The other day, we had an unusually busy family day - running errands and then dropping everything for a last second doctor’s appointment for our youngest child. None of this was planned, it was just stuff that came up and had to be dealt with. Let it be said that I had heard the call of nature before all the commotion. Then, the proverbial stuff hit the fan and without thinking, I deep-sixed my plans to take 90 seconds to visit the bathroom. The split second self-disregard was still on my mind when I muttered, “I’ll pee later” as I scrambled to grab my purse and jump in the car with my husband and daughter. Did I say that out loud?
I’ve had numerous sternly worded conversations with myself about the insanity of neglecting bathroom breaks
My husband waited a comic beat and then astutely observed, ““I’ll Pee Later” could be the title of your autobiography.” We all laughed and drove off, but it got me thinking: this wasn’t the first time I had forgone taking care of a basic bodily function to address someone else’s needs. I’ve had numerous sternly worded conversations with myself about the insanity of neglecting bathroom breaks. Usually after I can’t kegel anymore and am “walking” to the bathroom with my legs in a strange cross-legged limp that is dicey to say the least. I’ve learned from friends that long term “holding it” is literally bad for your bladder, and yet, there are times when I will just skip using the bathroom when I’m caring for my family needs because magical thinking kicks in and I decide “I can’t possibly spare 2 minutes to look after...me?! Nonsense! Get back to work, lady”.
This internal dialog does have an origin story, and it’s a secret that I’ve only revealed to my husband until now: my habit started about 12 years ago, when I had a job as a consultant. Basically, it was a no win situation where I was a one-day-a-week, one person H.R. department where they got a full time job out of me in 8 hours. Ladies, each and every one of you has had some version of this job, I’m certain. Ok, maybe you haven’t - and good for you, but hold space for your sisters who have had to weigh the fear of getting reprimanded against going to the frigging ladies room to have a moment of relief.
I know I am not alone in this, and I know that the habit of putting your own needs last, however briefly, doesn’t just strike moms-it’s all of us
It was actually there that I got the message that what I needed didn’t matter as much as the “greater good”. The day that I neglected not only to pee because I couldn’t spare 2 minutes, I also forgot that I had my period, causing an embarrassing accident on none other than my beautiful suede peep toe low heel shoe (don’t ask, I can barely talk about it now 10 years later). It was perhaps one of the lowest moments in my professional life. I never felt so worthless and unappreciated, not to mention embarrassed. But like a good soldier, rather than making me militantly self-caring, I internalized the message and ran with it.
I know I am not alone in this, and I know that the habit of putting your own needs last, however briefly, doesn’t just strike moms-it’s all of us. (School teachers and cops - I’m lookin’ at you) It is inevitable that anyone in a caregiving role or just a caring relationship will at some point have to put another person’s needs first. That is understandable and okay - once in a while.
But when you regularly forget your own needs so much that it’s hard to even identify them, you’ve got a problem. You know you’re due for some self care when you become angry and resentful at the very people whose needs you put before your own. I know I’ve been talking a lot about using the bathroom a lot, but it’s a great metaphor for self-care; when you can’t give yourself time to use the facilities, you are most definitely ignoring bigger and deeper needs.
Go Pee, Lady
Here I am, a neurofeedback trainer with hundreds of hours of neurofeedback under my belt and countless hours of meditation, guided visualization, yoga and other mindful practices in my years long quest for inner peace, and yet, I put myself so far down the priority list that I routinely don’t allow myself to take care of a basic function. What the heck, lady. So my first act as president of my own life was to drop everything and use the bathroom. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head: “go now!”
When you find yourself at the bottom of the priority list over and over, it’s time to come up with a better list. The answer is to cultivate your self-care practice: A dedicated, deliberate set of activities, large or small, whose purpose is to maintain or improve your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Oh wait, it’s a practice? I have to keep this up? No thanks, I’m all booked. Just kidding; you know the saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person.
Self-Care Like A Boss
So what does a real person’s self-care practice look like? It starts with checking in with yourself. So I’m asking you to stop reading for a moment and close your eyes, and check in. Give it a minute, I’ll wait, and see what happens. There. Congratulations, just checking in with yourself is an act that constitutes a bona fide self-care practice. I just did it, and I found out that my butt hurts and I can feel a touch of heartburn. We are self-caring like bosses!
To come up with a plan, lets also acknowledge that everyone is different, has different needs and is starting from a different place, and there is no one size fits all solution. But a good practice starts with making a list of self-care activities. Maybe you have a long list of self-care activities. Can't think of much? Google self-care and you'll get lots of ideas. Maybe you're more anal-retentive, like me and want to organize these into categories. Fine. Whatever. Just get it down. Some suggestions for categories include: “NOs” - activities or habits you want less of, physical needs, listening to your body, exercise, dietary needs, medical, spiritual, just for fun, relationships and more.
Decorate your list, embellish it, make it big - get creative! Then, whether it’s just glancing at the list every morning or a more involved ritual, choose at least one self-care activity each day. Put a few self-care goals post-it's on your bathroom mirror. And make sure to acknowledge in some way that you honored yourself. It doesn't have to be big, or even more than thinking, "yay, I skipped that frappy-whappy-oh-crap-I'm-lactose-intolerant thing I always regret getting at 4pm!" Get one of those cool journals - come on, you needed an excuse to buy one, so you’re welcome. Watch a youtube video on bullet journaling - why the heck not. Break into your kids’ stash of colored markers and pencils and get creative. It’s a self-care act just to create your self-care list!
To get you started, I’m sharing my down and dirty self-care chart. It’s simple and pretty lame, but meh, it’s better than nothing. I bet you can do better than mine. Here are a few more suggestions:
Don’t censor yourself or spend too much time picking the “just right” items - just write down everything you think of; this is a master list from which you’ll get ideas every day to take care of you.
Make a goal to do at least one item from your self-care list every day.
Try to switch it up - alternating between maintenance type items and fun items
It can’t be that hard, right? Well, they don’t call it a self-care piece of cake, now do they? It may be hard to start, but it gets better, my friends.
Types of self-care
My “no” list
No email after 6:00pm
No scrolling after 9:00pm
No weeknight after hours meetings
No caffeine after 2:00 pm
My nutrition self-care
Eat vegetarian/vegan 3x/week
Eat fresh fruit for breakfast
Fast 1 day per week
Drink more water
My sleep self-care
In bed by 10:30 pm
Read for 10 minutes
Try for 8 hours/night
Invest in a white noise machine
My relationship self-care
Laugh with my husband more
Spend time with my daughters
Play cards with the family
Call my mom
My exercise self-care
Yoga 1x each week
Walk the dog 20 minutes a day
Try the cardio-kickboxing class
Make it to Zumba 3x/week
My meditation self-care
Use my exercise tracker to practice breathing
Spend 5 minutes in the morning journaling
Go forest bathing 1x/month
My medical self-care
Go pee, lady!
Make that mammogram appointment
Schedule a dental cleaning
My happy-making self-care
Meet my friend for spicy chai
Re-watch the Princess Bride and other beloved movies
Wander around Powell’s bookstore
Get a massage
Get a facial
Go window shopping
Now, that wasn’t too hard, was it? Aw darn, I’ve been writing for a while and guess what? I need to pee.