Some Thursdays, I wake up feeling not-so-good. I’m not sick, but I just don’t feel right. I feel a little anxious, tired, and then I convince myself that I am getting ill, in fact. “I need a day off from the grind, damn it!” I tell the mirror. “I don’t want to get sick!” “This is how all illnesses begin, pushing too hard.”
So I decide to “give myself a break” and abandon my routine of exercise, gratitudes, meditation, and a healthy protein breakfast that put a spring in my step the previous 5 days in a row. Instead, I stay in bed, missing my workout appointment with myself because of my critically important scrolling thru news sites. I manage to avoid myself for a full hour, learning all sorts of very important things: a tourist in Yellowstone was arrested for acting like a drunk jerk (again); Brittney Spears didn’t get emancipated; ex-Pres Trump bad-mouthed a former cabinet member. Gee, fascinating.
It is like eating twinkies- no nutrition, just air and pop sugar. My adrenaline starts pumping with nowhere to go. I remember the bad dream now and I feel inadequate about that unfinished project at work needling at me through my dreams.
When I do stumble out of bed, tearing myself away from buildings collapsing, children being shot by police, dogs being abandoned, and important stories about kittens being raised by chickens, I go to the kitchen for brownies. Just bite-size. They go so well with the milky chai tea! Made for each other, practically. I am eating a delicacy, a very special breakfast, just for me today. Or maybe the stale fruit loops left behind from a visitor 3 weeks ago. Anything with sugar sates. No, I am not brushing my teeth or getting dressed. I am far too busy pacing around with my phone in my face.
My reptilian dragon-breath brain prefers this self(un)care, even though it means I am jumping into a well without a ladder. I will muck around in the grimy dark, feeling sad about my strange family with the calloused brothers and unfeeling mother. I decide to feel terrified of the heat wave in Pacific Northwest, bringing me to guilt about commuting two hours a week. Wildfires are sure to start any day now, burning forests down, killing all sort of nesting birds and mammals in their dens full of babies. My town will get smoky again for weeks on end and I will be unable to exercise outside, thus adding another five pounds to my back end that already doesn’t feel like my own body with its covid bulges I have not dropped yet. Yes- I spent more time worried about my butt fat than wildfires and their impact on the watersheds. I walk around the house, disappointed in myself and my state of mind.
I fall a little deeper into that well. but do I put shoes on and talk a walk? Hell no. I pace the house instead and look for someone to blame.
No one is home, so I roll my eyes and pick up a pen and notebook to begin rambling my random thoughts. I sigh heavily, and grudgingly begin a gratitude list… Do I have a roof over my head? Food in my refrigerator? A steady job I enjoy? Healthy and happy children? Then I am better off than 95% of the world. I say a half-hearted prayer, trying not to sound TOO needy. But I am still in the dark, the well is deep and humid too, hard to breathe, I notice…
Finally, my brain allows a big “Ugh! I forgive myself for making mistakes the day before, the month before, (I guess!)”. And that, my friends, is my turning point from hopeless to hopeful. Because next I decide to forgive my brother for sending me a thumbs up emoji after I sent him a 100-word birthday text. I forgive my millennial report at work who was belligerent on a call with me the day before he went on vacation (the busiest day of the year). There is suddenly a twined raw little skinny rope thing in my well. And so I allow that everyone is doing their most imperfect best possible behaviors, shining through in the most human way. I think about my priorities for the day. What good work can I create?
The scrawny rope has knots on it and hand holds, so I take a step or two upwards. I remember that I like protein for breakfast and find some peanut butter on a spoon to eat. The walls of my well have grown footholds. I put on a T-shirt and shorts to work out at lunch- the sun begins to shine. I take a full breath and write down a new goal “Keep phone off until after workout” on a sticky note.
I really got mucky and dirty in that well of dark loathing thoughts this morning. But it feels good to realize that it was my choice to jump in, and my choices that pulled myself up and out of it. I did the whole journey alone; jumping down all by myself- no one to blame but me. But I got myself out of it because I know what I respond to: writing, prayer, protein, gratitude, plans, forgiveness.
After years of trying to sneak away from having good habits, I always come back to those solid self-care habits. I guess that is why I wrote a book about them!
PS- It works for everyone, not just single moms 😉