I’ve been thinking lately about what self care means. The answer is unique to the individual asking the question. Have you ask yourself this question? Do you practice self care? Some people may see self care as relaxing with a glass of wine after a stressful day, sitting in a bathtub or being with people who they love. For me, it is several things tied together. At the end of the day I know that if I don’t look after myself, well then who will? It is up to me to prioritize me.
Self care is not a one time thing. It is not short lived or a fad diet which you do for a week or month or even a few months. It is a way of life. Yes, we have set backs and things don’t always go perfectly but we have the choice to calmly dust ourselves off and simply resume. Looking after myself was not something I planned. At the age of 22 I was thrown into the deep end with health issues where I was presented with 2 choices; to look after myself daily through discipline and hard work or suffer mentally, physically and spiritually on a daily basis with a rapid decline on my health. I actively chose the former. It has almost been 10 years to the day that I consciously and actively made the decision to make change in my life. Full of fear and with no fight left to give, the 22 year old broken me anxiously took myself to a 12 step recovery meeting for men and women who abuse food, over eat and under eat, with anorexia, bulimia and obesity all being common issues. I had been combating an eating disorder which defined me for far too long. It was my biggest secret, my largest problem and without exaggeration, it was going to be the slow, torturous death of me. My earliest memories were at 5 years old, being self conscious and worrying about my body and how I looked. Noone knew of my eating disorder until I was around 17 when I told me dad through absolute desperation and fear. From then until 22, those close to me who knew were desperately trying to help in any way they possibly could. The truth was, it didn’t matter how much they tried, the trying had to come from me. The action and the willingness to change needed to come from a deep down desperation of brokenness and hitting complete rock bottom. And today, I feel so lucky that I did.
Have you heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Well, according to it, I was insane! I’m sure we can all relate to it in some area of our lives.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”Albert Einstein
I am so grateful now for the mess I found myself in in May 2009, when I had nothing else left but to try something different. My life and my whole outlook on life has not only improved but it had and has completely flipped around and changed from the insight out. I am 100% a completely different person to who I was. I may not look all that different to an outsider but I honestly don’t recognize or associate with the thoughts and feelings I had back then. I just needed to take that first huge scary step, and then another step and then another. Before I knew it it was a week, a month, a year, 4 years and now, on the 21st of May 2019, I can say with complete humility and astonishment that it has been 10 years of solid recovery from the eating disorder illness that robbed me of me. I lost myself, I lost my personality, I was very quickly losing close relationships. I was miserable and trapped in a prison of my own making.
I was also diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome when I was 19. For those who don’t know about CFS, it is an overwhelming fatigue not helped by rest, sleep that is not restorative, malaise, joint and muscle pain, severe headaches which for me would only be helped by lying down and shutting my eyes, and gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome. One of the worst parts was if I was to work for example I’d race home so I could go straight to sleep at 4pm until about 6pm, eat dinner and then go back to bed for the night. I’d wake up the next morning honestly feeling like my head had not even hit the pillow. Malaise was another hard one to come to terms with. It was a constant feeling of overall weakness, discomfort, a feeling like I had a constant illness and simply never feeling well or like myself.
The absolute worst part? Because it is almost a silent illness, one people can’t see or understand unless you have truly experienced it yourself (just like depression and anxiety), it is a very lonely experience and existence and I totally was convinced at times that I was obviously just a weak minded person and maybe it was all in my head. After all, everyone told me I ‘looked fine!’ And ‘You were fine to come to that party yesterday, why can’t you make it to work or uni today?’ I never knew what CFS was going to through at me or how I would feel from one moment to the next. See me in the morning and I could be bubbly and somewhat energetic and an hour later I’d be totally exhausted in bed. To say it was debilitating is a complete understatement.
