We hear it all the time right? “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” While that is true, it seems it’s often said to us during an especially demanding chapter of our lives from someone who is in a completely different situation than we are. It’s so easy to shrug it off as “well, that’s easy for them to say, they…”, I get it. I’ve been there, I am there most days.
I talk about self care a lot on the blog, and to be honest, the reason mostly comes from the fact that self care scares the (insert any expletive) out of me. I am a nervous, anxious, ADHD, Neurodivergent 31 year old who happens to also be homeschooling and raising and homeschooling two strong willed, individuals who also call me their mama. My days are long, my patience is often short. I battle sensory needs and embracing chaos while trying to make sure we have clean underwear to wear. Am I trying to get sympathy? Heck no. Am I comparing my journey to yours? Never. I want you to know that I’m not writing from my ivory tower while the maid scrubs our 4th bathroom. I’m in the trenches with you mama.
The hardest thing for me about self care is being able to acknowledge when I’m at a deficit. When I’ve put myself at the bottom of the list (let’s be real, it’s not a grocery list that follows logic and planning, it’s a list of forest fires that need to be put out, and since I can usually keep my stuff together, my self care ends up in low priority) for too long, I start noticing my sensory needs show up first. I can’t get comfortable in my skin, my mind won’t quiet, sleeping becomes really hard, accomplishing daily tasks becomes a cluttered mess, and loud music or sounds trigger headaches and what literally looks like an angry mama bear. If I don’t get my stuff together when it shows up like this, it progresses to panic attacks, insomnia, depression, spiraling thoughts, and sometimes Autistic shutdown. Which, isn’t optimal.
So, when you get to this point, and you can’t just check your kids into a child watch center for 72 hours while you eat bon-bons on the couch, what do you do? What do you do when you’re so past the point of needing a pedicure and you’re more to where you need to unplug and just get away? Well, let’s talk about that.
If you can, find a moment and figure out if your basic needs are met. Have you eaten recently? When’s the last time you had a cup of water and not an iced latte? How has sleep been lately? Who was the last person you had an actual conversation with? This may seem incredibly simple, but- I can tell you there’s times where I’ve had this check in and I couldn’t remember the last time I had a glass of water, or I hadn’t eaten in 10 hours. Living in a crazy hectic phase of life means our priorities shift, and we need to take care of you. In case no one has told you this lately, I will; You are worthy of care. If this is a section that really speaks to you, and you’re having a hard time having your basic needs met, let’s figure it out. If it’s not an external issue of lack of funds to care for basic needs, we need to streamline some things so you can put your needs on auto-pilot so they’re covered and you don’t have to stress about it. Eating an issue? Let’s pick the same lunch and breakfast for the entire week so you can just make your oatmeal on auto-pilot or your turkey sandwich everyday. Is sleep an issue? What do we need to do so you can get more rest? If you have a newborn, how can we get a nap incorporated for you? How can we engage our network to get some support? Spend a couple minutes and simplify these needs down to basic steps. Treat yourself with care. You’re worthy.
Okay, so your basic needs are being met. You’re eating, you’re sleeping, but you’re lacking luster and you just are running low on energy, empathy, and patience. Let’s look at how you’re feeding your soul. It’s taken me some time to figure out what re-energizes me the most. Of course, I could send you to an enneagram chart to fill out the equivalent of a BuzzFeed quiz (and you still can if you want, I’m a split Type 5 & 9 if you’re wondering). But, honestly, the best way to feed your soul is to try these two things.
Think about a time when you loved what you were doing. Now, I’m not talking about that one time you got a babysitter and stayed out clubbing like it was 1999 and drank so many Vodka Red Bulls you could see stars. What I’m talking about is, what did you do before this phase of life? Did you journal? What about watercolors? Did you love visiting the Lush store and taking baths? Were you really good with makeup? Did you volunteer? What fed your soul? I can tell you right now, I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always loved the connection and power behind the written word. I love that I can write this with a cup of coffee while my two kids are napping (I should buy a lottery ticket) and you may be reading this at 2am on a Tuesday night while your baby is up and we get to have this connection. Think about what used to feed your soul, and try it again. If it’s hard or you’re “not good anymore”, give yourself some grace and some time.
Oh, the balance of social media. I’m not going to call it the devil, because it simply isn’t. For a lot of stay at home caregivers, it is a welcome portal into the outside world. A way to access a community (let’s be real, a lot of us don’t have one), and a way to get adult interaction amidst a sea of diapers, sandwich making, and laundry.
But, what do we do when it’s not an encouraging, recharging space for us? Well, we can change it. Anyone who’s on your feed or timeline, is there because they were granted space. Next time, when you’re on your Instagram scrolling- take a moment to unfollow any accounts that pop up that either inspire feelings you don’t like or feel like an emotional drain. Is it a family member or workmate that would be awkward to unfollow? Mute them! It’s a beautiful feature that is a gift from the Instagram gods. Same thing with Facebook. When we started our last no spend month challenge, I took the time to unfollow any accounts or groups on Facebook that just inspired me to spend money. It made a massive difference in my head space. Maybe social media doesn’t effect you, in that case, I’m very happy for you. But, just realize that your power over social media isn’t a judgement on anyone who relies on it for interaction.
As a second leg of the last paragraph, follow accounts that inspire you! Instagram is rich with artists, poets, and activism accounts who can fill your feed with hope and beauty. Power to shape your feed is exactly that, power to shape a place you enjoy spending time.
Now, I’m not talking about calling up your friend from middle school and signing up for her Beachbody course. But, you have to move your body in some way to meet your basic needs. Maybe it’s going for a walk in the park or stim dancing in your living room, perhaps it’s taking up running or doing a YouTube workout. Move your body. It’s worth the investment.
Putting it together
This was a lot of content in one post, and please don’t feel that I’m beating you over the head on how to be a better human. Taking care of yourself is a lifelong journey for many of us, and none of us are perfect at it. What I want you to leave this post understanding is that you are worthy of care, shaping your mindscape is important, and that while bad days are inevitable, make sure your basic needs are being met. If they aren’t, a mental health professional is a vital tool in this huge tool box. There have been so many times where I ran out of tools and needed external help. Whether that was talk therapy on a counselors couch or Zoloft with my morning coffee for a season of life. Take care of you. Surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed. Find your community. Remember that if I’m writing about this, and you’re feeling it too, we are not the only two carers who feel this way. There are other moms out there who are desperately wanting to find you to be in their community too.
You’ve got this mama.