Self-Care for Dummies

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A few months ago, if you’d asked me what I like to do for “me time,” I wouldn’t have known what to say. I’ve always been the counseling type, the honorary mama. It’s what I did for fun.

Then I gave birth for real.

Turns out, being a mother is not a hobby. It’s a full-time, high-energy, high-stakes job. And it’s easy to completely lose yourself in it. You look in the mirror, and you see this tired woman with spit up down her shirt, and you have no idea who she is or what she did with the pre-baby you.

Suddenly, “me time” is no longer a luxury. It’s a full-out search party for that elusive “me.”

A couple months into parenthood, my husband and I began establishing our essential, I-have-to-do-this-or-I’ll-go-crazy activities. We were both attempting to work from home, passing our nap-resistant baby back and forth and trying to accomplish something, anything on our off times. For our sanity, we had to prioritize wisely. 

Of course, our son was number one. And two and three. His neediness and our head-over-heels love for him demanded it. I didn’t (and don’t) resent our time spent together, and I craved seeing his little face hour after hour.

But it didn’t make me feel like “me.” It made me feel like “mom.”

My essential activities make me feel like myself again. My husband and I were out for a walk when I finally realized what they were. I was exhausted and whiny, and I blurted out, “I just want to write and make pretty food!” The words came from this pure, unfiltered part of me that was too tired to think about what I should do and only wanted to salivate over food blogs.

For a girl who has never made self-care goals in her life, it was a hallelujah moment. “Yes,” I thought, “That is exactly what I want to do!”

I went home, baked a few pies, and felt like a downright champion. 

Easy as that.

Of course, this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. But, despite the fact that I baked fifty cupcakes a week in college—you know, as you do—I didn’t realize until recently that this was effective self-care for me. Because I am a self-care dummy.

Thankfully, motherhood has cured me. Suddenly, I know all sorts of things I like to do. I like to take baths, go for walks, and sit alone at a coffee shop. I love perusing the grocery store and buying whatever produce looks the best. I love dreaming up new culinary challenges. I love writing this blog.

Now that self-care is a necessity for me, I wish I’d been doing it all along. I wish I’d spent time getting to know myself and allowing that woman to do the things she liked. Of course, I’ve baked pies and gone for walks many times in my life, but I never really did them on purpose, and they certainly weren’t a priority.

It’s a classic case of you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I had lots more free time to discover and practice my “me time” before having a baby, but I spent most of it either working myself into the ground or binge watching TV because I was too soul-weary to do anything else. It was an ugly cycle, and it probably could have been avoided with some strategically-placed self-care.

But, hey, you live and you learn. And you start baking pies for the joy of it.

Go forth and self-care, my friends. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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Thankfulness in a Himalayan Bar

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I don’t know what most women do when they’re seven months pregnant, but I ended up cooking a French-themed Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family.

Totally reasonable, right?

I’m not often home for the holidays—and usually in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving—so I guess you could say I was a little enthusiastic this year. Though it included gratin dauphinois and haricots verts rather than the typical Midwestern jello salad, this Thanksgiving was all-American to me: no fighting to find ingredients, no Skype calls, no expat friends standing in for flesh-and-blood family.

It was the perfect American holiday.

Yet, I have to admit, my favorite Thanksgiving story is far from this American perfection. My best Thanksgiving happened in a bar in the Himalayas.

At the time, I was researching Tibetan poetry in northern India, equipped with only a few bucket-washed outfits and a notebook. For lack of a proper kitchen or any of the traditional ingredients, my housemates and I gathered at a local bar to celebrate Thanksgiving. I remember that they had pizza, tikka masala, and Kingfisher beer. Apparently, both Pierce Brosnan and the Dalai Lama had been there.

Everything about it was weird. Yet, I remember being incredibly thankful.

I was thankful for good pizza—hard to come by in rural India. I was thankful for each one of my few possessions, which seemed entirely enough. I was thankful for the opportunity to be out exploring the world. Most of all, I was thankful for the way God had arranged everything in my life—my nationality, personality, economic status, and era—to bring me to that moment.

Surrounded by actually-from-India Indians and Buddhist pilgrims, it was the first Thanksgiving I truly saw my American privilege. As I interviewed refugees and activists, I realized how much power my U.S. passport afforded me. I realized how much my country’s political and economic stability contributed to my personal success. I realized how little I had to worry about violence, corruption, and disenfranchisement compared to the rest of the world.

Northern India is not a particularly comfortable place. The air is cold and thin, and the living conditions are spare. But on that Thanksgiving, I knew I could leave. My passport and bank account gave me endless options. They set me apart, made me privileged.

We’re conditioned in the West to think of privileged as a synonym for spoiled. We’d rather ignore our privilege than admit that the word describes us. But in doing so, we’re snubbing the good with the bad. Yes, privilege comes undeserved, and yes, it can produce feelings of entitlement, but it can also be a source of power and agency in a needy world. Coupled with gratitude and humility, privilege can do a lot of good. Used wisely, it can create options and a hand-up for those around us. Laid down, it can create a more equal world.

Years after that Himalayan Thanksgiving, I am still so grateful to be privileged. I have no idea why God decided to put me of all people in this position, but he did, and I’m trying my best not to waste such a precious gift.

I begin with gratitude—humble acceptance and thankfulness for what I do not deserve—and go from there.

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