Once again, I have been asked by BlogHer staff to answer a couple of questions about finding balance and happiness in life. The inquiry this go-around was:
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How do you put yourself first? How does taking time for yourself help make you happier?
Wow. Tough question. As a mother of small children whose husband traveled nearly every week, I didn’t used to think putting myself first was even an option. It wasn’t until I literally began losing my sense of self and hit a crisis point that I realized I hadn’t even put myself on the list, much less anywhere near the top.
As girls and then women, so many of us were steeped in the tradition of caring for others above all else. We have a biological disadvantage that further complicates the matter, because our brains actually give us a shot of oxytocin (a hormone that reduces anxiety and promotes connection between us and others) when we empathize or take care of someone or something else. We literally feel better when we are nurturing something other than ourselves. Great for promoting motherly love and bonding. Not so much for promoting self-care.
It took a lot of therapy and some really vocal people in my life to convince me that taking care of myself was actually a way to continue to take care of other people better. If I’m a broken-down shell of a human, I’m not much use to my kids or my husband or that cause I so fervently believe in. If I am so depressed I can’t manage to get out of bed in the morning, I’m not doing anybody any good.
Ultimately, though, the most important, most penetrating message I received was from someone who pointed out that I am raising daughters. Daughters who are watching me wear myself out in the unending pursuit of caring for everyone else around me – anticipating and meeting their needs and smoothing out wrinkles wherever I go. Daughters who are learning by osmosis, like little tea bags absorbing all of my “I will take care of everyone else before myself” liquid, that this is the highest, best use of one’s self. Especially if you are a mom. Is that what I want for my girls? To grow up and be of service to everyone else at their own expense?
No, it’s not what I want. And so when I put my own little girl self in their place and ask what I want for her, it is that she feel loved. Honored. Free to follow her dreams. Comfortable in her own skin.
It took months, but I made it a point to sit down for at least five minutes every day and ask myself what I wanted. What would make me happy? And what could I do toward that today? What small step could I take both for myself and in an effort to be an example for my girls that I am important, too? That my needs are just as vital as anyone else’s.
Over the years I have gone back to writing, making sure to take time every day to ignore paperwork, housework, the whining of the dog, and just write. Because that is one thing that makes me happy. I have also made my health a priority, getting together with a friend at least once a week to walk or take a yoga class and taking cooking classes at the local organic food co-op. More than anything, though, I have given myself permission to have fun. No longer do I watch my children with envy as they scale the jungle gym or sprawl out in a fort they made and stocked with books and snacks. Just as I make sure they have time to play every day in addition to the practices and schoolwork and chores they do, I give myself the same consideration. Some days that means hiding in the corner with my iPad playing solitaire or reading. Other days I crank up the music and dance through the kitchen or get out the fingerpaints and make a mess.
What I have learned is that I am the only person who can choose to make me happy. And while nurturing my growing family and caring for others gives me a great deal of satisfaction, affirming that I am one of the most important people I know and nurturing myself is just as pleasurable. The more self-worth I have, the better others treat me and taking time out to honor myself and all my hard work lets my girls know they can do the same for themselves.
As before, you can click on this link to enter the sweepstakes and win a Kindle Fire.
You can also read BlogHer’s expert’s answer to the question.
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/8 Comments/by kariodriscollwriter_fan60j
My sleep was interrupted by an epic dream last night. The kind that just keeps going no matter how many times you rouse and turn over and acknowledge that it is a dream. The kind that, while it isn’t disturbing, it doesn’t exactly please you to be having and you wish it would just stop.
I found myself annoyed that it just kept starting again, like some gremlin had stolen the remote control and was forever changing the channel back to that one I was trying to avoid.
Before opening my eyes to the sun this morning, I lie in bed pondering the dream itself. It isn’t often that I can even remember my dreams, especially once I set out to pursue them, but this one was persistent. So persistent that I figured it was meaningful to try and figure it out. I used the Carrie Wilson Link method. She once taught me that our dreams are always about ourselves and are the path our subconscious uses to teach us. When we assume that each and every player and symbol in the dream represents some part of ourselves, we can begin to decipher the meaning of the dream.
I decided to dive in. This dream featured a book about cancer and some revolutionary treatment. I was to read and review the book, but for some reason I was actively resisting doing so. As I made my way through the dream, I began to realize that the reason I was avoiding the book was because I was afraid that by reading the book I would somehow not only realize that the cure was viable and revolutionary, but that I would then find myself in a position to need it. I was afraid that reading the book would give me cancer, or lead me to realize that I already had it, and that I would then need to embark on this treatment regimen. And if I didn’t, even though I had now learned about the cure, I would be discovered. Everyone would know that I knew about my own illness and refused to treat it in a way that would surely cure me.
I slept the entire night without ever lifting the book or peeking inside, so I don’t know any of the details of the “cure.” Turns out it doesn’t really matter.
As soon as I began applying Carrie’s wisdom to analyzing my dream, I was dismayed. There is something in my life that I know no longer serves me. A habit I have that I have resisted changing for so many reasons (none of them particularly important), and steadfastly ignored. It isn’t one that is terribly harmful, but it’s true that it doesn’t really serve a purpose in the life I am trying to create for myself. A life where I treat my body well, with mindful eating and drinking, getting enough sleep and exercise, meditation and compassion. This is a holdover from the time in my life when I assumed by body would be served by good genes and youth and would withstand whatever I put it through as long as, every once in a while, I took a break to exercise and eat well and “catch up.”
I know the problem.
I know the “cure.”
I am not addressing either.
Perhaps it’s time.
Thanks for visiting my site. I’m driven by the exploration of human connection and how we can better reconnect to ourselves, our families, and our communities. Aside from my books, I hope you’ll check out my blog, and some of my other writing to find more perspectives and tools.
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