Before 19 I never remember thinking about being tired or fatigued. I was big on drinking, dancing and clubbing and I remember very clearly being the last one in the club at 5/6am and my friends having to drag me out of there. It was my happy place, or so I thought it was. It helped me to forget myself. It was like I had a split personality. Happy, social, confident, friendly, popular and full of life when out with people, to a dramatic shift of moodiness, depression, lies, hurting myself with food and mental abuse, self hatred, insecurity and self loathing when home and alone. I acknowledge now that I was a very difficult person to be around at home. After arriving home from a night out around 6am on a Sunday morning, I’d drive myself to basketball training at 8am, train for a couple of hours, get home, go to shift work at a pub, come home for a couple of hours and then go back out to do the evening shift. How I survived, I actually don’t know.
There is no clear answer as to why I developed a serious case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) 13 years ago. Maybe it was the fact that I pushed myself so hard (mentally and physically) for so long to escape my own reality, or that I played intense amounts of basketball and netball (literally everyday, sometimes training morning and night), the fact that I went to Thailand at 19 and possibly picked up a parasite, or that my eating disorder really stuffed my body up (digestive and gut issues being a large part which is known to lead to CFS) or that the doctors found glandular fever virus in my blood even though I never remember having it. Who knows. The fact is that chronic fatigue is real. It is highly debilitating. It is anxiety provoking. It generally leads to depression. It caused and still can cause paralyzing fear about what will happen next and wondering if I’ll be okay to get through my day. Having a natural zest for life and having an active mind with a body that doesn’t match up to this energy, is something I’ve found very challenging to say the least. By nature I have a high level of personal energy which is what I naturally show when I am around people. It’s not fake, I get a genuine excitement when I’m with people I love. It is what happens after this buzz which takes its toll. What goes up must come down, hey!
It’s amazing how those around me wouldn’t have a clue unless I told you about my fatigue. If I did tell anyone I’d often get comments about how well I looked, how clear my skin was (thanks sugar free diet!) and that I didn’t look tired! But that’s the thing. I slept so much that I probably didn’t look tired, yet I was completely and utterly exhausted. Then I’d get those who would tell me that they were ‘tired too’, and I would just feel completely defeated because no one actually understood. Chronic fatigue is not being tired, it is being bone tired, exhausted to the insides of your cells, like you can’t move your legs, you can’t keep your head up because it’s too heavy and you just need to lie horizontal and sleep to make it all go away. When you wake up you might get up and have a shower or something to eat. Then, your body has literally had it and it’s time to lie down again. I would get anxious over having to wash my hair in the shower. The process of getting in the shower, getting in the hot water which would drain me, lifting my arms above my head to wash my hair, getting out the shower and having to dry my hair was all too much. Then there were better days. I’d play a game of basketball! I felt on top of the world! Full of adrenaline and energy and excitement! Maybe I don’t have CFS and it’s all in my head after all! I was soon reminded by a huge downward dive. Sometimes it would take 3-5 days of bed rest with small breaks of going out to get over this.
The amount of effort I have put into overcoming this illness has given me time to accept it is what it is and to manage it the best I can. I have spent thousands of dollars and hours and hours of time on appointments, medications, doctors, psychologists, exercise physiologists that specialize in chronic fatigue syndrome and so much more. I’ve tried sleeping more, sleeping less, going to bed earlier, taking it easier during the day, meditation, support groups, exercise, constant changes in diet and more. I’ve cried a lot, wondered what the hell is wrong with me and felt less than everyone else who could get up and make it through a whole day without having to sleep. I was sick of feeling like I was wasting my life sleeping, but I literally had and sometimes still have no choice.
Today, I can’t say I’m 100% over CFS and I’m not sure if I ever will be but I can say it really is a thousand times better than it was even a year or two ago. The fact that I can actually go to work, be a mum to be very high energy toddler and do more than I’ve ever done before in my days, makes me know I’m one of the lucky ones. My beautiful son has definitely put things into perspective for me, helps me to prioritize what really is important to me and keeps me going, keeping positive and out of my head.
