Not even an hour before, I was on the beach just a block away.
It was my brother's destination wedding weekend in St. Pete Beach, Florida just a 2-hours drive from our home at the time. It was Sabbath, the day before the wedding, and both families (my brother's and his bride's) were out enjoying a warm January morning on the beach. Beaches are my absolute favorite, so of course I longed to join them.
Sure, I'd delivered an 11-pound baby just 6 days before. But I figured if I could get out to where everyone was, I would just sit and enjoy the scenery and let my postpartum body relax. How hard could it be?
Apparently harder than I thought. Not even a few yards into the sand, I felt like I'd paced a dessert and back. I was hot, my calves ached, and I felt heavy like I was sinking further into quicksand with each step. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it to where everyone else was, and certainly not make it all the way back. My husband walked baby and me back to the condo where we could get some real rest.
At first, I felt defeated. Who can't simply walk on a beach?
Then, nestled with baby on the condo floor, I looked over at my sweet little chub filling out his size 0-3 month onesie. I felt the warmth of the sun washing away my false hopes of where I thought I should be and felt a deep peace knowing this was exactly where I needed to be. With my brand new only-a-newborn-once son, relishing the view of watching him sleep. Letting my body slow and rest to allow the post-childbirth bleeding to stop in its own time, rather than making it worse by pushing myself in the name of not missing out.
That's the image that keeps coming to mind as I think about my venture into self-care over the last couple years. Except I've had a long walk off the beach away from what I wanted, to be able to find a little more of what I needed. And that was some good old fashioned self-care.
I've had to say "no" to so many things I wanted, including after saying some haphazard "yeses" on my good days. I've felt guilty over disappointing people with my lack of follow-through, and simultaneously embarrassed that I didn't understand what I was going through so couldn't use it as an explanation.
I've had mornings that I strongly felt I couldn't go on without a nap at 9 a.m., or some naps I've woken up from and prayed for the energy to get out of bed. I've been unable to cry and felt like I'd explode from the pressure, and I've been afraid I felt too much and might not be able to stop crying if I started. I've experienced my first panic attacks and my first realization that some low-grade anxiety has maybe always been part of my life, the same way low-grade depression has.
I've lost passion for things I've loved to the point of thinking the words, "I miss being alive." Of course I knew I meant I miss feeling alive, but in my head it was being fully alive that I missed.
And honestly, all of this has gone off and on with outsiders hardly able to notice unless I told them so. There were still tons of good and capable moments and days to make me believe I was fine or just having the occasional "off" day. I wasn't clinically depressed with a "fix" one diagnosis and prescription away. Instead, it was a web of symptoms connected to a web of causes that ebbed and flowed, leaving me not always able to decipher if the chicken laid the egg or hatched from the egg.
Untangling the web has included slow and steady self-care over the long haul. Yearly doctor's appointments and blood draws that at various times pointed to low iron and low Vitamin D as the culprits to my lack of energy, loss of passion, mixed up emotions. Starting my own routine with a counselor, because no amount of my encouraging others to see a counselor makes up for my not seeing one myself in 10 years. (And realizing I didn't even finish what I first started in counseling 10 years ago.)
Not accepting the explanation that I have 3 kids and that's why I'm tired, as if this inner aching is the life I can expect from here on. (You would not believe how many times people remind me I have 3 kids as if that's reason enough to be incapable of living my life to its fullest.)
Regularly taking iron, a Vitamin B complex, and Vitamin D even in the summer (because it was still summer when I first tested low in it). And more daily habits including nightly vinyasas, less caffeine and more water, writing morning pages for a little daily therapy, making an effort to see good friends, saying no when old me could have said yes, allowing space for the feels even if they're uncomfortable, and grace for not being able to fit in a day what I once was able to.
And the doozy for me: Finding my value in something other than productivity. Seeing that God gave me worth in my mere existence (based on His mere existence), not in anything I'm capable of and can produce. When I had newborn babies, I felt accomplished when the laundry was clean and the dishes put away. Now when I do only those things, I reprimand myself for not having done more.
I have a long history of depending on results I can see and checking off lists, so I've had to make new lists that simply ask, Did I put pen to paper today, even if it was just in my own journal? Did I take my vitamins? Did I read truth from God's Word? Did I unplug and sit in the uncomfortable stillness if even for a moment? Did I truly see my loved ones and be present with them? Can I find at least one reason to be grateful? If yes, then I succeeded in living today.
The results of getting things done will for sure fade away; the deeper meaningfulness of life cannot. Because even when we're gone from this Earth, we are forever safely in God's care. And that's enough for me to trust. And give thanks.
I'm still in the midst of it. Soaking in the Son-rays washing away my false hopes of where I think I should be and accepting the deep peace knowing this is exactly where I need to be. Letting my body slow and rest to allow the metaphorical bleeding to stop in its own time, rather than making it worse by pushing myself in the name of not missing out.
I've meant to write about self-care for a while now, but imagined more of a how-to post or list of ideas for you to use (updated: here's that list of self-care ideas). I suppose simply telling you my vulnerably honest experience these last couple years is what really needed to come forth, despite it's melancholy overtones. The full human experience includes the range of joy and pain, sometimes even at the same time.
If you can at all relate, may you feel a little less alone and be encouraged to get the help that you need. You are every bit worth the effort and the care, dear friend.