So – yesterday was a day. I was really burning the candle at both ends, and by the time I got home, I was having difficulty trying to recognize that there wasn’t actually anything “bad” about my day, but I realized that I’d spent the day taking care of everyone except me. There’s nothing wrong with taking care of those around you, and in fact, it’s my main purpose at work. But there is a problem with not budgeting any time in a day to take care of yourself, which was the trap I fell into yesterday. I had a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, and I made the mistake of calling that “my” time in my head, when in reality, there was nothing “mine” about it – it was still an obligation that I had to fulfill, still something I had to check off my to-do list, still something that while it technically did focus on me, it wasn’t focused on me in a way that was fulfilling. So when I got home at almost 9pm, I had to really stop and think about what I needed to do to take care of myself. Since my diagnosis, this has been a huge challenge for me. As much as I try, I don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to self care and doing what’s best for me; I’m just a people pleaser at heart. But I have learned a lot of really valuable life lessons on this adventure to being better at recognizing my limits, and I thought this was a good time to share a few!
- Taking a rest day (or week, or month, depending on the situation), does not mean you are a failure. At my surgeon’s recommendation after my mastectomy, I planned for two months off of work to recover. Sounds great, right? Two months of resting and sleeping in, here I come! But… somehow I made tons of plans every week, and still had tons of doctor’s appointments to go to and projects to work on, and by the time my return to work date came around, I realized that I hadn’t really felt very rested at all! When I had my stage 2 reconstructive surgery, I took 3 weeks off to recover, but this time I really prioritized resting, and while it was a shorter break, I went back to work a little more ready that time. The moral of the story is that some days in life will be jam packed, and some days will be slow – cherish the slow days, take advantage of the time to recharge, and don’t feel guilty that you weren’t super productive that day. Definitely a lesson I’m still learning; it’s so hard for me to slow down and take a breather!
- On that note – don’t be afraid to say NO. Whether it’s plans with friends, family, extra projects at work, etc., it is absolutely okay to say, “no, thank you” if whatever you are being asked does not spark joy (thanks Marie Kondo). So many times in life we fall victim to FOMO (read: fear of missing out), that we overextend ourselves or forget how wonderful it can be to have time alone, or just unscheduled time to see where the day takes you. I am 100% guilty of saying “yes” way too often, but lately I am making a concerted effort to only say yes to the things that excite me fully, and that help me pour into myself. I’m learning more and more that sometimes that means I’ll be busy with exciting things, and sometimes that means I’ll be taking a 3 hour bath with a glass of wine (#balance). After a diagnosis of cancer (or anything else life-shattering for that matter), it really shifts your perspective, and you start to learn what your priorities in life actually are, and your tolerance for BS that doesn’t fulfill you drops (a lot).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support when you need it. My whole life, I have identified with being a caregiver, and being the glue that holds things together. After my diagnosis, that part of my identity totally shifted, and that was really difficult for me. I wanted to be strong and independent, and prove that I could get through chemo and surgery and fertility preservation, etc. without needing extra support. I didn’t want my family or friends taking time off of work or going out of their way to help me, and I just plain old didn’t want to feel like I needed help. But the fact is, there is absolutely zero shame in recognizing that you can’t do it alone. You CAN do hard things, but you don’t have to do them alone. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when someone asks what they can do for you, but sometimes just starting with a hug or smile is helpful. Caregivers, it’s hard to know what to do or say when your loved one is so used to being independent. For me personally, it was helpful when people gave me specifics. Instead of saying, “is there anything I can do for you?”, maybe say, “is there a good night for me to bring you dinner?” That advice may not be for everyone, but it certainly helped me.
Learning to live your best and most fulfilling life is a lifelong process (pun intended). Just because you think you’ve got self care figured out one day, doesn’t mean it won’t be different the next day. Always give yourself grace to learn what your body and mind need, and don’t be afraid to take a rest day, to say no, or to ask for help. And as always, I’m here to chat too! What lessons have you learned about living fully and taking care of yourself?