I have to admit, I wrote the title to this post and laughed a little. Since when did we feel that we have to put ourselves last and put our owns interests, fun and needs behind everyone else’s? (Why does it seem as though women are affected by this more than men?)
As many of your know, today is the first day of the ‘Take Care Project’ and I’m also writing a book for you all (which is coming along better than I thought it would!). After writing this passage a few weeks ago, I knew that I had to share it with you all. As I was writing it, I was absolutely horrified at how narrow-minded and irresponsible I’d been, not towards others, but to myself. It makes me slightly ashamed to think I did this to myself and pushed myself so much, but sometimes when you’re blinded by your type-A traits, it takes getting it out in writing for you to realise how far you’ve come and how the lands lies today.
CFS book sneak-peek!
Let me set the scene- this is about 5 years after my CFS/M.E. diagnosis, having dropped out, then returned to University. I then completed my teacher training after my undergraduate degree.
Teacher training in the UK is completed in a year, and while it might seem as though that’s all it takes to hone your skills, you end up squeezing every since minute out of that year. We had lectures and tutorials back-to-back, along with 2 periods of time spent in a ‘real’ school on a reduced teaching timetable. My first placement was 4 weeks long, and this was when my perfectionist self really rose up and hit me between the eyes. Every single aspect of my lesson had to be perfect. If a student acted up or an activity didn’t go that way I thought it would, I would beat myself up about it for hours, sometimes days, afterwards. Little did I know how wasteful this energy would be in the long-run, especially when you’ve got a full teaching load, as well as numerous other school-based responsibilities.
Just when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, all my stress and anxiety caught up with me, and I got the flu. It was winter in the UK and to be honest, I didn’t draw any link between being out-of-my-mind stressed at work to being sick. Everyone got sick in winter, didn’t they? I remember being absolutely baffled at my then Head of Department who went swimming every evening on her way home from school to relax after a frantic day. How could she afford the time? How could be so utterly chilled out? I learned in hindsight that she was doing was I now know is crucial to not just recovery, but life in general. In the words of the inimitable Dale Carnegie, “Rest before you get tired.” Still, in my young naivety, I couldn’t fathom how or why this gorgeous lady felt the need to care for herself so unashamedly- how selfish!
The Christmas holidays were spent writing essays. Even on the afternoon of Christmas Day (yep, I was that far over the line!), I had a spare hour while everyone was dozing to make some leeway on my Masters essay about bullying, a topic very close to my heart for reasons you read about earlier. Rather than comment on how rude I was being or whether it might be a good idea just to give it a rest for a day, my parents just left me. They knew that I’d work whether they insisted I had a day off or not.
For my second, longer placement, I had more of the same, but this time instead of becoming sick, my stress and anxiety played out in a different way. Because I was so stressed and so keen to make sure that all the students thought I was wonderful (an affliction a lot of teachers have, whether they’ll admit to it or not), nutrition and the amount I was eating really fell by the wayside. Breakfast was taken care of, as my Grandparents who I was staying with for this placement, insisted that I sat down with them and had a good breakfast, God bless them. All the other bits in between however weren’t as easy. Lunch, if I remembered to grab something at all, was half a piece of bread or a few crackers and a mug or instant soup. No wonder I was seeing stars after my last lesson of each day. I had absolutely no sense of what it meant to nourish yourself or respect your body’s need for natural (non-synthetic) nutrition. I managed to convince myself that even the act of sitting down, chilling out and eating was a total waste, and I could be maximising my multi-tasking time. I always managed to get something, but I turned into someone who definitely eats for fuel, rather than for any kind of enjoyment or pleasure.
As you can probably imagine, I was absolutely shocked on reading this. After writing it, it didn’t fully register just how much I seemed to disrespect myself and how unworthy I seemed to think I was.
Am I selfish for taking care of myself?
Given what I’ve revealed here (and remember this was a few years after my CFS diagnosis!), suddenly taking care of yourself doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world- anything to avoid feeling empty and constantly grasping at the next task. If this book is teaching me anything, it’s to respect how far I’ve come, and sometimes you can only do this by emptying yourself of expectation and stepping out of your own way.
I hope by sharing this, you might be able to realise where in your life you need to care for yourself a little more. I was absolutely frantic in those days, and I occasionally find the same impulses bubbling up to the surface (I’m only human). This is not about competing or trying to make as many green smoothies in a week as possible- it’s about being gentle with yourself and allowing yourself some breathing space.
I’d love to hear from you below- how does stress and anxiety affect you? Do you feel selfish for taking care of yourself?
Love, Katie xxx
* Rose photo by Meredith Whitman adapted from Unsplash
For more on self-love and some great links, click here.
I have an anxiety/panic disorder that rears it’s ugly head every time I go through very stressful times. I have been through ten years of some intense stress and I am suffering from it now. Many deaths and other situations that kept me taking care of everyone else but me. And while I would never trade taking care of the people I love, I now realize how I completely left out any care for myself. No wonder I just completely burned out and fell apart. I am working hard to regain my old self and get past this anxiety. So please, everyone, take care of yourself too and don’t feel guilty (which we all do!) about it. And remember that if you don’t, you’ll burn out and not be of any use to anyone, so it’s really a lot less selfish than we think. Great post Katie and I can’t wait for your book!
This is such incredible advice Sheila- thank you my love. As you say, we would never trade taking care of people, but there has to be a balance. The times when I get anxious are the time when my self-care has gone completely out the window.
Thank you beautiful- xx
I totally identify myself with that… As a teacher, I remember long afternoons, holidays, evening… Preoaring stuff for my students, not giving myself time for anything that means pleasure. It’s beeing a difficult part of my recovering, and I’m out of common life now for 2 years, and I csn’t keep a job, as you could…
That’s the result of not taking care of you and not loving yourself…
What’s good is thst you now learn this and put it into practice . It will lead you to a full life some day…
Big post Katie. A big hug
Thank you my love- I completely understand the feeling of filling every second with stuff to do as a teacher! One of the girls at school is a yoga teacher, and she has started giving classes once a week before school. I’ve made this a complete non-negotiable in my schedule and now go every week. The ‘old’ me definitely wouldn’t have done that!
Love of love- big hug- xxx