I got a massage over the weekend. It's a new thing I'm doing since my mom gifted me a free one for Mother's Day. You'd think committing to a weekly one-hour date with myself would be the easiest thing in the world, but it isn't. That's the thing about this whole self-care gig -- even when you know you're doing something good for yourself, it's hard to commit.
Becoming a parent is kind of like having a switch flip on that can never, ever be turned off. Every second you're awake, and even when you're sleeping, you're burdened by the weight of being responsible for other people. Calling it a 'burden' makes it sound overwhelmingly negative. It's not. It's just that you can never truly unwind and relax, even when you're trying to give yourself the time and space to do it.
I thought about backing out of my first massage at least 25 times before I actually went. I was worried about leaving my husband to tend to everything at home -- even though he handles things every single morning while I'm working -- and I couldn't stop thinking about the grocery list I needed to write, the pending work deadlines I had coming up, the chores I needed to do, and how much taking a measly hour to do something nice for myself would throw off my whole schedule for the day.
Chances are if you've ever attempted any sort of pampering, relaxation, or even just taking five minutes to drink a hot cup of coffee without interruption, you've experienced similar self-care guilt. It's a natural response, especially for women since we are constantly bombarded with messages about self-sacrifice and being the best, most involved parent ever. Recognizing the guilt and anxiety you feel about taking care of yourself is easy. Letting go of it is the hard part.
As I was lying there on the massage table with my face in a hole and my shoulders being kneaded by a lovely woman with curiously strong hands, I started trying to squelch my guilt by telling myself over and over again (in my head -- don't want to freak the lady out) that I deserve this. I am a good mom. I am a good wife. I work really hard. I deserve to take care of myself and to feel good.
It wasn't working, so then I tried considering all the reasons I genuinely need a massage. I have terrible back pain. I've been on muscle relaxers for a few months and seen a handful of specialists. I spend hours a day writing, hunched over my laptop, and even daily workouts and added strength training aren't enough to combat the effects. I need massages. In fact, I should just hire a person to come massage me at all hours of the day. How many freelancing gigs would I need in order to make that happen?
As you can imagine, focusing on my ailments and my inability to hire a full time set of hands wasn't making things better either, so then I thought about how burned out I've felt and how desperately I needed some time to myself. I realized, hey! Here I am having alone time! I should stop having such intense conversations in my own head and just enjoy this!
It seemed to work, not because I was suddenly able to switch my internal guilt-o-meter to the 'off' position, but because I'd hit on something important: the overwhelming costs of not taking care of myself. When I don't take time for myself, I hurt physically and emotionally. I feel burned out. I feel zapped of all my joy and enthusiasm, and like I'm just slogging through my days. I start to feel resentful of my family, my work, my responsibilities, and everything else in my life. And I know that doing even the simplest of things to take care of myself can change all of that.
It might not be ideal, but sometimes the only way you can talk yourself into doing something good for you is to remind yourself of what happens when you don't. If you're struggling with carving out space for yourself, take a step back and consider how you really feel about that. Are you okay with being last? How is constantly being in last place affecting the way you feel about everything else? Chances are once you realize how low you're ranking on your own priority list, you'll end up deciding that a half-hour to yourself is downright necessary.
Mind Over Mommy is a biweekly column devoted to mental health and self-care for moms. As someone who formerly failed to make myself and my well-being a priority, I hope to create a safe space for women to share stories, learn, and encourage one another.