Is anybody else TIRED? I asked that question during a message I presented at a conference last month. In hindsight, it was my final and public plea before I crashed. I have spent the last two months visiting friends and family in the hospital, waiting out emergency surgeries, sitting through funerals, crying over friend’s diagnoses, and listening as they described (in great detail) their chronic medical issues. I had attempted to be a caregiver in between rehearsals and events and speaking engagements and life… but eventually, I ran empty. I felt bad about feeling bad because clearly my being worn out didn’t compare to what other people were facing. After all, I was perfectly healthy, not in a hospital bed, not going through treatments, and not on medication. I didn’t feel like I had a right to slow down. Unfortunately, my body didn’t wait for me to make a choice.
The morning after I returned home from that same conference, I found myself upside down on the lounger. My legs wouldn’t stop tingling, so I had them elevated to allow the blood to circulate. In the days following, food became an afterthought. And as the post-conference meetings and evaluations began invading my recovery time, my mind was a constant whirlwind of plans and agendas at times when I should have been sleeping. My body, however, only allowed me to move for a few hours each day. The “hero” in me was completely exhausted from saving the world every day.
I confided in a friend about how tired I had been lately. I even mentioned that I wasn’t sleeping well and I was even forgetting to eat. My friend listened quietly, and I chose my words carefully. I had attempted to share these feelings with other people over the years, but my issues were always met with either guilt for complaining about helping people who needed me or negative comments about why I’M always the one who ends up helping people. The comments I received always gave me more insight into that person’s character. So this time, when I finished speaking, I paused nervously for his response.
My friend began commending me for being a blessing to so many. He acknowledged the people I had been serving and the fact that they did need me. Then very slowly, he said to me that I would be no good to them if I didn’t MAKE TIME to take care of myself… that I had to have something to give them. I blinked, and then took a deep breath. There was no guilt or condemnation in his words or tone; just a gentle reminder that I had to regularly pause and refuel even in the midst of crises. I remember grinning as I thanked him. And after we hung up, I sat down to eat lunch, and then I took a nap!
What is it about making time for yourself that is so difficult? Why do we feel so guilty for doing the things that naturally refuel us to give more? And who taught us that we came last on the list of people to take care of?!? As caretakers, and particularly as women, it is critical for us to make time to eat, to take a nap, to soak in a bubble bath, and to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. It’s equally important for us to pray and meditate, to spend time with friends and family, to listen to music, to read books, to be loved, and to BE STILL. We must learn how to rest in the middle of chaos so that we can hear direction and see a way through it. If not, we just become another part of the problem instead of being the solution to it. Don’t lose yourself in the smoke of the fires that you put out every day. When you’re on an airplane and your flight is about to take off, they give you safety instructions about what to do in case of an emergency. And before you try to help anyone else, the directions are always to put your mask on first!
My challenge to you this week is to GO SIT DOWN! If you can’t do that at home, then go for a drive or a walk. Grab a cold drink, find a spot to catch the breeze blowing on your face, and JUST BE PRESENT. That is your only objective here. This is your moment to pause, breathe and reflect. Caretakers are most effective when they are working with a full tank. Remember how this peace of mind feels and hold on to that because you will need to find your way back to this sacred space often. Otherwise, you may just find yourself upside down and not able to help anyone… including yourself.