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Learning to Have Compassion for Myself When Self-Care Is Uncomfortable

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All the memes on Facebook, all the self-care lists everyone shares. Don’t get me wrong, I find that a lot of them are helpful. However, I am tired. Aren’t you? Even a little?

We are in the middle of a pandemic across the world due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is an international crisis. And, I am still in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) trauma therapy via telehealth. My therapist and I have done EMDR by video chat while we are both in our homes. I am entirely grateful to still have this ability.

Healing my trauma, losing my job and not hearing from unemployment, cleaning absolutely everything and quarantine… is a lot. I have been at this therapy thing for about six years and the last two and a half have been EMDR. It has been a lot of work. I filed a report on my main abuser in June of 2018. Dealing with the grief of a closed case and job searching at that time was painful. I found a state of routine for about a year. Things were looking up, and then in August 2019, my boyfriend’s family endured a trauma that affected some of my deepest wounds. We walked through the repercussions holding each other the whole way. For the last couple months, everything was starting to even out again. Finding a new normal. And then, the shoe dropped again — the pandemic.

Sometimes, it does get to be too much.

I am not too much.

No, that is not it, although my core wounds would like to say it is. The truth is self-care becomes a job. Am I drinking enough water? Am I doing enough to assist my sleeping issues? Do I need to eat more veggies? Have I journaled about my anxiety enough? Is there a hobby that will help me work through stress better? Did I get the right vitamins? Is the house clean enough?

These things are all good in their own right. But here is the most important piece of advice I have for me and you.

Shake it out. Stand up. Shake your body gently. Lay down the lists, your plans and the judgment.

It is OK if you do not know what you want to do. Just take the next best step.

Someone once asked me in 2013 if I could find any compassion for myself.  Honestly, at the time, I could not. So, this person asked me if I could find compassion for not having any compassion for myself. That was something I could do just a bit. I truly thought, “How lonely, to not have any compassion for myself. I can find a compassionate perspective for that.” I would have felt compassion for someone else in my position, but I could not see myself.

Now, I love myself a lot. I have a larger capacity for compassion than I thought possible. I get tired still trying to take care of myself. My therapist and I have discussed this. I am not used to self-care still. I also attack self-care like a fervent straight-A student, which makes it like a list to check off. There are a lot of good things, but some days if I only eat cereal and toast and a couple apples, that is good enough. If I shower and do not shave for a while, that is good enough. If I binge watch Netflix for a few days, it is OK.  In fact, one of my trauma therapists told me decent shows could be constructive inattention. It is a way to be part of a story and yet let the brain rest a bit. I live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as well, so it is nice to have a movie to put on and not worry if I sprayed enough Lysol for an hour.

I am tired because I show up for hard things I should never have had to show up for in my life. I am in therapy every week. I am doing the work. When I binge-watch Netflix for a few days, what I need most from myself is a hug, understanding and a lot of grace. I do not need to guilt trip myself. What I need daily is to be gentle with myself. That is the most important part.

Being gentle with myself is often the hardest part because I think it is supposed to look like something specific. Like that checklist of, “Did I do enough journaling or eat enough veggies?” Honestly though, a lot of time self-care looks different than it did the day or even hour before. Our definitions need to be realistic and kind.

You are capable of limitless possibilities. But my loves, something important to know is you can grow inside of a comfort zone, and you deserve a comfort zone. In a society and world where we are told to do better, be better, produce and follow our dreams, it is hard to understand we can set it all down and lie on the couch and breathe. As trauma survivors, is it often uncomfortable to be comfortable. We expect the other shoe to drop, because we understand life is made of hardship and beauty and realistically, shoes drop every day. What if we quit requiring a good life to exclude messy times and hard days? What if we quit judging good days based on what we accomplished and how well we managed all the self-care lists? What if it looked like showing kindness to yourself no matter what? What if you truly believed you deserve to find a comfort zone in your life, you deserve to be loved by yourself and others, right where you are?

Maybe we could finally rest for a minute, knowing life ebbs and flows and you will grow, and you will do hard work, and the lists are important, but your own friendship is the most essential item of all. You made it this far, there are shoes dropping, but you will get new shoes or you can spend a day without shoes… phone off, feet up, robe on. What would it be like if you truly spent time with yourself as a friend?

Unsplash image by Zoe Deal

Originally published: April 17, 2020
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