Self-Care Doesn't Have to be Expensive (Crashing Is)
I have talked on my Freedom from Empty podcast about how surprised I was when I became re-acquainted with the fact that it takes time and energy to prepare to eat meals on a regular basis. And there are some forms of self-care that do take time. Or money. Or both.
If we know we need to sleep more, then that is using time that we might have used for something else. Although, I would argue that time spent sleeping allows us to be much more efficient and effective with our time when we are awake.
Taking ourselves to the doctor for an annual check up takes time and money. And yet if we don’t go to the doctor and get a check up we may end up spending much more money in the future for untreated health problems, that may have progressed into chronic or terminal conditions due to the fact we ignored them for so long.
As I have mentioned, the red flags warning that I was on the path to implosion began years before the final crash and burn. I have no way to know the actual monetary cost of living the way that I lived for so many years.
However, I can estimate the financial cost of my crash since 2015. This number is approaching $650,000; including loss of income, cost of medication and therapy, divorce, loss of equity, liquidation of my retirement accounts, etc. The financial cost doesn’t speak to the immeasurable costs: loss of relationships and community, status and career trajectory, years of my life lost in the fog of mental and physical illness, and the ongoing cost of living with a chronic illness. I do not present this cost as a victim. I made choices during my crash that resulted in some of these outcomes. Some of those choices, I would make again. Some, I wish I could have back.
More than anything, my wish would have been to get off the collision course before it was too late. Before some of the damage became irreparable. Before I became overwhelmed and ill—physically, mentally and emotionally at rock bottom. I wish I had known how to re-frame my life before I imploded on myself. I wish I had had a safety net. I wish. I wish. I wish.
My point is that when we say “we cannot afford” to take care of ourselves, we are telling ourselves a lie. What is true is that we cannot afford NOT to take care of ourselves.
In fact, I can assure you that if you are caught in a cycle of denying your heart, soul, and well-being, and you stay there for long enough, you will begin to break down--physically, mentally, and emotionally. And when you break down, the cost of recovery will be so much greater than the cost of the investment you choose to make in your presence, breath, awareness, and well-being today.
Even so, even when we know that self-care is important, even when we intellectually know that if we rest we will be more productive on the other side, even if we know that we run the risk of creating or perpetuating a chronic health condition, we still struggle to give ourselves permission to do the very things that we know are fundamental to our well-being.
One of the things that has held me back over the years, and still does from time to time is being overwhelmed by the idea of taking care of myself. In my mind, the act of self-care that I know I need seems bigger and more expensive and perhaps like it will take more energy than I have. When we are operating at a deficit, anything and everything can feel too hard.
For example, I have struggled off and on for years to actually take vitamins. Granted they taste horrible, but my real struggle comes from my belief that it requires more energy than I have to engage in the act of actually taking the vitamins. I have now learned that when I get so tired that I feel incapable of taking my vitamins, that perception is actually an indicator of that I am running on empty. It isn’t the vitamins themselves. And the truth is that the time and energy it takes to actually take vitamins is miniscule.
When we believe things are harder than they are--a perception that is clouded by a chronic state of exhaustion--we never begin. The “shoulds” are just too overwhelming and too big in our minds, and so we are aware of the need, but we don’t do anything about it.
It is very easy to allow a perception to have more power than it deserves. For example, whenever my smart watch tells me to stand, I regularly convince myself that I do not have time to stand for one minute. One of my clients has a favorite quote that goes something like this: “If you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate, take an hour.” I think the same applies to convincing myself that I cannot “afford” to stand for 1 minute or walk around for 5 minutes, even though I know the benefits of giving my body and mind that time to recover and reset.
So how do we begin to bridge the divide between our perception of how difficult it is or how much time and energy and money is going to take to actually take care of ourselves compared to the time and energy takes in reality. And how to do we start to invest in the very acts of self-care that will allow us to regain capacity to operate from a place of strength and resilience?
First, give yourself credit for things that you are doing. Do you really pay attention to water intake? Do you eat lots of fruit or vegetables? Do you prioritize sleep? Do you exercise regularly?
Sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the things that we actually already do in our lives that have great benefits, all while we beat ourselves up for not doing “enough” or not doing it “right.”
For years, off and on, I have struggled with my perception of what meditation actually is or “should be“ versus what I am actually able to “force“ myself to do. And then I remember that there are several practices in my life that are meditative – – if I simply frame meditation as an activity that brings my awareness to the present moment. Bringing ourselves to the present moment is the very act of “mindfulness,” and meditation is just one way to practice.
When I lift weights, I am very present, because if I am not, I can either injure myself, or I won’t be able to realize my full capacity (maximum lift) in that moment. When I ride my bike, I am very present to my surroundings, to the road, and to the terrain. I have to be, or I might have an accident. When I swim, I am present to my stroke in the water, to my kick, to the position of my torso and how I’m supporting through my core, and I am most certainly aware taking each and every breath.
While many may perceive the practice of yoga as an opportunity to sweat in 96°, or to build great flexibility and strength, at the heart of the practice of yoga is the return to the present moment. The return to the breathe. The return to our awareness of what our body is experiencing in that moment. I have found the practice of yoga to be extremely beneficial to my goal of re-integrating some of the pieces of myself that I had tucked away long ago.
So, if we aren’t already taking moments of self-care, and if we are feeling burned out, exhausted, and hopeless is it possible begin a self-care practice? Absolutely.
I encourage my clients to start small.
Self-care can be giving yourself permission to listen to the rain. Self-care can be acknowledging a gorgeous sky. Self-care can be taking a moment to breathe more freely or more deeply in response to something that opens our hearts for a moment. Self-care can be making a cup of hot tea. Self-care can be curling up under a fuzzy blanket. Self-care can be giving ourselves permission to pet our animals. Self-care can be really giving yourself fully to a hug with another human being. Self-care can be choosing to stop listening to the voices in our head that tell us we are not enough, not worthy, and not deserving.
I now realize that one of the gifts my mother gave me when she was alive was the gift of being fully present for an exquisite moment. When she was getting her PhD and I was in law school, I would often catch her during dinner when I called. She would be eating dinner in her apartment, meal prepared for one, candles lit, and classical music playing in the background. After she finished her classes for her PhD, she moved to Martha’s Vineyard. She lived a very modest life in a gorgeous place. And when I went to visit her, I saw that she prepared exquisite meals with very simple ingredients and just enough. We would hop in the car with a bottle of wine and a couple of wine glasses and drive to the end of the island where the sunset would be spectacular.
She planted the seed many years ago frankly in a green body that didn’t understand the message at the time. But it has stuck with me. And now when I take time to acknowledge a sunset or sunrise, to really see the beautiful flowers, to appreciate a beautiful and delicious meal, and to breathe into the simplicity and beauty that life can offer, I am reminded of her.
Small, almost unnoticeable moments of self-care can begin to lay the groundwork and plant the seeds for more to come. There is great power in the act of giving ourselves permission to engage in these acts; an opportunity for us to start to rewire our belief system about what is true about whether we deserve self-care, whether we have time for it, and how much time, money and energy it actually takes.
Over time, the more we practice, the more we develop the habit of experiencing these moments throughout our daily life. The more we practice, the more we give voice to the parts of us that maybe have been quiet (silenced) for too long. The more we practice, the more we open ourselves up to the possibilities.
I am going to be absolutely honest that sometimes, when we begin to give voice to ourselves, our whole selves, we will hear and learn things that make changes necessary. Once we choose no longer to ignore our truth, we may be forced into some very uncomfortable and scary places. And yet, the cost of ignoring our truth, and ourselves, is so so so much greater.
Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive. Crashing is. Begin now.