When I first started learning about self-care, it was almost laughable how hard it was for me to even consider it as a practice. We were in crisis with post-partum depression and I was alone for a time with a newborn and a new kindergartener. I had a lot of worries for my family and for my dear, treasured, vulnerable partner who was being so brave and in so much pain. Concerns for myself were not even something I had space to be aware of let alone prioritize. My therapist would often start our sessions with, "how are you doing?" And my face would go blank. YOU GUYS, I DIDN'T KNOW HOW I WAS DOING. Even that takes awareness and an energy I did not have to expend. When you learn you're not only a perfectionist but also a care-taker in crisis, learning to validate your humanity and prioritize your needs is almost funny. It seemed so unfair of a thing to even be challenged in - like, you're kidding, right?
That was 4 years ago. Almost to the day, interestingly. This morning, I spent time at my beloved local YMCA. This environment suits me for so many reasons (first and foremost the free 2 hours of childcare daily available that my little one begs to attend!) One of the things I like so much is that there is such diversity there. Gyms are not always spaces for people to be on different levels of their process. Sometimes the gym is a place where pretty young people go to show off their muscles. The YMCA has racial diversity, body diversity, age diversity, income diversity, ability diversity - you name it. I LOVE IT. I love that everyone is welcome, that there are services for a variety of needs and that it is a safe space no matter who or where you are in your process.
I go to YMCA mainly to do yoga. And it is a radical act of self-care for Americans, particularly Americans of a working age to spend a Wednesday in the middle of the morning (not even the crack of dawn!) stretching, connecting to their bodies and spirits and challenging themselves in a quiet, calm, communal space. It's radical! The reason I keep saying that is because the challenge of self-care is not, in fact, logistics. The root of the challenge of self-care is WORTHINESS. It is such a rebellious thing to accept your inherent worthiness.
Maybe this isn't an issue for other people. Maybe it's a church baggage thing or a perfectionist thing. But it brought me so much joy this morning to look around in a PACKED room of people holding challenging positions and breathing through that. It's fucking beautiful.
You do not need to perfect in order to deserve peace.
You do not need to always be right in order to be loved. You do not need to always have the right words in the right situation in order to deserve care and rest. In fact, is it possible that our imperfection actually qualifies us for increased levels of self-care? That's a fun thought. That the more we live in challenge and a lack of grace (our culture), the more we need to feed ourselves that love and care. Sometimes every move you make it hard. I was recently led to the idea of spoon theory and I highly recommend looking into it if you're in a season of life like I described above, if you have a chronic illness or disorder or you're just struggling in general. As soon as I read it, my heart and mind recognized exactly what it was. I love it when people give words to my experience.
We struggle as a culture to make space. Hell, look at our tumultuous political landscape. You're in or you're out. You're right or you're wrong. Dude, it's hella hard to always be right and if you misstep, then you're racist or judgemental or unAmerican, etc. Name the term because it's all on the table. I was watching a beautiful dialogue on race yesterday and one of the things white people were saying to people of color is that they don't know what words to say or how to participate in conversations on race. And so even though they care and want to be allies, because there is no space for clumsiness in our culture (I've found people of color to be more gracious about well-intended clumsy whiteness than white people are to each other, but that might just be my experience), they don't always act on their impulses to speak, march, disrupt, etc. They don't want to say the wrong thing, so they say or do nothing. We have to make space for mistakes. We have to congratulate people who are learning in a clumsy, human way. That's how we grow! Don't we want people to grow? So we have to let go of expecting perfection in order to be worthy of speaking out. Otherwise, people don't speak.
What I've learned about grace is that it has to come from within first. I can't have grace for others and make space for them if I don't first have grace for myself and make space for me. And that looks like validating my pain, caring for my mind, soul and body, having compassion for my journey and how far I've come (sometimes this looks like identifying triggers and validating that reality) and breathing in my own innate validity as a human being. I don't have to earn love, value, grace or space. That is given to me by myself, my community, my family, my church - not because I've done anything to deserve it or because I jump through hoops to gain their approval but because I am a person. And people deserve space and understanding. And because I can give that to myself (after 2 years of hard ass therapy), I can take that well of energy and point it outward. So if I'm in a place where I don't understand another person's viewpoint or even hate what they say and do, I can approach them with curiosity and questions rather than negative assumptions and cruelty. That's when productive conversations, learning on both sides and maybe even true, societal changes take place.
But that well can run dry. That's human too. And that's a great time to disengage (oh holy hell, how often does this happen to me in parenting?!?!) That's when I say, "I'm not in a great place so I'm going to take a break right now so I can be fair to you in how we interact." And I step away. But when that well water starts to rise, I get to get back into that arena. I remember writing years ago that I am going to decline defending myself. That was such a beautiful thing for me to speak and know and it is a challenging, sometimes heroic thing to do in real life, on the ground. But I continue to hold that lesson near and dear to me and do my best to honor myself in that way, though again, it is so counter-cultural and tempting as hell. But even engaging in self-defense sometimes come from a place of feeling inadequate and needing affirmation from others, at least it has for me. Like, if I can just explain or convince, then I'll be loved, worthy, accepted, etc. But that's not where those needs are met. That makes those things conditional. Those things are inherent and they come from within first.
So maybe your radical self-care process starts with embracing your worthiness to have it, first and foremost. You deserve rest. You deserve comfort. You deserve to hold your head high and climb back into that arena whenever you feel ready to do so. And then I say, dare greatly, friends. Dare to live into your worthiness. Dare to hold your head up and claim your space, your voice, your value. Not based on how you perform or how your relationships hold a mirror up to you (as I think women often feel) or on if you're "good" whatever that means to you. You're already good. You're already okay. And you matter. Own that. Then find the hour for yoga. Turns out, that's actually the easy part.