I'm turning 45 this year, which is comfortably middle age, if not beyond. When I was 22, as a going-away present from my second ever full-time job, my supervisor gave me a book called How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.
This was in the early 2000's, before “self-care” had evolved much beyond "Calgon, take me away.” Before “female empowerment branding,” when the word "boundary" meant the confines of a geographical area and a “trigger” was just part of a gun.
These concepts (if not the terms) existed, of course, both in life and in this book and others, and although I read the book, I failed spectacularly to internalize it.
This year I really hit a wall in terms of "self-care." I realized that I needed to stop treating my body and my mind like shit; learn to ask for what I need (or take it, if necessary); set and enforce kind but firm boundaries with people and with my time; be more present; do deep breathing; exercise five times a week; practice “gratitude”; drink more water; write more; read more; and generally do a lot of other mental (and to a lesser extent physical) re-wiring that I’d previously dismissed as bullshit new-age pablum for sad privileged white ladies like myself with nothing of consequence to be sad about.
I didn't want to do these cloying things until I realized that they were the only things that were going to save me from an unrecoverable life tailspin. And they were all free, so my disdain for their marketing didn’t have to be an obstacle.
2022 was going to be the year I did this.
So I started reading more books to help me see the value in this annoying fucking crap: The Body Keeps the Score; The Courage to Be Disliked; Breath; Codependent No More; and the Mountain is You, to name a few. (That last one I wish I could put 10,000 copies of into a UN Cargo plane and air drop them, rescue-style, onto the roofs of every woman I know).
I reluctantly started to internalize their lessons with help from other converts--numerous lifelong friends who evangelized the revolutionary concept that it is actually--shockingly--totally fucking OK to just stop doing shit that feels bad, and that you don't want to do, with people you don't want to do it with. In fact, someone should write that book: "How to Stop Doing Shit that Feels Bad and That You Don't Want to Do With People You Don't Want to Do it With." For now it'll just have to suffice as the title of a blog post.
But that’s what a lot of it all boils down to: not spending what precious time you have on earth engaging in futile conflicts or going places out of a sense of obligation or trying to make other people happy when everyone is responsible for their own happiness. Recognizing when the path you are on is uncomfortable and having the clarity to know it and do something about it, which can be even more uncomfortable at first because growth and change is scary and hard.
It requires an enormous amount of “checking in” with yourself from moment to moment, which is another version of being present I guess. It requires
embracing hard and uncomfortable and real feelings, and letting them wash over you and acknowledge the reality of them without necessarily hearing them as a call to impulsive action.
It requires establishing and enforcing firm boundaries with the people in your life who, for their own reasons, tend to ignore your boundaries, and it sometimes means moving on from those relationships. It requires identifying your own needs and asserting them —not in any “selfish” way, but in a way that you can conserve valuable energy and show up for the things and people in your life that matter most. It means taking tiny concrete steps toward what seem like insurmountable goals without tripping on the future.
It’s hard AF, but it’s worth it.