Roughly 5 years ago, I sat in a psychologist's office and was presented with a question that I wasn't sure how to answer. The question the therapist posed was "what are you doing to take care of yourself?" My initial thought was; "well, I brush my teeth... does that count?" To be truthful, I wasn't sure what I did that was entirely for myself, or how that even mattered. I was 3 months postpartum with my first baby who incidentally suffered from GERD and colic. To sum it up, my life was an exhausting blur of stressful days, so all I wanted that particular day was for my therapist to wipe away my mental anxiety and send me home. I didn't understand how her question was relevant, the words she spoke next, however, stayed with me ever since. She simply said: "You can't care for your baby the way he deserves if you're neglecting yourself." That was all I needed to get me through the next several years. It took time, but eventually, I was able to do little things here and there to care for my mental health on my own.
I had wanted to be the perfect mother, but I was functioning in the negative emotionally and mentally, I had nothing left to give but I was giving it anyway. The analogy my therapist used to help me understand how important self-care is, was the "love bank system". We can't withdraw money from a bank account that has no funds, or if we do, our account winds up in the negative, love is the same way. If your love bank is empty, you can't give anyone else love, no matter how much you want to. When we try to give of ourselves to others while our bank is empty, we start functioning in the negative (just like a real bank). Unfortunately, with love banks, there's no setting that can just "decline" a withdrawal. When I withdraw from an empty love bank, what comes out is the opposite of my intent. I end up giving a negative comment, a snarky glare, and an "I'll get to it in a minute" but then forgetting all about the promise. Often I don't even realize that I'm operating in the negative until I've been doing it for too long.
That day, sitting in the therapist's office, I didn't even know how to care for myself. I felt like I needed to be able to go out and spend loads of money on massages, mani-pedi's, or shopping trips, all of which we couldn't afford. In the following weeks, I discovered that there's more to "self-care" than spending money. It's 5 minutes in a quiet room alone, it's a shower without distraction, it's a quiet walk, and it's anything else that releases the built-up tension inside my mind, it's anything that makes me feel human again. Self-care comes in many forms and is specific to each individual. Finding the small things in your day-to-day life that releases your mind is vital to being a good parent, a good spouse, and a good human being.
I'd often feel guilty when I would take time to do something for myself. I felt as if I was being selfish and taking away from my family. Self-care is the exact opposite of selfishness though, by caring for ourselves, we're giving our family the best version of us. We love so much harder, give so much more, and care so much deeper when we're at peace internally.
Caring for yourself is caring for your family.