How I Learned to Take Exquisite Care of Myself

Recently while driving I heard an interview with Christine Carter, a life balance expert, talking about how to be happier. Really, she said, it all boiled down to self-care.

I put the car into park and listened as her words filled me with a quiet, certain joy.

The way she got back to that much desired productivity ‘sweet spot’, she said, was by slowing down. Doing less. Listening to herself more. Refusing to multi-task.

That’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few years. In Christine Carter’s case, a sudden serious illness forced her to stop and reassess her life. For me, it was the death of my daughter.

Even then — in the most severe of situations — letting go was nearly impossible for me to do. All my life I had been an achiever, a doer, a leader. Yet now the bottom had dropped out.

Could I really take a break? Who would I be if I truly let go?

My inner bully insisted this would be the end of everything. It advised me to hang on, no matter what. So I tried to, believing that my success and well being rested solely on how hard I worked and how much I pushed.

Like a veteran soldier I forged ahead. Six weeks after my daughter’s death I launched a new business right on schedule. God forbid I stopped and felt my feelings, because then I would be truly immobilized.

The launch was relatively successful, but within a month I was a wreck. Delivering the new work was much harder than I had anticipated. A dear friend advised me to stop. So I finally did, crawling off to bed as if my life depended on it. The new business quickly evaporated.

For weeks that turned into months, I did nothing but rest. I kept thinking I needed to get back to work, but somehow I couldn’t. My inner bully tried, valiantly, to get me back in motion. But something had changed.

I began to realize I deserved a rest after all these years. Certainly I needed one now, as I began a radically different life alone in California without my beloved daughter.

So I gave myself massive permission to be however I needed to be.

I lay in bed whenever I wanted to. I let myself cry as much as I needed to. I went on long walks in redwood forests or along the coast. I exercised. I drank a superfood smoothie every day. And I went to support group meetings where I talked about my pain.

At first I was going to take two months off, then four months. That became six months. Finally after an entire year of self-care, I emerged and began to work. Along the way I had stopped questioning when I would get back to work, or even what I was doing.

I kept hearing Teal’s voice in my head, “Just be, Mom. Just be.”

So I practiced being, and along the way I began to find myself again … my true self. The one who was forgotten all those years ago. I rediscovered yoga, wearing lots of lace, and listening to classical music. I went to Paris for two months. I found new friends and even fell in love.

Now, two and a half years later, I have returned to my true work as a writer. I am in a wonderful, deeply loving relationship. And I no longer get woken up by my inner bully every day, jamming my head with to-do’s. Instead I meditate. I go to my yoga class. Then I sit down at the right time and I write.

The inner bully is still there, of course, but she’s become a gentle chider. And I chide her right back. We have become friends because now I’m on to her.

True effectiveness is not about pushing yourself with caffeine or getting the right apps to pound out more work. It’s not about strategically napping, or figuring out more ways to manage email so you didn’t feel overwhelmed.

It’s about allowing yourself to unfold like the perfect flower that you are, petal by delicate petal. So we surrender to that river of joy that lives within all of us but that is so seldom heard or felt in the rush of life.

This is one of the great ironies of life. We are far more fragile than we know — yet when that fragility is honored, and we deeply care for ourselves, we become far more powerful.

May you care for yourself well today, friend, in all that you do.

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