Yesterday I took a self-care break, as I was feeling really overwhelmed by things.
The day started out okay. Right after waking, Jared and I were intimate. I felt connected. I was still a little groggy, but I managed to get up. (Context: I’m no morning person. It’s usually a challenge to get out me out of bed — one that Jared has ever so graciously accepted.)
Suddenly, my morning shower started to feel like torture. There wasn’t physical pain or anything — but I felt cold, so cold, I might as well have been having a fever. I started shivering non-stop and my brain started to go off in tangents thinking all sorts of un-pretty thoughts.
Here’s the thing: to others that may sound scary or weird, but to me it feels normal. It doesn’t scare me. I’m used to having such thoughts in my head. I would rather have happier thoughts, but sometimes thoughts like that — thoughts about my perceived insufficiencies, worries about the distant future — are hard to help.
To keep a long story short, I had a breakdown. It was too much.
So I took a self-care break.
The thing with self-care breaks (in my case, at least) is that you’re taking a day off for yourself. Ideally, you get to do whatever you like and fill your day with activities you love — since you’re technically running away from work and responsibilities for a day. But that’s rarely ever the case.
On a day like that, you may feel so bad (in my case, it’s a form of self-directed sadness that wants to be acknowledged after having been bottled inside for so long) — so bad that even though you want to do the things you love, you may not even feel like doing them at all.
Plus there’s the thought that a day only has 24 hours — and that’s all the time you have to escape from reality.
I’d like to give Jared a shoutout (along with several huge hugs) for being so attentive and caring to me yesterday. It was he who suggested that I take a self-care break and I’m happy that I decided to take the day off. I admit, I hesitated at first because I knew how much he wanted to finish our project. The fact that he chose to sacrifice his own goals for my well-being really touched my heart.
Jared has been playing the piano a lot lately, in his desire to improve (and be able to accompany me while I sing, he says). Deep inside I know I’m happy for him, but the only thing keeping me from savoring this feeling is the thought that I can’t seem to do the same for myself. It’s the thought that I don’t see improvements in what I’m doing. Plus there’s just so much I want to do, I can’t seem to focus on one thing — as a result, I don’t feel like I’m getting better at anything.
Through keeping me company that day and showering me with hugs and reassuring words, he helped me realize that maybe I’m just being impatient with myself.
At a point where I felt like there was so much I wanted to do that I couldn’t decide on what to do, he asked me to make a list of all the things I wanted to do and prioritize. My list looked somewhat like this:
At one point I began to journal about my frustrations. Seeing this, Jared immediately stopped doing piano drills and hugged me from behind. I told him that I wanted to draw a sad cat. He asked me why I felt sad and I told him about my frustrations.
“Are you mad at me whenever I play the piano?” he asked.
“No, I’m not mad,” I replied. “I’m happy for you. But I feel sad and frustrated. I feel sad for myself because I don’t feel like I’m improving in anything. There are so many things I’m passionate about, so many things I like to do, but I don’t feel like I am getting better. I’m afraid I won’t be an expert at anything.”
I proceeded to tell him a story about one of my biggest fears when I was younger. “You know how I was a bit of an achiever when I was young, right? I used to draw really well for a fifth-grader. People would come up to me and praise my work. Then, one time, I heard someone say that everyone gets better at drawing by high school. She knew because she had seen some high-schoolers’ works, and all of them were good. Deep inside, I felt scared because I felt like I was going to be mediocre. I didn’t want that.”
Looking back, maybe there was a part of me that feared I was going to lose friends. Or that I wasn’t going to be who I was anymore — if I became just like everyone else.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I ran away. I made an anger-fueled escape to a place that turned out to be so much worse for me. That’s how I ended up in science high school.
Jared nodded through my story, listening with all his being, and encouraging me to speak. It was the sweetest thing — to be listened to, to have those feelings acknowledged.
After a few moments, he replied in a gentle tone, “Why should it be a competition? Didn’t you say before that life shouldn’t be a competition?”
That triggered a flash of inspiration. My mood instantly brightened. “You’re right,” I exclaimed. “Who am I competing against? I just want to do what I love, and try to do better for the sake of enjoyment!”
“And who knows,” he added, “it might be just like working out. You know the point where your strength isn’t improving, and your muscles aren’t developing?”
“I’ve reached a plateau…” I sighed.
“Yes, you might be plateauing,” Jared replied. “But you know what they say about getting past that plateau, right? Maybe you just need to push a little harder. You feel like your calligraphy skills are stagnant? Maybe you just need to practice other styles and strokes.
“And look,” he added, “You were just taking photos with our new camera upstairs. You used to feel sad about not getting manual photography, but now you can manage!”
“Yup, I sort of get how it works now. I mean, I was in broadcast communication for say, four or five whole years — that’s longer than a typical students — and that whole time I had no idea how to work a DSLR…”
“And see, you get it now!” he said excitedly, with a squeeze. “You’re improving!”
“But what about the other things I like? I want to learn watercolor, do fingerstyle guitar, and play the harmonica!” (He had given me a harmonica two years ago as a thoughtful Christmas gift — I had a harmonica when I was young and I loved playing random music with it even though I didn’t know the technique, but it got lost and I was never able to find it.)
“You can do all those things,” he said. “You just have to prioritize which ones to learn first. Schedule them throughout each day. Soon enough we’ll have a business too, and you can be a stay at home mom just like you wanted. You can do all of that.”
After that, I didn’t feel so sad anymore. I declared that I wanted to draw a happy cat.
We went through cat drawings online and he asked me to draw a silly-looking cat.
“Self-care isn’t pretty”
I’ve read in an article somewhere that self-care doesn’t always look pretty. Oftentimes, it’s the little things: learning to say no to something that will give you happiness in the short term, but will only worsen your condition in the long run. Sleeping early even though it’s tempting to spend an extra hour browsing Facebook aimlessly or conversing with friends who also have their own lives to deal with — knowing that it won’t be good for any of you.
Sometimes, you can take a day off for yourself, but it feels like you’re disinterested in anything, including the things you love. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your joie de vivre or your passion for life. Sometimes it just means you’re tired and need some rest. Sometimes it just takes a day off to recover and reframe your thoughts — with the help of a trusted friend or loved one.
It’s during down times like this that you get to appreciate your strengths, and learn to thrive in spite of your weaknesses. You begin to see yourself as someone going on a journey, and learn to love the journey itself.
I also appreciated Jared for who he truly was — my partner, my equal. What each of us doesn’t have, the other covers for. Admittedly, I would sometimes worry about having to do everything — and if I could really manage — since he is a PWD (person with disability). But healthy partnerships don’t work that way, and I’m glad I found someone who makes up for what I’m missing even if it’s not in a physical sense. (Granted, he also manages to lift heavier than I can hehe.) He also uplifts my heart and spirit, and helps me believe in myself. It’s a long way getting there, but day by day I feel more confident that I can.