Self-care was never really my thing. Validation via approval of others was my move. I eagerly, and at times, desperately, sought to prove my worth by measures of extreme; putting myself out, to do what I thought I was "supposed to do" or taking on tasks, endeavors, relationships or even jobs because it was what I believed I "should do."
Since I was living out of alignment with my true self, there was this constant weight and disconnect. Self-sabotage crept in at the most opportune times. And I believed running on empty showed my strength, worth and value. If It wasn't stressed and overwhelmed, I wasn't working hard enough. And self-care, mindfulness and awareness; who actually has time for that? Definitely only people with less on their plate. I had too much to do to make time for that nonsense.
Leyden changed that.
When pregnant, self-care presented as a necessity for the first time. I had to slow the F down, start eating more greens and discover what a mid-day nap was. It was admittedly, a half-hearted attempt at self-care. Because really it was care for Leyden, not myself. But since she was growing inside of me, well, I reaped the benefits of it.
In truth, it wasn't until after Leyden died that I really understood what people meant by self-care and capacity. In our society, so many consider capacity (a persons amount of energy/time/emotion) to be a weakness or facade. We are taught to muscle through and do the most we can possibly do in any given circumstance. Self-care is often associated with selfishness or self-indulgence.
We need to change our thinking.
Grief taught me, we can't just muscle through everything in life. Admittedly, at first I tried to push my limits and become stronger than the pain. Much like my approach throughout life, I figured there must be a way to out-work grief. But grief basically watched me run in circles and patiently waited until I finally stopped exhausting myself... and surrendered to it.
The only way out was through.
I realized I had a capacity. If I ignored that, well it was going to bite me in the ass. Self-care became an absolute necessity. What did self-care look like, for me? It wasn't bubble baths and meditation walks (though those are awesome!). I just wasn't in a space to even enjoy those yet. I had to start at my foundation of functioning. For me, it was investing in a grief coach, going to parent groups, reading about grief, listening to podcasts, making space and time to process the loss. Oddly enough, it was watching Patriots specials and Superbowls (I know, I know. Spoiled.) to find inspiration in fighting for myself. There aren't rules to how it needs to look.
What was furthest from my wheelhouse: doing a whole lot less, avoiding crowds and identifying what I could and couldn't handle. Saying no was hard. Knowing which groups of people I could and couldn't be around given the circumstance was uncomfortable. Honoring my needs was scary.
The importance of acknowledging our capacity and realizing that it changes as stressors in our lives flow in and out, cannot be understated. The self-care required to tend to it is not easy. But it's necessary.
I believe regardless of circumstance there are three primary reasons we need to do so:
1- To avoid breakdown/overload. We can try to be a hero, but when we overdo it, not only are we compromising our progress- we are no good to anyone else. Chronically canceling plans or having an injury, illness or drama, isn't going to serve us or others.
2- We cultivate a powerful confidence and connection to ourselves. When we know exactly what we need and when we need it, we can get pretty damn good at authoring our stories. And that's empowering.
3- The people we love, get our very best. We cannot possibly give to others what we don't possess ourselves. We cannot pull water from an empty well, we can't withdraw from an empty bank account and we cannot sustainably give energy that we don't have ourselves. Invest in you and the people in your life will reap the benefits.
While Leyden taught me the power of taking care of myself, it's far from grief specific. Self-care is not selfish. It's a way of making sure you are giving the world and those you love, the highest quality version of you. I can't help but think how incredible the world would be if each of us gave the shiniest versions of us, to each other.