An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter Seven — Q: Dear Kelly, How do I Heal?
I have been, like, the strongest bitch for SO LONG. I left home at 18. I was the only one in my family to graduate from college, (which didn’t seem to me a big deal at the time, but does now.) I left the country right after that. I came back, because illegal alienship wasn’t quite right. I moved around until shit fit better. I have moved the pieces and altered the puzzle of my life whenever it seemed necessary — no matter what was involved or how it hurt — time and time again. A soldier in the face of challenge. A soldier, fighting for my own chance to thrive. I have been so strong.
Turns out, I’m actually also incredibly injured and devastatingly tired. At least I am now. Maybe I always was. I guess? I mean, it must have been there, yes? Since the beginning? Forming my pathways and pushing me forward — keeping me feeling like I had to keep moving to find something that would make me, finally, finally, feel settled and safe?
Anyway. I have suddenly realized that I am so weak and tired that some days, I can barely open the window shades. Some days, I keep my head down and avoid people’s eyes. Some days, I feel like the image I have projected out into the world is nothing but a lie. If they could see me, huddled up on the floor, here inside this house, crying so hard that I drown out the sound of my sweet little boy’s voice. If they could only see that I’m not strong at all.
But. I’m probably not being fair to me. I must be strong. I’ve gotten this far. But I am also weak. And this weakness keeps presenting itself to me, and saying, (in kind of a whiny voice, if we’re being honest) ‘Here I am, Kelly. Help me heal. Heal me. So I turn from an open wound to a scar. So that I can smooth over with fresh skin and protect you while you’re out there in this world, a-walking. Get in here with me — and help me heal.”
So — sister? How do I do that?
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HA! You’re such a bitch. You literally never ask me anything fun.
Whatever. I’m smart. I’m strong. Let’s just do this and get it over so I can eat some ice cream. (Hint: Part of my answer to you was in that first sentence there.)
YOU HEAL, MY DEAR — THROUGH SELF-CARE.
One means of self-care — for me — is eating ice cream.
Tell, me, little gal — when do we slow down that much? When else does your wrist hover, like a helicopter, over a small bowl, with such sustained strength, stability, and focus? When??
Do you remember when you would stay at your friend’s house in high school and her mom would send her up after dinner to do her “chores?” She literally called them that — chores. The “chores” were your just average nighttime to-do list. Brush teeth. Floss teeth. Wash hands. Wash face. Pat with a cloth.
You would listen to her mom give the directive, listen to your friend complain, and stand there, OBSESSED with the word choice. “Chores?” To describe a nighttime prep routine? MY GOD — the use of the word REALLY TORE YOU UP.
Self-care can feel like a chore.
You love to do yoga. But you wear your pajamas to class when you go, and this makes you feel weird, so you avoid it like the plague.
You love taking baths, but you take approximately one per year. (Meanwhile, your son is averaging one per night. You obviously know how to fill a bathtub, just not for yourself.)
You FUCKING LOVE ZUMBA. All workout classes, really. All dance classes, really. You go almost never.
You love to color. The recent trend of adult coloring books may have come about just so you would realize this important truth about yourself. You bought a real sassy-ass pack of like 200 colors after you got your first fancy coloring book, but you just let it sit in the bookshelf and get dusty.
You adore riding your bike. But you have to like, switch bags, and dress appropriately, and you sweat a lot — so you let it sit in the creepy basement and the tires go flat.
You like your face with lipstick on it, but it takes like a whole 35 seconds to put on, so you don’t really have time.
Every time you indulge the parts of you that flourish when cared for, you can literally feel yourself heal. You know how you cry at least once during every yoga class you take? And every time you’re on a treadmill? That’s when you’re mid-fix, my friend. When you are taking care of the source of you. And you are so deeply grateful for it that you can’t even hide it from yourself, in those moments.
You know how your breath steadies when you’re coloring? How your heart rate slows, as your gaze softens, as your index finger and thumb move across paper, turning it from dull to bright?
So: make your to-do list for the day, and try to include one of the things that make you feel great/better. Even if you do a thing for only like five minutes — it might have the power to affect the next five minutes. Put this shit on your to-do list and do it. DO IT LIKE IT’S A FUCKING CHORE.
And if your to-do list fails you, and you find yourself on the floor again, GET UP.
I know, I know. Not easy. When you are laying there and you feel like you want to cry until you die, it’s hard to get up and be like, “I know! I’ll just get an ice cream! And then I’ll come home and floss these pearly teeth of mine!”
But you should do just that. You should walk to the ice cream store. Put one foot in front of the other — watch the miracle that is your own body propelling you through the world. Lift your fully-functional neck up and look in the eyes of the people that pass you — even the dickheads. Smile at the person who scoops the ice cream and make sure to tip, even though you’re further in debt now than you have been in years.
Eat it slowly. Notice the texture, and the way it feels for a cold substance to hit a warm mouth, and the way the spoon clanks against your teeth, sad, and empty, as you draw it out.
Take care of your teeth.
Take care of your self.
Take care of your breath. and your heart. and your hands.
And do all of this every day.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.