Tuesday, July 25, 2017

No one conquered the world wearing natty underpants and other truths

I'm experiencing a run of being a little more conscious of self-care lately. Like a lot of people who score off the charts on the personality tests that classify one as "nurturing" (whatever the hell that means), this is uncharacteristic for me. I would stay up all night, hike 30 miles uphill through the rain (well, maybe) or learn a new language if it meant that people would think I was neat. It's exhausting. Last week, I had time away from work and family and found myself relaxing into that warm, fluid  and delicious feeling of not needing to be responsible for anyone but myself. I had some time to think about things that I needed to do for me.

Pat gave me a loving talking-to when I got home. "Are you ok? You were stressed and obsessed with a bunch of stuff before you left, and now you're not."

I guess I forgot about what I was stressed and obsessed with. It was really, really nice. And I found myself with a bunch of energy that was more fun channeling into creative and energy-producing activities.

I can't explain why self-care is difficult for me, but I know I'm not alone. Maybe we feel selfish putting our needs before others. Maybe that nagging, annoying, continual need for approval focuses our attention outward. Maybe self-care feels too self-indulgent. Maybe we're gluttons for self-punishment. But I'm smart enough to know that the notion of filling your own tank before you can drive the carpool has a lot of truth to it.

Not long ago, I was cleaning out my underwear drawer. Underwear drawers hold a universe of secrets. And while I was weeding through the pairs that were worn out, the pairs that creep up, the pairs that look good but don't fit very well, the pairs that look horrible but fit great - it occurred to me that my underwear drawer was a good metaphor for my self-care model.

Too often, we make due with what is almost right, but not quite. We'll put up with the shot elastic in the waistband because we just don't want to take time to throw that pair out and grab another. That hole just isn't big enough to throw them out and reach for something different. That bra doesn't really fit, but who is going to see?

The problem is, we know. We forget about it for a while when focusing on other things, but when you get up and your underwear has ventured into spaces where it doesn't belong, it's an instant reminder that we need to attend to some things. Our drawer is so full of stuff that doesn't work that it's hard to find the good stuff.

A friend of mine (nameless, but she knows who she is) told me once that she feels guilty buying new underwear because she has so many other things she needs to spend money on.

Friends, I'm all for fiscal responsibility, but the moment we set ourselves aside so much that we're finding financial reasons not to replace our granny panties, we need some self-examination.

Here's my self-care start-up plan:

- I'm working on clearing my drawer of things that don't or no longer serve me. This is specifically in the area of volunteering. If it's something that I'm excited about, instills passion or am convinced that this will make so much of a difference that I'm willing to invest my time in it, it's a yes. Anything else (such as this person will be so disappointed if I quit or decline), it's a thanks so much for asking me, but no.

- My drawer will be cleared of time-sucking activities that are not productive. I'm scheduling email, text and social media time. No more casually wandering because I'm bored and unfocused. If I don't respond to you right away, that's why.

- I'm more intentional about what I'm putting in my drawer, including the things I read, the time I spend and the activities I pursue. I have some stuff I want to accomplish before I turn 50, and my creativity and mental energy need to be directed there. That's ok.

My intent in writing this in part is to inspire. Another big part is accountability. Thanks for indulging me.

No one conquered the world wearing natty underpants. Let's get after it.