So today when I’m home with my 2.5 year old and he has his day sleep, I sleep and everything else takes a back seat (after obsessively taking photos my boy first, of course!). There are some days when I’ll stay awake, rest in bed and watch a show or catch up on errands but by the time 3.30pm or so comes, I am irritable, I am less patient with my boy and I am not the person or mother that I know I can be. His day almost starts all over again when he wakes up from his nap and he is as lively as before and I want to keep up! I like myself a hell of a lot better when I look after myself with sleep. Prioritizing sleep would have to be my number one priority on my self care list.
I eat really well. For the past 10 years a day at a time, I have eaten no flour (of any kind) or refined sugar products. Yep, that’s right, I haven’t eaten an ice cream, I haven’t eaten a slice of bread and I haven’t eaten my own birthday cake for over 10 years. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol, not even at my own hens party or wedding day. Do I miss these things? Absolutely not. I lost 20kg of my body weight (although great to have weight loss, it has been a very small part of why I continue to eat this way) back in 2009 and feel happier, healthier and more in control of my life. It was definitely hard work at first, for years in fact, but now, put chocolate, cake or even pasta in front of me and it’s like a honestly don’t see it. Maybe my eyes see it but my brain doesn’t register it as food. Today, my brain has the same reaction to these once loved foods as a piece of paper in front of me.
I love the food I eat. I eat 3 large, colourful, healthily balanced meals a day which my dad often jokes looks like I’m eating for a king. Others are amazed with how much I can eat and still stay a healthy weight. In my experience it is all in the food choices. Not exercise, the food. I need to be very well prepared and organised. I feel like I spend too much time shopping, chopping and cooking at times, but it’s so worth it for the freedom and peace it gives me in all areas of life. I’ve been challenged by those closest to me (who obviously care but don’t always understand), asking why I need to be so strict, and others who say they could never do what I do. My response? You would too if you had to. You really do have to be in a deep dark hole to make such a drastic life decision. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done next to having a newborn! The way I see it though is that it was an absolute blessing in disguise. Hitting rock bottom and being almost forced to change my life has got me to where I am today. I don’t know that anyone 100% recovers from an eating disorder mentally but today I know I am very solid in recovery. Although not often and definitely less and less as the years go on, my mind can still play tricks on me which is why I know the illness is still there, waiting to pounce. Today it is a choice to do what I do and I stand very damn happily by my choice without the desire to have it any other way. 🙂
Another form of self care is through friendships. I organise regular meetups with friends. My son is also a social butterfly and staying indoors with noone to play with is definitely on par with torture for him! My favourite thing to do is walk and talk with a friend which is convenient whilst pushing the pram or letting my boy ride his bike. Sometimes we meet at play centres, playgrounds or each other’s houses. I try to organise activities that not just my toddler will love, but I will enjoy too. The beach during summer is a favourite for both of us! I also like to plan dinner with a friend at least once a month, kid free. It breaks up the week and reminds me I’m not just a mum, I’m me! I am not one for small talk or surface level chit chat. I favour in depth, real conversations and real life talk, otherwise you may find me leaving early. I prefer one on one and can get overwhelmed in big groups. I can easily get the energy sucked out of me by energy vampires, by loud noise or a lot of commotion. It still baffles me how I’m a primary school teacher (and love it) as that is what it can be like in the classroom! For me, I thrive off human connection, listening to and being with other like minded people.
I see my family often. I’m so incredibly blessed to have my family. Everyone knows that no family is perfect and we can all have our differences, but we make it work. I feel lucky to be super close to my siblings, their partners, my parents and grandparents. My in laws are just as wonderful and I have had so much support from them, particularly since my son was born. I adore being an aunty. Family really is everything to me and I’m so grateful to have so many people in my life who I care for and who care about me.
