Self-care is a popular buzz word, it's of the moment and the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask first, in order to care for others is well used. However, for years I struggled with the term 'self-care' and the thought of putting myself first. Why? Because it has been engrained in me from childhood that we always put others before ourselves. Self-care, to me, was selfish.
Well, that was until I had a nervous breakdown, and I couldn't care for anyone, precisely because I had put myself last on my never ending to do list.
But let's go back in time before that to an appointment I had when renewing my life insurance. I am sat with my husband, answering the usual questions - when do you plan to retire? How is your health? Do you see your circumstances changing? etc. etc. All was routine and going well. Until the gentleman asked us both - what do you do outside of your job, do you have any hobbies or take part in regular activities? Well, my husband could say a few, such as going to the gym, running, playing his guitar, surfing, climbing, hiking...
But when it came to my turn to speak, I drew a blank. I thought 'looking after my children isn't considered a hobby, is it?!' I didn't even read books for pleasure anymore, I didn't run, play tennis or ride a bike. I sat there, not knowing what to say. I felt empty and sad that my life came down to just getting through each day. A treadmill of getting up, racing to work, rushing home, spending an hour with my children before putting them to bed, and then zoning out in front of TV programs I didn't even enjoy until it was bedtime.
I left the appointment with more than new life insurance cover. I walked out of that meeting with a deep knowing that things had to change, But I didn't know how they could. I didn't have the time, energy or money to do something for myself. I also felt that if I were to have a hobby or activity, I would be taking time away from others. It would be inherently selfish and wrong. I would just keep doing what I always did.
Cue my nervous breakdown!
Now, please understand, that my lack of self-care didn't cause my breakdown. The circumstances leading to my illness were far more complex than that. However, it was a contributing factor and created a compounding effect when combined with all the other facets of breakdown.
As part of my recovery, I spent long hours in bed, in and out of sleep. As I became stronger, I started to use this time to write and journal. In fact, journaling became a keystone to my getting well - thoughts out of your head on a piece of paper, in black and white, lose their power over you and enable you to see things for what they really are. As less of my time was spent in bed, I began to do things out of pure enjoyment - gardening, sweeping the front porch, walking around the block, going out for breakfast.
I then decided to write a list of all the things that gave me joy. On this list was, reading, drinking a lovely cup of coffee, walks in nature, riding a bike, playing tennis, horse riding, skipping, napping, a hot water bottle, a hug from someone I love... The last grew and grew, small acts of joy to bigger more extravagant moments of pleasure - such as a camping or a holiday in the sun.
My plan was to use this list and find something I could do each day. I had written it down and now I needed to take action on it. I soon found myself sipping coffee in our local café with my bike parked outside. On a sunny day I would play tennis in our local park with my husband (he soon added tennis to his hobby list!). Yes, I was off work, recovering, and had more time, but most of these things didn't cost me a penny. But most importantly, I began to enjoy life again. I began to feel more like myself again. Anxiety and overwhelm loosened their grip and a new confidence emerged.
Returning to work full time I was faced with the challenge of how do I find the time for these newfound pleasures in my life? There was still the hour commute each way, still children to get to and from our childminder, still meals to make, washing to sort and a house to clean. The simple solution for me was I stopped watching TV and I used my commuting time. I found an extra 3 hours per day in order to keeping doing what I enjoyed. On my commute I listen to podcasts and read books or had a nap. After the children went to bed, I would take a bath, journal, read poetry, do some yoga, or sit in the garden as the sun went down.
And then I found writing: my true love. Out of my journaling every day, I began to see writing as a remedy for life stresses. I began to see writing as my hobby, and as my love for it grew, I saw it as so much more than that. It became a purpose, a meaningful way of expressing who I am. It became pure joy to me. And soon, after I had eventually made the decision to work part time, I stepped fully into my role as a writer and started to blog and freelance.
So, what has this journey taught me - from sitting in an office drawing a blank, to writing this blog and soon to publish my first book? Well, the moral of this story is making time for yourself and find the space you need for joy. I am a better person, wife, mother, sister, aunty, friend, writer...because of it. I am better because I made time for myself.
We are not designed to be switched on every minute of the day. We are designed for joy, rest and relationships. Out of making time for the things I enjoy; I can be fully present and fully myself. Time is a funny thing and everyone's perception of it is different. Choose to make time now, rather than falling through the cracks of life and ending up in a hole of resentment, regret or worse, like me, breakdown.
'But Sarah, how do I find time with all the things on my plate?' I know, and I hear you. I see you and understand how hopeless it can feel. But, as I say to myself regularly, there is always a solution! You can find time (your morning commute), you can stretch time (get up 30 minutes earlier) or replace time (swopping TV for writing). Where there's a will, there's a way. And start small - add in 30 minutes a week. Build on that consistently and soon you'll find pockets of time that you can add up to become longer periods in the day.
And remember self-care is an inside job - it's all about perspective and attitude. When I was unwell, a therapist said to me, 'do you think so little of yourself that you are not worth the time it takes to sit down and drink a cup of tea?' That was a sharp shock moment. I had reduced myself down to such an extent that I wouldn't even sit and enjoy a cuppa. Hear me when I say this, as a voice of someone who has been there: you are worth taking the time for. You are worth sitting down and drinking your cup of coffee, instead of gulping it down by the kettle before rushing out the door. You are worth taking the time to read your favourite novel curled up on the sofa. You are worth having an afternoon away with your friends or family each week. It is not about being selfish - because you will still care for others. It is not either or, it is as well as. I show love for myself AND I love others. I take the time I need for myself AND others. I bring joy to myself AND others. Self-care is not just about bubble baths and candles - it is about bringing joy into your life every day. And that joy will spill over to touch the ones you care for and love.
I'd love to know what brings you joy? And how you find time for yourself? If this is something you struggle with, talk to someone you trust or reach out to me on here or via my Instagram. I'd love to hear from you, and let's keep the conversation going.
Image via Unsplash