Time for the obligatory year in review and looking at the year ahead post. As I look back on 2021 and wonder what I’ve learned or done; honestly, I don’t even know. Who knew that 2021 would shape up to be simultaneously better and worse than 2020? There are some bright spots as we moved through whatever wave of the global pandemic we’re in at this point (why are we still in the pandemic?) and some really difficult ones.
In the course of 2021, we surpassed 800,000 individuals in the US who have died and that doesn’t include all the individuals that have passed because of unrelated complications brought on by the pandemic. We have had to constantly “pivot” (oh how I hate that word) our lives. My family went through 4 quarantines during 2021 before we were vaccinated and luckily avoided any more until my 5-year-old could be vaccinated. Now as we close out 2021 omicron is taking hold for what will probably be another difficult beginning to 2022. As I look back over the year it seems like such a strange mix of survival and thriving that I feel like I’ve come out at the end of 2021 with a lateral shift. Not necessarily any forward momentum but more like a sideways jump in this journey called life.
Over the course of 2021, my priorities and my focus had to transform. During 2020 it was a crash course in changing priorities but by now I thought some of the things that I was missing because of the pandemic would be back into normal rotation (spoiler alert: they’re not). And through this extra 12 months of contemplation and reflection I got another chance to decide what served me in this life and what didn’t.
In 2021, I crossed that magically line of 40 years old; in some ways I don’t feel any different but in other ways it’s like everything has changed. I’m not having a mid-life crisis, per se, but there definitely seems to be the feeling of “ok, I’m REALLY an adult now so what am I going to do with it?” mentality. I’ve spent a lot of time this year looking at what it means to be the adult in the room and what I need to do to be the best version of myself so I can continue to be that person. I want to be the grown-up that models for my kid and my students what being an adult really means and I’ve come to realize that being a good role model doesn’t mean I’m perfect or the epitome of responsibility.
Sometimes being a good role model for my daughter and my students means I fall apart or have bad days. It means doing something completely (within reason) irresponsible like sitting on the couch and watching Netflix all day while the dishes pile up in the sink. Occasionally being a “good” adult means checking out and taking time for myself. A good role model finds the things that bring them joy and allows them to be happy because that in turn allows them to be better for everyone else.
We’ve all heard the oxygen mask analogy (put yours on before trying to help the others) but in the current culture, what really does that mean for people? Especially women, wives, and mothers? What does applying my own oxygen mask look like when the world has lost its mind?
The term “self-care” has always sounded tone deaf and incredibly patronizing to me because it usually comes with a list of “shoulds” that can add to our list of “to dos” which makes it less like self-care and more like another responsibility laid at our feet to accomplish to feel good about the face we present to the world. One example is taking a bath. People will highlight the “Calgon take me away” idea of locking the bathroom door and getting a nice long soak in peace and quiet to practice some much-needed self-care. Just look at the explosion of bath bombs on the market. But what about individuals whose mobility limits the use of a bathtub or those of us that cannot fit into normal sized bathtubs?
At 5’10” (on a short day), getting in and out of a bathtub is much more difficult for me and while I have a lot of things going for me, the ability to remodel a bathroom to provide me with a giant soaker tub is not in the cards any time soon. And this year, finally, after years of regretting my inability to enjoy a bathtub and feeling shame over my body size limiting me in that way, I have finally let go of the need to enjoy self-care as prescribed by others.
During 2021, I have really been able to lean into what is self-care for myself and not based on anyone else’s. That is the true meaning of self-care because it is centered around what I personally need and fulfills me; not based on anyone else’s needs. My self-care revolves around writing — I have recognized over these tumultuous months of 2020 and 2021 writing is really my go to for grounding and understanding. Whether it’s in this blog, a journal, or creatively, writing is what makes me feel the most at home in my own head and body. By being able to drown out the noise of everyone else I can really focus on and hear my own voice.
Writing for me is the epitome of self-care and opens the door to other activities that help in other ways, but writing is really the key that unlocks all those other doors. For some people those doors might be opened by exercise, they might be opened by taking baths, or reading; who knows?
The trick is finding your own key and not taking other’s thinking they’ll fit in your locks.
By finding your own key you’ll have access to a wonderful array of doors that enhance and satisfy you in ways that no other person can give you. That is the secret to self-care, not trying the list of dozens of activities that just feel like “shoulds” but taking the time to find the one (or ones) that really ground you in your own life that make it easier to feel present and accounted for instead of just trying to go through the motions to survive until that elusive “when it’s all done and I can take a break.” Take that break now, take it regularly, and take it doing the thing(s) YOU want to do, not ticking off some arbitrary, fake list of someone else’s recommended activities.