There is no escaping. They find you everywhere. You can try to lock a door but within seconds the doorknob is rattling and they’re pounding, calling your name. Yet, that’s not quite true because you don’t even remember your own name anymore. They’ve stripped you down to nothing. There’s no name, no privacy, no memory recall, nothing. The pounding on the door intensifies and now they’re screaming.
“MOM! MOM! MOM!MOM!MOM!MOM!MOM!MOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!”
There is literally nothing left to do but just sit on the floor and cry. That’s it, just sit there and let your snot blend in with the snot already left behind on your shirt by the baby.
By the end of the day, huddled in bed and completely exhausted, someone might mention the phrase “practice self-care” either in word or on Facebook and you may react in one of several ways: 1) shame or guilt because you did not use any self-care at all that day, 2) confusion because you don’t know what the hell self-care is, 3) skepticism because you don’t believe anyone has time to practice something called self-care at all, or 4) scorn because you think it’s stupid.
We’re all friends here; it’s okay to admit if you think self-care is stupid. You can’t even go to the bathroom to pee in privacy, right? How the hell are you going to be able to practice self-care? Maybe being able to pee in solitude can count as self-care. One can hope.
However, we are all living an extraordinarily fast-paced and, what I call, a mult-tabbed life. Just as we can’t seem to have only one tab open at a time on our computers, we can’t only do one thing at a time in life. Not only am I cooking dinner but I’m washing the dishes at the same time, I’m reading email, I’m helping my son memorize his poem in español and gluing the shoes on to my daughter’s Barbies – because my life is too complicated for finding lost Barbie shoes. Mothers need to practice self-care. And mothers who engage in multi-tab mothering need to practice self-care urgently. Why? Because our children might need us, but we need to be at our best selves more.
I struggle with mental illness just like the other estimated 22.1% of adults in the United States. I have depression and social anxiety, PTSD stemming from rape and sexual assault, agoraphobia and bipolar. So you know, I’m pretty much a regular gal. I operated on survival mode every single day of my life before I knew what was going on in my head. So much so that I began to wake up earlier and earlier every morning in order to get ready for work just so I could have enough time to fit in my daily panic attack. That’s right. I scheduled in my panic attacks after my shower but before my make-up. I was falling apart but didn’t know why. What I did know, however, was that I needed to look normal and put together for my son.
You see, I grew up with a mother who invested her whole life in her children but left nothing for herself. Once her children were grown she turned her investment into her mother-in-law, my grandmother, and then to my grandfather. Now, my mother feels lost with not having anyone to devote herself to and not knowing how to care for herself.
I’d put on my make-up, my panic attack subsiding, and obsessively worry that I was turning into my mother. At the same time, I couldn’t let my son see me “be crazy”. Finally, even before I knew about my own mental illness, I learned about self-care. Self-care is the most loving and generous thing I could do for my children – completely opposite to what moms culturally trained to think. By taking time for myself I improve not only myself but also the time I spend with my children.
Practicing self-care does not have to be complicated and it does not have to take long each day. For those of you who have images (again, perpetuated somehow by social media or even well-meaning bloggers – ahem, not me) of weekend long retreats in the woods, hour long bubble baths, expensive spa days, or asking wood nymphs to talk to your vagina, none of these things need to happen for it be considered self-care. If this is the kind of stuff that rejuvenates and it fits your lifestyle, than awesome; go for it.
So what is self-care if it is not wood nymphs talking to your vagina? Self-care is any intentional action you take to care for your physical, emotional or mental health. That’s really it. And it can take as little as five minutes each day or as long as a whole night’s sleep.
Deciding to screen all your phone calls and only answering the phone from specific people who don’t drain you emotionally is an example of practicing self-care. Or, maybe deciding to not have your cell phone by your bed so you won’t answer text messages after a certain point in the evening and get a good night’s sleep could be another. I’ve learned that by opening my drapes and blinds to always have natural light in my home this helps fight my depression, and so this has been an easy way for me to practice self-care. I also eat an apple each morning so I eat a healthier breakfast and don’t begin my day nauseated – some of my medications can often upset my stomach.
As mothers, practicing self-care is incredibly important to help us get through each day when we are being tugged on, puked on, wiped on, screamed at, challenged by, sought out for, only to do it all the next day. Of course we love every single moment. And it’s okay to admit exhaustion and maybe even surrender. But it’s also okay to take five minutes and find the backyard wood nymph to talk to our vaginas.