"Take care of you!" My mom always says as I go out the door or hang up the phone. Lately, I've been doing kind of a crap job of it. I've been feeling kinda tired, stressed, and not really sure why. An expert at keeping feelings from my conscious mind, I often don't realize I'm stressed until I find myself suddenly wide awake at 2am several nights in a row, or when I feel how clenched my body is as I stretch with my voice students, or notice how small setbacks or changes in plans make me very crabby, or how I avoid answering emails or returning phonecalls or agreeing to do things. I've gotten to the point where I can pick up on the signs of overwhelm a little faster, but I still have a lot of learning to do about maintenance of self instead of the crash-and-recover model I've lived for so long.
Yesterday I biked 2 hours round-trip in a headwind to do laundry at my parents' house. It was really tough and I think I scared a pedestrian when I swore at a particularly strong blast of wind. I got home with 30mins before I had to teach, threw my clothes into my bedroom, put away my bike, ran through the shower, taught until 6:30, and facetimed a friend and then my siblings until 11pm. Not all work, as you can see, but a lot of going and doing for this little introvert.
Today I sort of accidentally went for a 2hr walk. I got a sunburn. I attended a virtual workshop. I taught for 2.5 hours. I scarfed down some supper and then had a meeting that ended at 8:30. Then I knew it was time. Time to tackle the mountain of dishes that lurked in my tiny kitchen.
The worst thing about tiny kitchens is how overwhelming the dish pile looks and how quickly that happens. Six dishes on the sideboard and it looks like you don't know what dish soap is.
The best thing about tiny kitchens is how quickly that mess is resolved because it only takes like 5mins to wash six dishes.
Unfortunately, I am easily overwhelmed and even though I know in my heart it will not take long, I have avoided the dishes for nearly a week. After using the last spoon today and having no plates or bowls, I knew it was time to face the soapy music.
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, as they say, so I turned on A Single Serving Podcast (my fave) and filled up the sink. The show's host, Shani Silver (how cool is that name!?) talked about how, when you know you have a tough or busy time coming up, you can take care of your future self by preparing. Things like grocery shopping or cleaning or whatever it is that will help your future self feel safe and cared for. This put my dishwashing in a new light: I was taking care of future me. I knew I could no longer stand another day of waking up to the overwhelming mess that was my kitchen, and I wanted to help future me feel a little less overwhelmed and stressed by doing this thing for her.
It got me thinking about other ways in which I could take care of myself during this time when I'm feeling kinda bleh. So when I finished the dishes (it took all of 40mins to wash and dry all the dishes and make my kitchen look beautiful. I've been avoiding it for a week, people) I decided Future Beth would really like some premade salads. I have all the ingredients in the fridge, but I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the thought of having to chop and prepare everything. So I went ahead and prepared those and tucked them in the fridge with such a deep sense of satisfaction. "Thanks, past Beth!", I will say.
Then I thought, why stop there? It's 10pm, the night is young! Normally, 10pm is really late for me to be productive in this life, but I was on a roll. I planned A Day Off on Sunday, a day to just sleep in and not do anything. It's not easy for anyone to find that kind of time, but I feel like the self-employed have a particular flavour of difficult. Work finds you, no matter where you are. But I am determined to take this Day Off of work and chores and everything. I will clean my house ahead of time, get groceries ahead of time, and ask myself how I can feel cared for. A trip to the grocery store was planned, and I put in a few little treats for Sunday to make it nice because I love food.
And really, asking myself "How can I take care of future me?" while not revolutionary, has sort of fallen by the wayside lately in light of the Things I Must Do. And those things must be done; we can't always have time to care for ourselves to the extent we want or need. Eventually we need to make that time, but you know what I mean. Sometimes we have seasons (which sounds so saccharine to me) of business. Business Season. The problem with me is that I'm like someone who gets Seasonal Affective Disorder after three cloudy days in October. I don't really have the stamina or whatever it is people need to Push Through. I fall apart pretty quickly and easily, it feels. And it's hard to remember that stamina and Pushing Through are really very overrated. Taking care of me is important, and not a weakness, and maybe the lack of stamina is because I have Pushed Through a lot of things in my life that maybe I shouldn't have. And now I need to learn to treat myself nicely and ask how I can make my own life a little easier on myself. It's not cheating to make your life easier on yourself.
Anyway, I hope you can take some time to ask yourself "How can I take care of me?" Even if it's just doing the dishes so you can wake up tomorrow with a clean kitchen and a plate on which to put your muffin. Or, if you're able, plan a Day Off and really take the time to journal out your feelings and thoughts and do some work on how you're really doing. Watch those guilty-pleasure YouTube videos about people gardening and drinking tea and offering sage life advice. Maybe taking care of you is buying yourself flowers, or just looking out the window at the green growing things. Maybe it's having a nap. Or petting a dog! Whatever it is, remember that it's important work, just as important as your other work.
Take care of you <3