I meditate. I’d love to tell you all that I meditate every morning for 30 minutes with no interruptions like I used to before my son was born. But the reality is that times have changed and I’m not keen on waking up at 5am to meditate before my early rising son gets up for the day. But I do try. Often just as I start or half way through I get interrupted, but a least I tried. This morning I managed to do 30 minutes of meditation and I feel better for it! It can be very difficult to sit still when your mind is going 150 miles per hour but I remind myself that if I’m going to judge my meditation, judge it not by the 30 minutes I’m doing it but by the 23.5 hours left in the day. Although maybe not considered mediation, I really enjoy lying in my bed with my eyes closed and mentally going through the alphabet, thinking about different people whose names start with each consecutive letter. I accept whoever comes to my mind first and then move onto the next letter. I think about each person, send them positive energy and wish them well. I never seem to run out of people (especially after teaching 1000s of students over the past 9 years) and it amazes me sometimes who it is that pops into my mind. It fills me up to do this and it also gets me out of my own head. Generally after meditation I feel calmer, more relaxed, my mind is more in order and I definitely feel more positive. Things really get put into perspective after I meditate.
My husband (of almost 13 years together, 5 years married) and I try and schedule date nights (or days!) regularly. We are very blessed to have our own mothers that we can call on who can give us the ‘night off’ so I can ‘never stop dating’ my man. Kids and life can really wear a relationship thin and I never want to forget why we fell in love and why I appreciate him so much.
I do service. Apart from doing the obvious and endless service as a mother, I speak with other people from my food recovery fellowship daily. It is a reciprocal relationship where we both gain and share companionship, care, spirituality, motivation and understanding, for free! How good is that?! We are all from very different walks of life, from ages ranging from approximately 18-75 years old with different ideas, communication styles, life circumstances and personalities. I speak to people all over the world with different accents who live in different time zones. I learn so much. These people have given me more than I could have ever imagined and know more about me than some of the closest people in my life. I have learnt about life, acceptance of others and lessons that I can’t even put into words. It doesn’t matter what issue I am having, there is always someone to call on who understands or who has experiences the same or similar to me. I stand up and speak at meetings on the phone and in person and I share my experience, strength and hope with those who are still suffering.
In 2011 I travelled to USA and stayed (free of charge) with people from this fellowship who I’d never met, but none the less welcomed me with open arms and treated me like their daughter, their sister or closest friend. I was a 24 year old Aussie girl who spoke in front of hundreds of people who really got me and the deadly illness of eating disorders. It fills me up beyond words to have people come to me afterwards and call me on the phone to let me know how much I’ve helped them or how much they can relate to my story. I remember one beautiful woman after hearing me speak who insisted I take the keys to her New York City apartment (after some of my belongings were stolen from the hostel I was staying in) and told me to come and go as I please while she went to work for the week. Although some of us can focus on the countless negatives we endure on this planet, I can wholeheartedly say from experience that there are an endless amount of good people with huge hearts. From these experiences, I continue to grow immensely as a person.
I see a counsellor when in need. In the past year I have found the most incredible counsellor with a heart of gold! She has helped me immensely. I think it’s really important to utilize these ‘helping’ professionals and ensure you don’t see it as a sign of weakness. I have learnt that it takes guts to front up and ask for help and it is usually the strong ones who do so. I also work with a range of coaches over the phone from time to time who are different from counsellors. Counselling is more about digging deep into your past and assessing how it impacts on your present and future, whereas coaching is very solution focused, goal oriented and attracts a different clientele. Both are equally necessary and important to me. I also coach people from different countries (through a community of coaches program called ‘ReciproCoach’ where they match you up with a client and a coach) to help me with my coaching experience and to practice new techniques. I thoroughly enjoy doing this and wish I could find more time to do so! It can get difficult with a young son and finding the time when my husband is home so that I can coach. I do what I can and know that he is not little forever and that my time will come when I can throw myself right in.
I journal. Journaling is priceless for me. It really helps me to express myself, order my thoughts and get clear in a way that I can’t, just by speaking or thinking about it. I have several A4 journal books that I have filled up over the past 10 years. I start with the date, and sometimes write a letter to the universe, blabbing away, usually ending in gratitude. Other times, I will write an issue presenting itself in the middle of the page, writing dot points of whatever comes to my mind around it. It amazes me how much lighter and clearer I feel afterwards. It also helps me to get clear on what the next right action of my day is.
