“When is the last time you did something for yourself?” my therapist asked softly. My brain raced. Um, like what? Brushing my teeth? I told her I really didn’t like manicures and pedicures, if that’s what she meant. Keith often urged me to do the things I love – read a novel, take a walk, grab a coffee, or get a massage – and I always declined.
The answer was complicated. How do I explain an entire lifetime of trying to be … be… well, this woman who doesn’t even exist? How do I explain that the mythical woman I want to be doesn’t need help and doesn’t need pampering? How do I say, without offending another woman, that pedicures don’t solve anything?
The woman I was supposed to be was Wonder Woman and Mother Teresa and Princess Kate all rolled into one. I was supposed to be good at everything. My calendar was never too full for one more good thing. Isn’t that what a good working mom does? Doesn’t she brush off the inconveniences and struggles and forge ahead, pushing her toddler’s stroller while wearing her perfect outfit and carrying her designer diaper bag?
(No. Not at all.)
My reserves were depleted. I was exhausted without knowing why. I looked in the mirror and didn’t know who stared back. I looked at my husband and wondered why he loved me. I didn’t know what had happened or who I was becoming. And that terrified me more than anything else.
So, when the therapist suggested I take Keith’s advice and go for a walk or coffee sometimes, I decided to listen. If she was wrong, so be it, but I had to try something.
I went for walks. I told Henry to let Keith pour juice, give him a bath, or change his diaper. I learned to say, “Your daddy loves you too, Henry. You need to let him help you. Mommy needs a break.” Even as I said those words, I felt ridiculous. A break from what?, I wondered. Still, I kept at it, hoping the magic would eventually work. And it did work.
Slowly, I began to feel more alive, more like myself. Most significant to my recovery, perhaps, was saying yes when Keith offered to tuck Henry in bed and send me out for the evening. I might escape to the back porch or I might hide in my bed. It didn’t matter as along as I was alone and, at least for awhile, no one needed me.
The answer had been so simple all along.
One little word changed everything. In wondering what was wrong with me, I had considered every other possible angle, from imbalanced hormones to bad influences to poor decisions. I researched new vitamin supplements, pulled away from friends, and even tried a new career. Until that day in the therapist’s office, I never realized all I had to do was change the word I said over and over again.
While I said yes to everyone else’s needs, I always said no to mine. The gift is that my husband saw it when I didn’t.
Now, if someone asks when was the last time I took care of myself, I can say, “This morning.”
To think about:
It takes daily intentionality – mental energy, if you will – to maintain balance. Do you have trouble with yes and no? With taking time for yourself?
Who in your life is (or can be) your accountability partner? We all need someone who is willing to call us out, both gently and firmly, when we aren’t being kind to ourselves.
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments here or on Facebook!