We see our tanks emptying and assume we’ll be ok for a few more days, a few more weeks. We pretend not to notice as we slip from 100% to 80% to 60%. And suddenly we’re at 0%, and all must stop to accommodate it, rather than planning breaks well in the first place.

Not to go all “life coach” on you, but here’s the thing: The world needs you in working order. Every obligation you have? It requires the version of you that functions fully.

I’m learning, through this, to give myself permission. There’s nothing selfish about it. I’m a worse mother and a worse consultant and a worse wife and a worse friend when I am literally deteriorating from lack of self-care.

This is not about spa days or meditation retreats. It’s not about green smoothies or sweat lodges. It’s about knowing what works for you and doing that thing.

Personally, I know I need to take care of my body, especially the site of my injuries. I know I am more creative when I take time to enjoy other people’s creativity through visual art, fiction, and even poetry. And I know I crave time learning. Each of those things keeps me vibrant and whole for all that I do that’s so important.

So what keeps you whole, change maker?