Are you someone who lives in service of others? Perhaps you are someone who will skip a meal to make sure that project gets done at work. Perhaps you are the kind of person will walk out the door and forget your shoes but you will always make sure your kid gets to school dressed and on time. Perhaps you are someone who will drop your own errands to give your friend a ride to their appointment they should have arranged ahead of time. Perhaps you are the perfectionist who stays late at the office to make sure you did the work juuuuuust right.
Have you ever hit a wall and realized that giving without receiving is unsustainable? Do you know what it feels like to have your needs neglected over the needs of other people by the most important person in your life….yourself?
Dear Ones, I too know what this feels like. Last week, I barrelled full-speed into a wall. I had just spent 10 days in Korea reconnecting with my family for my brother’s wedding. The time was deeply rewarding, but also a bit stressful, as time with family often can be. And then I came back to Vancouver and jumped straight into my very busy life of treating patients full-time at Acubalance, running a weekly fertility workshop, organizing a retreat, working on a book, prepping my garden for the spring planting, and nourishing my relationships. I found my healthy boundaries loosening and could hear myself saying “yes” to just about everything from social engagements to work obligations without asking myself if I even had the energy to commit to the task. Just sprinkle in a healthy spoonful of jet-lag and I was someone who was struggling to keep my eyelids open and my head afloat above the water. I felt guilty in all aspects of my life for not giving my usual 100% and not showing up as presently as I usually strive to do.
Hi. My name is Kathleen and I am a work-aholic and a plan-aholic. I have a list of all the things going on in my life running through my head at all times, and it takes conscious effort and intention to make sure self-care makes it on that list. Last week, self-care was so far down the list that it was pretty much non-existent. Why? Because I have the same internal voice that you have who says:
“Self care is selfish.”
“I don’t have time for self-care.”
“Self-care is expensive.”
“After I’ve taken care of everyone else, I don’t have the energy for self-care.”
Self-care is for rich people/indulgent people/narcissistic people/_______ (fill in the judgemental blank)
“I don’t deserve self-care.”
“Self-care is just so damn inconvenient.”
All these statements are little white lies that we dangerously fall into believing.
When you get swept into the cycle of not taking care of yourself, you unknowingly wander into the vortex of living in a scarcity mindset. Foregoing self-care makes you feel resentful when you really want to feel generous. Forgetting your needs makes you feel scarce when you want to feel expansive. The resentment often gets projected outwards to the rest of the world: to the driver in front of you taking their sweet time to make that left turn, to the salesperson who seems like they just don’t know what they’re doing, to our partner who is really just doing the best they can.
I define this feeling of scarcity as Empty Cup Syndrome and talk about how to set appropriate boundaries to create the intention of self-care in a previous blog post.That blog post is all about how to set loving and kind boundaries for yourself so you can prune back and say “no” in order to make space for the parts of your life that need to come to the forefront. An apple tree that is not pruned will produce a lot of fruit but it won’t be very tasty. Pruning the tree consolidates its energy into the appropriate number of fruit so that the apples the tree does bear and ripen will be delicious. Our energy is similarly finite and sometimes our list of projects and obligations need to be looked at with pruning shears in hand.
Pruning is a great way to consolidate your fruits with the intention of producing quality harvest. But every once in a while, you will do what I did this last week and look at your list of obligations and find yourself feeling reluctant to picking up those shears. I went to my long-time 5 Element acupuncturist armed with the intention of feeling “powerful” enough to prune what I felt to be the most expendable of all my tasks: writing my book. I was finding it hard to find time to sit down simply to be with my thoughts, much less put the thoughts down on paper. Working on the book felt like a chore because all the advice I have been listening to about writing has been about making sure that you treat your creative endeavours like a job. Set aside time to do it. Make room for it. Writing felt like a burden, like yet another thing I had to tick off my to-do list. My acupuncturist astutely asked me why I write and I found myself telling her how writing has always been my haven. I take to writing when I am in the midst of a storm because it calms my mind. I write to find balance. I write to process. I write to find that deep connection to myself. Lately, I have been writing because it connects me to my patients and blog readers. She smiled and said, “It sounds like writing is your self-care ritual.”
Just like that, the weight melted away. It felt like writing was a sad little houseplant that I had shoved in a corner and neglected. It wasn’t getting enough sun and I couldn’t even remember the last time I had watered it. By reorienting writing as self-care instead of “work”, I found myself feeling excited about it again. It doesn’t change the fact that I have an over-full schedule right now, but by reorienting, it felt like I had just moved the plant out of the sad, dark corner and pushed it toward a window. I no longer feel guilty about having a houseplant. In fact, I am excited to sit with this houseplant in the pockets of time that I can devote to it. Right now, it’s not a ton of time, but I feel energized, not drained after these brief encounters.
We are going into Springtime which is the time of year ripe for action and growth. During this time of year, I find many patients struggle with feeling over-stretched and over-committed. When life feels heavy in this way, take some time to write out your list of commitments. Know that you have two tools at your disposal: pruning shears and a bright sunny window and don’t be afraid to utilize your tools.
The thing about self-care is that it requires you to feel into your vulnerability and say “I have needs. My needs are just as important as the needs of other people.” Being able to pursue and receive self-care is not a luxury and we need to change the culture around this. We live in a world that rewards busy-ness. We live in a work culture that sees our value in how many clients we see in a day or how much you can do with minimal resources. We operate in relationships where martyrdom is not only accepted, but it is celebrated. Self-care is not selfish or unnecessary or for the weak. Self-care is how you take your power back. Self-care is how you feel expansive enough to offer yourself in service, not obligation to others. Self-care is the kindest act you can do for yourself and to your community.
Are you ready to step into your own empowerment? See how a session of Five Elements Acupuncture and Life Coaching can support you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Kathleen Lee FABORM, R.TCMP, L.Ac. MTCM
Image credit: Lauren Ferstl