I grew up in the South, so I learned early that good Christian girls (and women) were expected to always be “nice.” This fundamental edict is ingrained in me at a very deep level, and I measure myself against it constantly.
I’ve long believed that every choice is both a yes and a no. For everything that I say yes to, I am saying no to something else. Everything that I say no to is a yes to a different choice. It’s always a trade-off.
I tend to go against the cultural norm by saying no to a lot of things that other people say yes to, but in every case, it is because I am saying yes to something that is more valuable to me (even though it doesn’t fit the “norm”).
I’ve learned over the years that I have pretty strict requirements for the amount of rest, downtime, and self-care I need in order to maintain my mental, emotional, and physical health. Compared to most people, this is fairly narrow range of tolerance for extra doing, decreased sleep, or missed routines.
This week has been extra hectic and stressful just because of the confluence of too many things all at once. I’ve been packing too much into my days, staying up too late at night, and skipping my morning pages some mornings to squeeze in a little extra rest. Missing my morning pages has left me feeling off-kilter during the day, which adds to the stress, and the lack of downtime and sleep has worn me down.
I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to people and relations appearances can be deceiving, words can be used to trick and to hide as much to expose, feelings can’t always be trusted, and that the “truth” in any given situation usually depends on who you ask. In short, there is seldom an absolute truth to any interaction between human beings, and even the truth that can be reliably nailed down in some way is likely to be interpreted differently by each participant and each viewer.
For many years, this made me hesitant to trust my own perceptions of situations I found myself in. I distrusted my feelings, questioned my motives, doubted my observations. Most of all, I ignored my intuition. At the slightest hint of contradiction to my own opinions, I accepted the “truth” of those around me above my own knowing.
Stories. I love ’em and can’t live without ’em. But they also make my life hellish, if I’m not careful.
Today was day two of this migraine-like sinus headache. I don’t get these often, but when I do, they are a doozy. They come complete with nausea and severe sensitivities to noise and scents to go along with the pain in my head. So I took a sick day and stayed home where I could limit my movement (and noise and odors) to control the nausea. I spent the day on the couch crocheting, which requires very little motion except in my hands.
It also meant a day that allowed my mind to roam, and when it’s allowed time to roam free, it tells stories. And especially when I’m not feeling well, my mind can come up with some pretty depressing stories!
As I anxiously watch the election results roll in tonight while trying (not very successfully) to study for an exam later this week after having gotten up even earlier than usual this morning to vote, I’m very aware of that some heavy-duty self-care is in order right about now. As I try to sort through all of the things that are on my to-do list to figure out what I owe to whom right now, it’s hard to make letting it all go to do something for myself to care for myself a priority.
I really struggle with doing things for myself. I tend to put a lot of energy into first making sure that everyone else’s needs and wants are met first and that my plan to do something for myself isn’t going to inconvenience or bother anyone else.
This is true whether I’m thinking about setting appropriate boundaries, doing something I want to do, or even basic necessary self-care. I usually wait until a complete crash is imminent before I do what I need to do to take care of myself. (And even then, I feel horribly guilty about it—especially when other people complain or disapprove.)
I must need to hear a clear message about setting and keeping boundaries around my writing practice because posts on this topic appeared everywhere I looked this week! Three of these showed up in the RSS reader on the same day; the fourth showed up the next day. They don’t all specifically mention boundaries, but each of them are directly or indirectly about the impact of setting appropriate boundaries around our writing practice on our productivity.
Oddly enough, setting boundaries around my writing practice is one area that I find to be easier than most other boundary-setting endeavors, but boundary-setting is one area that I still need to improve in all around, so some of these apply for me in more than just writing situations. I’m getting so much better with this, but I am encouraged to keep up the work after reading these.
“If you took a blue spruce tree and planted it in the desert, it would obviously perish. How do we forget that we too are living systems, and each of us have unique environments, needs, and conditions within which we flourish or wither?” ~Dawna Markova
Although we are far from desert conditions here in the Midwest, the last couple years of hotter, drier weather has taken a toll on the blue spruce trees in the area. I have four of them in my yard. One didn’t make it through last summer, and the other three are struggling despite the fact that I have been watering them in the dry spells. My trees are far from alone, though. I now notice other blue spruce trees everywhere I drive around town, and I’ve seen many others that are dead or struggling under these conditions.
Therefore, this quote from Dawna Markova really resonated with me. There are conditions where it is obvious that a given living specimen will not be able to survive, like a blue spruce tree in the desert or a fish on dry land, but there are also conditions that are sufficiently stressful to an organism that even if it does not kill it, it will stress the organism enough that over time it will begin to show the ill effects.
“The nature of conflict means you can’t set a boundary in your life and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time.” ~Martha Beck
Setting (and sticking to) good boundaries is something that I really don’t do well at all. I think Martha’s quote has finally helped me to understand why this is the case.
I was raised to believe that it is my job to take of the feelings of everyone around me at all times. In fact, any lapse in taking care of others’ feelings was proof that I was undeserving of being loved. (No, those words weren’t literally spoken to me, but that was the message that was acted out.)
I’ve been sick recently, which has caused me to miss work and miss social events that I really wanted to attend in order to respect my body’s need to rest in order to heal. Listening to my body’s needs and taking care of myself when I need to do so is generally not one of my strengths, but this time I listened to my body’s needs early in the process and likely avoided what would have been greater illness if I had continued to soldier ahead. I believe that one thing that helped me to do better at listening this time is that I have been surrounded by messages recently about how important this is—not just for our physical health but also for our overall well-being and productivity.