How I’m learning to actually take care of myself.
Someone told me recently that I seem like I’m doing “so much better” this semester.
While this statement was so encouraging to hear, I laughed a little, surprised. It’s true that physically, I am in a much healthier state than in years past. I can’t point to the reason excepting the grace of God… my current health is such a blessing after the past seven years. With that said, this semester has been anything but easy, and I’ve spent a surprising amount of my time crying. Ugly crying.
Somehow, I think this emotional turmoil is what’s made the beginning of my senior year so special. I am [forever] learning to be vulnerable with my peers. I am totally okay with not being okay. And, more importantly, I’m learning to take time to take care of myself in the very moment I need self-care, and not a moment later.
I have a tendency to dwell on the hurts of other people; my ability to see and observe the people around me is something that I often take for granted. Sometimes, though, the pain of other people is overwhelming, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it:
- When friends and classmates die by suicide, and the empty chairs in [senior] classes are so distractingly heartbreaking.
- When friends and classmates are so consumed by anxiety that they struggle to engage on campus.
- When friends and classmates are homesick, sick, or just tired.
- When neighbors are annoying and difficult but also destructive.
- When I can see that something is wrong, but the pain is so deep and so secret that it will never be brought to the surface—or at least never revealed to me, the quiet girl on the other side of the classroom.
- When family members need me, but I can’t come home to comfort them.
I can’t do much to fix any of these things—at least, not directly or wholly restore the situation like I’d love. The world is just too big and too complex. But I can love the people in front of me.
I can write newspaper articles to help people or causes I care about. I can be the kind, quiet girl on the other side of the classroom, and maybe I can even cross the room. I can be available to those who need me, over and over again. I can tell people that I see light in them, even as I see their pain. I can help students with their papers and show them their hidden giftedness with words. I can show them their own brilliance—one of my favorite jobs as a writing center tutor. I can take care of my Wofford family in so many ways.
But I must take care of myself.
It’s hard for me to say no. Selfishness is the last word I want attached to my name. I dislike selfish people. I don’t ever want to disregard or silence the needs and voices of others. I don’t like saying no, especially when saying yes helps someone else.
And yet, I’m learning to take care of myself first. I’m learning to be more “selfish”—in a new way. The kind of self-care I’m seeking after isn’t watching Netflix instead of studying. It doesn’t mean forcing myself to do more [good things] for self-care, like exercise: it’s allowing myself to do less.
Self-care is allowing myself to do less.
Sometimes that means I skip meetings of organizations that I love and enjoy. Sometimes I sleep in instead of finishing my homework… something my former self would abhor. Sometimes I turn in a paper that’s not my absolute best work, because it is the best work I could have produced in that moment. If something more important comes up, it takes precedence over my homework, and that’s okay. As embarrassing and difficult as it is to admit my own finiteness, it’s also exhausting to try and keep up with my own expectations.
Friends, I know what it’s like to trust that another cup of coffee is all you need to borrow against tomorrow (Believe me… I drink a lot of coffee!). I know what it’s like to abandon responsibility and call it self-care. I’ve done it for most of my adult life.
But self-care, itself, is our responsibility. Our bodies are temples, right? Let’s treat them like it! This looks differently for everybody, but it’s important. It took me a while to realize that forcing myself into deeper exhaustion with [excessive] exercise was just burning the candle from both ends, so to speak. Yes, self-care involves physical health, and exercise is so important! But are we making a deposit rather than a withdrawal in our self-care? For a while, I wasn’t.
Self-care is sleeping. There’s no other way around it. We are so much more resilient with sufficient sleep. I believe that we cannot even begin to exercise or wean ourselves from excessive energy drinks or achieve any other health/self-care goals unless we are sleeping. It took me more than three years to admit that I wasn’t being honest about the way my sleeping patterns were affecting my health. It’s still difficult. But it’s worth it.
Self-care is taking a break… A real break. Outside, or at least away from all forms of work or screens. How long can we go without our phones? Is it truly restful if we are still planning out our week in our break times? How many times have I sat outside without homework, just for the sole purpose of enjoying my surroundings? Not enough. The in-between can be great, but it cannot be our only source of relaxation. Let’s go relaxing, friends.
Self-care is processing with friends. I am so grateful for my friends and the way that we intentionally set aside time to check on each other as a group. In one particular circle of friends, each person gets to update the others on how things are going—how things are really going. It is one of the most wonderful practices of self-care that I’ve found.
Being vulnerable with friends allows for me to receive care as I give it to others. It’s beautiful, no matter how you slice it. I’ve got a lot of people in my life that love and care for me every day, in big ways and in infinitesimally small ways that I appreciate so very much.
It’s really hard to live restfully as a senior with four jobs, two majors, a capstone project, a team, and a four-legged child. I’m really bad at it, most days. I am tragically busy and overcommitted, still. But when my dear friend told me I seemed so much better than before, she was right. I can talk about difficulties in my life with such relief, now. I get to share the deep, deep grace of God as He works in my life. The healing and restoration I’ve seen around me is precious and beautiful, even if I don’t notice it at first. It’s there, friends. It’s there.
Ask me about it. Or don’t. But at least know that when I tell you I’m not having a good day, I am somehow also on my way to being very, very well.
Because my God is so good. And it is well.