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Take Care

by Sep 16, 2018

I take care of things…  I help with homework and organize carpools and schedule the plumber but not at the same time as the ortho or PT or allergy shots or practice.  I do piles and piles of laundry.  I research the best vitamins and find live music for date-nights.  Sometimes I work multiple jobs to pay the bills.  I plan adventures and parties that lead to “usies” and years of stories.  I take pictures that are worth a thousand words.  I walk with friends and family through grave and sobering times.  But I don’t always do a great job when I take care of myself.  Like right now…

I’m sitting here in the same comfy PJ pants from yesterday while lunching on last week’s left-over party chips and dip.  That is apparently what I’m doing to refresh and prioritize myself.  I REALLY like comfy pants, Doritos, and Dean’s French Onion dip (none of which are sponsors of this blog), but I can’t say that any of the aforementioned things should be listed as taking care of myself.  I like them.  But mostly they are just lazy.  Like many women, I’m good at taking care of things but self-care is a lower priority that often looks more like collapsing in a heap of exhaustion.   So every year, I gift myself September.

In September I relax and enjoy cooler evenings and school back in session.  I still take care of what I must, but I also read a book, visit my college roommate, go to art fairs, take the trolley to a craft beer fest, and find late summer flowers.  I sit on the patio past my bedtime (but cut it short when I sense our resident Mr. Skunky coming around).  I make a fairy VRBO out of an old chimenea.  I laugh through countless happy-hours with friends.  I hop into a kayak and watch the sunset over a lake.  I binge Brooklyn 99 with my daughter.  I get those desperately needed highlights and an end of the season pedicure.  I eat tapas and celebrate my birthday for the entire month, but my most import job (and gift) in September is to take time to breathe, reflect, and contemplate my own life.

The gift of September has been going on for decades.  Shortly after college, I wasn’t living up to my own expectations.  I had thought I would be in grad school and a writer and making a difference in the world and I was none of those things.  The idea of being one of those people who is melancholy on their birthday was not cool for me.  So for the next few years, I simply celebrated my life for the whole month by planning to do everything I loved.  Just before my 30th birthday, I realized that celebrating was not enough, I had a few kids and was stressed, exhausted, and not even sure what direction I wanted to be heading, so I wrote the original list.  It hangs above my desk and I glance at it every day, but in September I read each line and think about how balanced I’ve been.  I consider what I’m doing to support others and what I’m doing to take care of myself.  Some of the answers are easy, but some are really really hard.

So I’m sitting here and reflecting on how I rock:  I’ve read 11 books from the library, gone on 3 very frugal vacations, my kids feel loved and supported.  I went all in on my dream photography business.  I laugh so often.  My marriage is in a good place.  I fit in some of my pants.  And I consider how I could do a whole lot better:  I’m not saving enough money for college.  I don’t exercise like I should or eat as healthy as I could or buy new undies.  I half-way pull myself together on the outside, but on the inside, I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, and depression.  I like the first part of the list… but I don’t want the second part of the list to be my story.  I don’t want to finally look up to find myself with mounds of college debt and even bigger mounds of meds to regulate my body.

I sit with the list and try to let my feelings, insecurities, and vulnerabilities just be.  No guilt or shame or regrets.  I try not to make quick changes or pressure myself to perfection.  But I start to make a plan on how to take care of my things.  Some Septembers, I’ve realized that I am in a place of survival; All I should do is make it through.  Other Septembers, I’ve realized that I’ve been only surviving for a full year and it is time to adjust the anti-depressant.  Sometimes I plan an epic but frugal adventure or rework my job or drop some volunteering or start yoga or vow to reorganize the house or decide to pour a glass of red wine every day at 4pm.  Sometimes I realize that I was rocking at something for a decade and then completely lost it this past year while others are on the improvement list every single year.  But every year, I let myself take the time to celebrate my life and also refocus so that my life is what I want it to be.

My September List of Reflection– for each line I ask:

  1. Am I choosing to be passionate, healthy, and balanced in this area of my life?
  2. Are my time, energy, skills, and resources being used wisely to take care of what is important to me? 
  3. What do I have the power and ability to change that will help me meet my goals? 
  4. What resources and people should I be consulting for perspective, advice, guidance, and wisdom?  
  5. Am I proactively being responsible for my future by thoughtful prioritizing, making plans, and considering consequences or am I caught in a cycle of reactive minutia?
  • Physically – revere my body through regular exercise, conscious eating, and a healthy lifestyle
  • Mentally – restore my mind by contemplative reading,  introspective writing, and calm quietness
  • Spiritually – revive my soul with prayer, meditation, gratefulness, art, music, and creativity
  • Emotionally – renew my sanity through cheek-sore laughter and soul-deep friendships
  • Relationships – actively show respect, compassion, and gratitude to family, friends, and strangers
  • Mothering – love, guide, nurture, & protect kids so they can become adults with purpose & integrity
  • Marriage – spend time and energy on loving and enjoying and growing with my partner
  • Team – recognize strengths within my support network and work cooperatively in harmony
  • Dwelling – facilitate an atmosphere that is organized, clean, comfortable, safe, and happy
  • Resources – frugal, wise, and generous use of money, time, energy, skills, space, and belongings
  • Environment – frequently plant, protect, cherish, travel, adventure, and revel in this beautiful earth
  • Growth – provide space and flexibility to change and evolve naturally, without drama or shame
  • Understanding – listen with kindness, judge rarely, and fiercely advocate for those I can
  • Character – shape with principles, values, and love, not fear or money or expectations or feelings
  • Integrity – choose honesty, authenticity, & balance as my core and take responsibility for my mistakes

More than once, September has saved me.  More than once I’ve been in a weird rut and when I go through the list highlighting where I was awesome and circling where I could use improvement, I’m struck soundly with reality.  The reality that this rut is boring and annoying and not my jam and I GET to change.  The reality that life is short and beautiful and amazing and there is so much that can be done.   So much that I should do and want to do.  That if I continue to collapse here in my piles of laundry, Doritos, comfy pants, work, and minutia, I will be missing a lot of love and beauty and crazy stories.  This isn’t ego-centric or generically about happiness or fun or money or success or dreams.  This is about making what I value a priority and living a fulfilling and purpose-filled life.

So I’m halfway through September and right in the middle of reflecting and writing my goals and budgeting for the year.  I’m not shaming or chastising myself or hating on me… I’m recognizing my personal and public victories but I am also going to make changes (I always do).  This is a chance to redirect.  It is a chance to look up before it goes any further.  It is a chance to promise myself to get more exercise and put down Word Cookies.  It is a chance to redo the budget so money can be spent on real priorities rather than on Titos and more solar fairy lights and delivery.  It is a chance to take care of the things that really matter to me so that I don’t accidentally spend my life watching Hulu and reading memes (unless I decide memes, fairy lights, and Doritos are EXACTLY what I need right now to take care of myself– then full speed ahead!).

I know my list is more complicated than it needs to be, but I am a complicated woman.  I also know that living a life with purpose is intense and a little scary and seems exhausting, but for me, simply going through the motions without thought is much much harder.  This is sort of like organizing & decluttering.  It might be a lot of work to start, but future Kelly is ALWAYS grateful that I put in the effort.  Not every season is happy, but I can choose to make the best of what I have.  I can take care of people while still renewing my own body, mind, soul, and sanity.  I can make choices that prioritize the parts of this world that make it beautiful yet say no to that which takes away from my resources, goals, purpose, values, and sanity.  Although… for now… it is still September so I’m going to take care of myself by enjoying some Doritos, nine-nine,  and yesterday’s comfy pants while I plan a day downtown… and look for our next frugal adventure. <3