Do you ever feel left out of the self-care movement?
I do. I mean, I LOVE the idea of self-care. It’s such a compassionate concept. It makes so much sense: you can’t give what you don’t have, etc.
But I also kinda feel … ineligible.
Like a few other things in life, I missed class the day everyone else learned about self-care. Maybe it's my generation (Gen X: “strong survival skills and the ability to handle anything” ) or my cultural background (a relentless emphasis on independence and hard work), or both.
Either way, I am intrigued, envious, and curious when I see women who know how to take time out to care for themselves. How do they pull it off, I wonder, as I haggardly juggle work, family, parenting, marriage, pets, household, and the countless tedious and endless tasks of basic survival? I see women who say no to things (!), I see women who put things off (?!), and who plan things for themselves (just, wow!). I see them knowing and prioritizing their own needs. Fascinating.
Like many other first-generation Americans, I was 'gifted' with a strict and probably imbalanced work ethic. My family took a dim view of pretty much any form of normal human-ness: fatigue (weak!), illness (weak!), relaxation (weak and lazy!). I was raised on a steady diet of industry and independence. Don’t complain, don’t be lazy. Don't ask for anything from anyone. Don't need anything.
Women like me are operating from a place of deep denial about self-care. It doesn't occur to us most of the time, because the possibility was never allowed. (Speaking for myself, I guess that explains a lot about my own sublimated behavior, ha!)
But when I hear about a woman taking a day for herself or even a whole vacation to indulge in some R&R, I have to admit, it looks pretty appealing.
So many of us are out there being mothers or caregivers, and simultaneously being exemplary employees or running businesses, and also quietly, magically managing households and meals and calendars and volunteering. We may dream of self-care but, even if we're fortunate enough to have the privilege of the option, we reject it on a regular basis because – in our minds – it always seems like a trade-off that deprives someone we love or something we care about.
I know we shouldn't think that way. I know there are known, objective benefits -- to ourselves and to those around us -- in taking time for self-care.
And incidentally, that's one of the main reasons I created Embrago -- it's self-care that is built right into the clothes you have to wear anyway, so no one gets hurt!
Still, old habits die hard.
Case in point: As I was writing this, I took a short break to eat lunch. Just 10 minutes! Because I had a lot to get done.
Wolfing down a sandwich, I stepped outside to see the day. A glorious late summer day.
In the interest of self-care, I should have taken an hour for lunch, eaten slowly and then taken a walk in the sunshine, moving my body, recharging to be stronger all day.
I didn’t do that.
But in the moment that I sat down for my quick outdoor break, a butterfly arrived and alighted on a nearby flowering bush. My eye drawn to this surprise of late summer joy, I gazed, appreciative of her delicate loveliness, savoring the captured moment. The butterfly worked diligently, collecting nectar as she bustled among the tiny flowers. Such a gem.
After I'd been watching her a while, hurriedly chewing my sandwich, I noticed something was different about this butterfly. Looking closer, I discerned a shark-bite-like chunk missing from her lower left wing, a big gaping hole where beautiful symmetry should have been.
I watched her more closely…how did she do it, working so normally, so unconcerned, in this shockingly damaged state? I waited to see where she flew next. (Could she still fly? How might she be affected?)
And as I watched, it occurred to me: trauma is universal to all living things on this planet. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and not one of us escapes it. Physical, mental, or emotional, it comes our way.
A butterfly with a damaged wing, whether by accident or attack, knows no other choice but to go on. She opens her wings, flies as best she can to find nectar in the flowers. She follows her instincts and pursues the purpose of her life in whatever time she has left.
She doesn't dwell on life’s unfairness, on the bad things that happened in her past, on the beauty she would have had if life had not been unfair. She isn’t afraid to fly from her… (nest? Where exactly do butterflies live, anyway??)… and go live her life.
I think of the friends I hold dear. And I know that underneath our strong, busy, get-the-job done surfaces, we are, all of us, traumatized butterflies.
If there were ever a creature worthy of our compassion, it would be her, the benign and lovely butterfly. Created to help flowers bloom and uplift the spirits of all who pause to watch, she does no harm. Her existence adds joy and beauty to the human experience.
But by her nature, the butterfly is unhelp-able. We can’t care for her injured wing, no matter how badly we’d like to. Even to attempt it would destroy her. She remains ephemeral but in her injury shows us a strength we can only aspire to. Body broken but undaunted, she carries on. Her flight, though turning in a more leftward spiral pattern than normal, is as delightful and uplifting as ever.
This butterfly was a reminder to me of the resilience and the strength of the lifeforce in all of us. While we live, we carry on seeking nectar, seeking happiness. Yes, we can be damaged. But if we can fly on ¾’s of a wing, then shouldn’t we? Mustn't we?
And we do. As strong women, we open our wings to the sun every day and fly out into the world to seek what sustenance and happiness we can find in our time on this planet. At its best, our existence can help the flowers of our family, friendships, and communities bloom, and uplift the spirits of those we encounter, regardless of the status of our wings.
And so to the women who are able to take time for self-care, I admire you and applaud you and cheer you, for your wings will be strong and they will carry you straight and true to the flowers. You will do great things, raise strong and wise daughters, and remain at peace.
And for those of us who aren’t quite there yet, whether because of the uncompromising demands of day-to-day survival, or because of our own traumas of whatever size, I say: carry on, beautiful butterfly. Your lifeforce is enough. Your wings may be imperfect, but your flight will inspire and uplift everyone who sees.