The ones who suffer the most when I don’t take care of myself are the ones for whom I deny my self-care.
I have always been an overachiever. I push myself to the limits and then some. I used to pride myself in my ability to continue on no matter what. Not enough sleep? No problem. When was the last time I ate? Doesn’t matter. Water? My coffee has ice in it.
In the last couple of years, my ability to push through has weakened. I’ve beaten myself up and tried to force myself to push through. I berated myself for not being good enough to do it all anymore. I lamented not being able to be robotic anymore and I’ve been annoyed that my body and mind have started making their own demands.
What have I not done? I haven’t learned to listen to my needs. I haven’t learned to make true space for myself. I still skip a meal almost every day. I still go days without drinking water. I still try to function on fewer than six hours of sleep. And when I eventually crash (more and more frequently these days), I have no compassion or grace for myself. I still try to push forward.
I tell myself the people around me need me more than I do. My kids need to eat . . . I can eat later. I need to get things done . . . I can sleep later. Who has time to think about water when you’re in over your head trying not to drown in all the things?
Turns out, everyone suffers when I don’t take care of myself. Before having kids, I could push through. When I crashed after not caring for myself, it only affected me. It was easy to convince myself to keep going because the reward of doing it all was greater than the risk of losing myself.
Today was a rough day. I didn’t sleep well last night. I woke up to the sound of a whining toddler before the sun rose. I didn’t eat well yesterday and kept that trend going today—only consuming coffee for the first half of the day. My head was pounding from the lack of food and water and sleep. Before I realized what was going on, I had snapped and sighed in exasperation more times than I could count. It was not just me who suffered, I brought my family down with me. We were all near tears or angry shouts (or both) by the end of the day.
I wondered why the day was so rough, why everyone was on edge, and I realized that I set the tone for the day. Now, I know it’s not my job to be happy and bubbly all day every day, but it is my job to care for myself. And I was not doing that. It wasn’t fair to myself, and it wasn’t fair to my family.
To the other mamas and caregivers out there, you need to care for yourself. You deserve care, no matter what still needs to be accomplished. And if you can’t convince yourself that your health and worth are a good enough reason to care for yourself, then remember that your people are relying on you to care for yourself so you can continue to care for them.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at the metaphors about filling from empty cups or putting on your oxygen masks, but eventually, your cup will be too dry or your air supply too low—and by that point, you will not be the only one suffering.
I’m sure I’ll have to remind myself of this over and over again. Old habits die hard, after all. But I will try to rewire my mindset. If not just for me, then for my people.