When taking care of a family and students, it is really hard to focus on one’s own needs. I felt like I had to do it all. I had to be there for everyone in this brand-new reality and I had to be able to handle it all and live exactly the way I did before because I still had work, my husband still had work, my kids still had school, and there was still shopping to do, and food to put on a table. But everything wasn’t normal and the increased labor of home schooling my kids, trying to shop when there were decreased hours at the supermarket, empty shelves, and lines to get in, and the loss of a house cleaner because we were all isolated, finally broke me.
I have probably always suffered from some amount of anxiety and depression due to genetics, but I had always been able to cope. Not anymore. I was self-aware enough to know that what I was feeling was beyond something I could handle on my own and I called my doctor and immediately lined up a therapist. My therapist told me to press pause - and stop. The first thing my therapist taught me was that self-care is not selfish. Self-care is the only way that anyone can care for others. I have always made fitness a priority and this was the first thing my therapist told me to make time for. Exercise, releases endorphins, a.k.a. the happy hormone. The next thing we began working on was sleep. I learned that 90% of depression is solved through healthy sleep habits. One thing that has helped me is having a bedtime ritual. I had begun chanting a psalm before bed as a promise to a sick friend, but I would chant it whenever I remembered it during the day. She advised saying it before bed as having a bedtime ritual prepares the mind before bed. As I am a light sleeper, she told me not to stress when I can’t sleep. Rather, laugh at myself that I’m awake again, take a sip of water, and remind myself of the time I hope to wake up. In time, these practices have allowed me the gift of more sleep.
I learned that it is okay to say no to my employer. I am entitled to a break, my employer knows I work hard, and if I feel it is something that might be over the top, it’s okay to express that and ask for help without fear of retribution. I learned that it is also okay to say no to my children and to tell them I’m taking “me” time. When I do this, I teach them the value of self-care. And, finally, I began taking the advice that I give to my own students, but had never taken myself. I had taken mindfulness courses for the purpose of teaching my students to become aware of their thoughts, feelings and body in the present moment. I lead advisory and give them advice on problem solving, time management, stress management and self-advocacy. While the solution to practice these skills on myself might seem self-evident, it took an outside observer, my therapist, to point out that I had the skills within me all along. And, so, I regularly practice mindfulness and continue to learn - for myself.
And lastly, I’m honest with my family, my friends, and anyone who asks how I’m getting along in this pandemic. Expressing how I really feel, how I’m really doing, and that I could not do this on my own and that I needed outside help offsets my own stress, and as a pleasant by-product, has allowed others to open up to me about how they’re doing and feel relief that they are not alone. So, how am I doing now? Great! Honestly, great. I’m not great in every moment, but in this moment, I’m great. I did some positive self-talk today when I felt the pressure mounting, I kept the door closed for “me time” for two minutes after I had finished my work to put in one more number on Sunday's Sudoku, and then I went to prepare dinner. I took time to go outside and feel the sun for just 20 seconds and appreciate the warmth. Sometimes it just takes 20 seconds to press pause.