Yesterday, I saw a writing prompt from Bubble Bath Self-Empowerment that got me thinking. In fact, it prompted me to write, so it worked! The prompt was: When You Love Yourself First, Everything Else Falls Into Place.
I can remember times in my life when loving myself was way down at the bottom of my to-do list. When I started in my first full-time professional position, we had teenagers at home, and my husband and I were both commuting an hour in opposite directions. There was way too much to do and think about to be able to even contemplate loving myself first. The various responsibilities just outweighed that possibility.
From the family’s point of view, I had already put myself first by moving us all to a new location, putting the kids in new schools, and choosing to take a job a long way from my husband’s job. If loving myself first meant taking time out of our few family hours to spend alone, it wasn’t going to happen. That would have been just too selfish. I felt lucky if I could do the crossword uninterrupted on Saturday mornings.
Another time when it seemed impossible to love myself first was when my husband became terminally ill. He was sick for nearly eight years before he died and I was his primary caregiver while at the same time continuing to work. As his health declined, we had the help of home care aides who came daily for an hour, so I wasn’t entirely alone. Even so, it was exhausting and depressing and caused 24/7 stress. After our children had left home, I tried to arrange for respite care for him once a month so that I could visit them in another city, but that wasn’t always possible. Once, I was told he would have a caregiver but after I got home from the weekend away I discovered that no-one came. Experiences like that make one very reluctant to take personal time.
As I think about it now, though, I really should have done more to find some emotional respite for myself. I didn’t think I had the time and I didn’t think I could afford it, but really it should have been a priority. I would have benefitted from some psychological counselling, and I would have felt nourished by attending more social functions, but I just didn’t do either of those things. I didn’t think my concerns signified much in the face of my husband’s needs, and I found it really hard to answer multiple well-meaning questions about his health. It was just easier to stay at home.
On reflection, my failure to give myself more love was a consequence of a cascade of responsibilities and expectations. It was also a result of trying to be all things to all people and trying to accomplish all things well. At the root of all this, I suppose, is the fact that I was socialized to equate self-love with selfishness, and being self-centred was a bad thing.
It has taken me a lifetime to understand that I had believed I was indispensable and that my personal house of cards would collapse without me. As much as my family needed me, they could have managed perfectly well without me for a few hours a day, or a day a week, or a weekend a month. And, although my job was important to me and very time-consuming, it would not have disappeared if I had paid it less attention.
Taking personal time out is not an abandonment of loved ones or of work responsibilities. We have to recharge our emotional batteries if we are to keep on functioning effectively. I wish I had learned that earlier, before I burned out. Now that I am retired I have a lot more time than I know what to do with, and reflecting on those times when I didn’t have enough time or energy can make me cringe. But now at least I know what to do about that; I just need to love myself, and that means forgiving myself. It may also mean a bubble bath.