It is not selfish to look after yourself. We all know people who look after themselves all of the time and don't give two blind damns about others, and this is why self care ends up with a bad rap.
I believe that the world is filled with two kinds of people: givers and takers. Those who give tend to bleed until they run completely dry, and then have minor (or major) breakdowns and are forced to regroup and refill their energy banks in order to give again.
Then there are the takers. They line up in front of the givers and open their arms to accept all that is poured into them (while frequently complaining that they were not given exactly what they wanted, so the giver runs ragged in circles trying to please the person who is unwilling to offer anything but criticism in return).
I'm sure this sounds harsh, and there are varying degrees of each type of person, but the bottom line is that givers get their needs met by pleasing others, while takers focus on pleasing themselves. A mix of the two is the healthy ideal, but it can be hard to come by in this world.
After living 38 years of my life as a giver, I am now experimenting with what it means to be a taker. Not in the sense of taking from others, although that plays in here too, but specifically by taking for myself what I need on any given day to stay balanced and mentally healthy.
I come from a long line of alcoholics and unacknowledged depression and mental illness. On both sides of the family. As far as bloodlines go, it's not the top end of the genetic mixture. When I began this journey of personal growth a little over two years ago, getting healthy in my mind and spirit was a top priority.
It's astonishing to look behind me and see how far I've come. Recognizing this progress helps to staunch the panic at peering into the future and realizing how much ground I have yet to cover. The more I look inward, the more junk I find lurking under mossy rocks with mold growing on it, and it's easy to become discouraged.
But then I think that a year ago I couldn't even say out loud to a single person, let alone type it on the internet for anyone to read, the kinds of things I write every other day in this blog. Shame and fear and secrecy were the guiding principles, and now it's openness and honesty and light instead of shadows. Once in awhile I need to stop, take a deep breath, and recognize this as a triumph.
When serious mental illness like bi-polar disorder is braying at the door of your mind, hoping to nose its way in, you recognize that looking after yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. I do not want to become selfish, but neither do I want to run myself into the ground working to help others who may or may not be there for me when I am exhausted and depressed.
Each of us is responsible for our own health. Physical, mental, spiritual, moral and every other kind. Leaving it to someone else makes you a victim who is not in control of your own life. I have learned this the hard way by taking the long route around only to eventually come to this conclusion.
It is my responsibility to be as healthy as I can be. I must model this for my children and anyone else who may be watching. I must bank up my energy reserves so I can give something away and not be totally drained by the experience. As women, we end up afraid of being selfish, so we give all of the time, but when we have nothing left to give we are like a deflated balloon, of no real use to anyone.
Brainstorm ways to fill up your life with sustaining things. You are worth it (as L'Oreal has been telling us for years). It is not selfish to look after yourself and to invest in your health. Your spouse needs this, as do your children, your parents and your friends.
If you are a giver, look for ways to ensure your own needs are met, so that you do not reach the end of your rope and have nothing left for anyone. And if you are a taker, look for ways to practice giving something back from time to time so you can find a good balance in getting what you want and helping others to do the same.