When I realized that I was at the end of myself in January and drove home to give up the ghost and befriend my bed for so many weeks, I logically figured in the back of my tired brain that I would give myself a reasonable period of 2 to 4 weeks to rest, recharge, and get back into the medical field. After a month, my body didn’t agree, in fact it got worse before it started feeling better. And guess what? I learned that this can be normal when you have gone for so long on overdrive and don’t stop along the way for oil changes and engine maintenance and it takes a major life changing crash to get your attention.
I am fortunate enough to see a wise counselor who has experience with many of the things that I have been going through, and she recognized signs and symptoms last year and was warning me for months to slow down and take care of myself. My worst mistake was not taking my counselor seriously enough when I began showing signs of collapse and I didn’t address it as I should have. I kept going along at full speed until I did actually collapse. My body and soul felt has felt as though it has been in a car going 100 mph and slammed into a wall head on. Pain, fatigue, depression, and inability to do what I had once done so effectively was not something I’ve been dealing with very well. I had to come to an understanding of why I was flat on my face, and my body was not responding to my commands. I had abused it so badly for so long, that I am paying consequences to this day.
If there is anything I can encourage young nursing students and nurses to do that are fresh and just starting out, or maybe you’re a mother and are juggling way too much like I did for so long…STOP – AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELVES! I keep saying it, but sometimes we tend to be hardheaded and are perfectionists and we simply don’t listen or we think we don’t have the time. I could have carved out time, but I felt at that time I had too many irons in the fire and was too tired to carve much of anything in. I couldn’t let my family down, I couldn’t let my employer down, and I had to be strong and go go go…and all along it needed to be no no no…rest rest rest…
What is self-care? It can be different things for different people. You must get to know yourself and where you are very intimately, and then you can design your own self-care routine to fit your schedule and your life. And if you are physically limited in any areas, or have arthritis or fibromyalgia (as I do) or bad joints that need replaced – work around that and modify your routine even more – make it yours. Getting to know your body, it’s needs and limits, your emotional and mental needs, and developing a self-love and appreciation of the special person you were created to be is greatly important. Some people can read a book in the evening and do some yoga through the week and be happy. Others will go hiking, mountain climbing, and participate in triathlons! Some women knit, sew quilts, make jewelry (me), and having a creative outlet can be a balm for the soul. Getting outside into the fresh air and walking, running or biking can re-energize those empty storage banks, and some gentle Yoga for those who can’t do anything as vigorous may bring just enough movement and calm to the soul enough for you.
I like to use car analogies because it is like word pictures that I can get. We are each like a special model of a car…some are sports cars, some are jeeps, some are trucks, pick your choice. And each model needs a specific plan of care in place to keep it running smoothly and efficiently so the engine doesn’t blow up or the tires don’t fall off. If you are a BMW, you aren’t going to put Chevy parts into your car when it breaks down. If you are a big diesel truck with mud tires, you aren’t going to put unleaded gas into your tank and 14 inch tires on your truck.
Just like a car – your body has specific needs. You have personal and emotional needs, your body needs movement and good nutrition to keep its engine running smoothly, and your heart and soul need tended too as well. Develop a set routine of activities that you can incorporate into your daily life that compliment your style, fill your unique needs, and find things to add in your life that make you happy and bring you joy. Find a support system of positive friends that compliment your life and make you smile. I can promise you there will be times in life when the rug will get pulled out from under you and the sky will seem as though it’s caving in around you, and if you aren’t prepared and in decent health, or don’t have anyone to turn to – you aren’t going to cope well. I look back at my folly of self neglect and can only shake my head. I thought I could do all, be all, and do it all by myself. How foolish my thinking was.
I’ve got a long way to go yet. I have no doubt I’ll get there, but I get impatient and begin feeling useless and frustrated and have “discussions” with God about how “I” would like things to be, but I finally learned that it doesn’t work that way. It must be in His timing because I’ve given it to Him to fix. I’m forcing myself to do gentle yoga (I hate exercising), I’m eating better and losing weight to get my blood pressure and cholesterol down. I’m reading lots of healthy things, taking time to meditate, be mindful and present, and I’m getting to learn this old engine of mine intimately – and what it needs for the first time in a very long time. Our needs change over time as we mature. Though I’m not crazy about thinking about my car as vintage or antique…it still brings a smile to my face. I believe I’ll think of myself as an old 63 Chevy Corvette Sting Ray under renovation…what are you?