I had an interesting therapy session recently. I’m not sure if it was the delivery of the message or if I was just more ready to receive it, but my viewpoint of “Self-Care” was transformed in this short space of time. The concept of “Self-Care” had suddenly become more defined, palpable, and even attainable. I had always approached taking care of myself as somewhat of a chore, as if these are the things that I need to do over time that might someday, in the far off distant future, have some elusive benefit. I saw self care as the mundane activities of life: like exercising, brushing my teeth/flossing, maintaining adequate sleep, etc. Many more times than not, I failed to practice self care consistently because the benefit wasn’t immediately available to me. Routines and consistency are difficult for me as I am wired a bit differently. I was diagnosed as ADHD in 1976, years ago, and have always struggled to maintain order in my life.
However, this time, what I heard, prompted me to pause and rethink the concept of Self Care. My therapist noticed that I am often “burning the candle at both ends”. I don’t give my system the space and time to be still and at rest. Yet, it was what he said next that transformed this concept further for me. He said in short, do what makes you feel good and relaxed. It was a simple message. One I had probably heard in variations a million times before, but this time, when it hit my ears, it registered and it stirred my imagination. It actually hit me rather deeply.
I knew instinctually that the reasons for being constantly keyed up and unable to relax was the result of the hardwired hyper-vigilance that resulted from years of trauma in my childhood. Although, I have completely forgiven the adults in my life and acknowledge that there was no real intention of doing harm in their behavior, I was still left with the task of healing from it. Letting go and relaxing initially has always felt scary and even dangerous. What if I let down my guard and something happens to me? As an adult, I realize these are irrational fears. They still come.
I have spent years “running” and essentially distracting myself from relaxing because it never felt safe to do so.
What immediately washes over me is sadness. Grief.
Relaxing and being still always initially brings up the loss of time that I spent avoiding the feeling that I wasn’t worthy enough to be protected from some of the things I endured growing up.
I was only a little girl and what I needed was to be held more, encouraged to express a wide arrange of emotions, and given the opportunity as a child to master difficult emotions with support. Instead, I was forbidden the expression of anger for fear of retaliation. I didn’t get the space to assert myself. Instead, my emotions were suppressed and turned inward. Speaking up and showing any defiance would have resulted in consequences that I was unwilling and too fearful to endure. And so, I remained hyper-vigilant and on guard, always trying to win love with my good behavior. Even so, there were times I said things wrong or sighed too loudly, which was misinterpreted as defiance. My older sister was the complete opposite of me and would rebel often, and thus, my parents became harder on me as an attempt to avoid a repeat the turbulence.
And so, when my therapist mentioned that I needed to slow down and exercise self care, it brought up a lot of emotions. But, what stirred me the most were his words: “do things that felt good to me”. He acknowledged my grief and pain and encouraged me to slow down, relax, and do the things that elicited feelings of well being. Examples he provided were meditation, taking a relaxing bath, singing, writing, etc.
I thought a lot about this simple advice. He had mentioned in doing these exercises of self care, your brain and body will be rewired to a calmer state and that will in time allow for more motivation for the “self care” that perhaps I considered more “chore related”.
I honestly never thought of self care as having an immediate benefit. I always felt I had to do things consistently and over time and then one day I might reap the rewards of doing so. Reframing this concept in this way has helped me to let go and relax a little more. My focus is now on doing the things that bring me joy, peace, and comfort. I am not seeing self care as a chore and as a result I am starting to feel more excited about practicing self care. This doesn’t mean that I should “leave out” the essentials of self care, like flossing/brushing teeth, bathing, exercise, adequate sleep. It instead places the focus of self care on the things that are immediately gratifying and feel good. Doing so actually makes me more motivated to do the others.
Sometimes, it is the simple concepts that become over-complicated in our minds. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed. Doing any activity that brings a sense of peace and stillness to the self is going to free up energy for the more laborious tasks that are sometimes put off.
Yes, for some of us who are hyper-vigilant and on guard due to past trauma, relaxing can seem scary and daunting at first. I feel it’s best to be realistic, go slow, and do what truly brings comfort and ease. This will allow the adrenal glands to recover and practicing self care in this way, over time, can make a huge difference.
I am actually excited about trying different things now and am a bit more hopeful. I feel it is all about connecting back to the self, acknowledging that I am safe now, and cultivating compassion and love for the self.
I hope this is helpful to someone struggling. It has helped me to shift a little bit and not be so overwhelmed. I am just taking it one step at a time. I know one day in the future I am going to feel a lot better. From this point forward, I will embrace self care as a way to reconnect and commune with myself and do the activities that bring me peace.
Love and light on your journey towards wholeness.