I am not big on exercise but I sometimes go for walks, play basketball or go to Zumba when I can. These two sports give me so much life and happiness and keep me grateful and active! I also like to jump rope! Another activity I enjoy is yoga. So calming, deeply relaxing and really good for stretching out my sometimes tense body.
We book regularly family weekends away. Coming up to a year ago, my husband and I decided that we’d plan a family weekend away every 3 to 4 months. So far, we’ve done July 2018, November 2018, January 2019, April 2019 and I’m currently organizing the next one for this coming July. I’ve found it’s such a wonderful way to get away from the daily grind, reconnect as a family and simply have fun without the worry of housework and life stresses. It doesn’t have to be anywhere flash or expensive either, as we all know money isn’t always free flowing!
I schedule me time into my calendar. Literally. If something comes up, I probably can’t commit to it because I need my own time whenever I can get it. I do things that make me feel good about myself. Like this blog. I have discovered I like to write, so I am doing it. I like to challenge myself daily and I am big on self development. I feel it’s what my life is all about and one of the things I was put here to do. I am a trained primary school teacher of 9 years. I now work 2 days a week and pick up extra work days when I can. Balancing work and mothering can be tough! Guilt definitely is a nagging factor and I still haven’t found the perfect balance, nor do I think I will. Some weeks, 2 days feels like too much time away from my little man and other weeks, 4 challenging yet fulfilling work days is just right. My priority is my son and spending time with him, especially while he is little and will be grown before I know it. Work comes second. We live a simple, yet event filled happy life with people we care about and are content with that.
WHO IS NUMBER ONE IN YOUR LIFE?
When i was about 19, I was seeing a Kinesiologist about an hour away (just another desperate measure to find a solution to my eating disorder) where she performed muscle testing with the aim to get my brain and body to communicate faster and more effectively. I can’t remember exactly what magic she performed but basically if my brain disagreed with her question then my arm would stay limp, whereas if my brain agreed then my arm would raise. She asked, “Who is the most important person in your life?” Well that was an easy answer. “My mum!” Apparently not. “My dad?” Nope. “My sister, my brother? My grandparents? My best friends?” All negative. My arm didn’t budge even a bit. I was running out of people to list and I was seriously confused and started to question what hocus pocus she was carrying out. I eventually and hesitantly said, “me?” I kid you not, my arm involuntarily raised. I was completely gobsmacked and amazed but what had just happened!
Who do you put first in your life? I know many mums out there who would say that they put their children or even husbands first. But I put myself first. This does not make me selfish, not does it mean that my sons needs (and more) aren’t looked after. Anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely besotted by my son and I just adore being a mum and being with him. It is by far my biggest life gift and my largest accomplishment. But I need to look after myself in order to be the mum I want to be to my boy. I want to show him what it means to have self respect and to value yourself as a human being. I try to follow my gut feeling, my intuition and trust myself. I aim to live a balanced life, with me time, friends, family and my beautiful husband, hobbies and work. I don’t do things perfectly and I am more than okay with that. I strive to be a better Janine than the Janine I was yesterday. And every once in a while, I even do my best to go to the toilet without the sneaky bottom of my ever curious 2 year old sitting on my lap.
How do you practice self care? Is there something you want to start doing to look after yourself better? Do you relate to something I wrote in this post? Did something trigger a memory, a thought?
I would LOVE for you to comment your thoughts, opinions and questions below! Don’t forget to subscribe!
POSTS BY JANINE
- Coronavirus has Changed your World. It’s OK to Grieve.
- Accepting your Circle of Control during Isolation
- Work, Guilt and Motherhood
- Permission to Self Care
- Toddlers, Tantrums and Triumphs
Janine Graham is a Mum, a Primary School Teacher and a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach. Janine works with women to refocus their energy on what aligns with their values and supports and challenges them to create a greater overall life satisfaction. Janine is skilled and passionate in empowering women in issues such as body confidence, relationships, fertility, parenting, life balance and unconditional self-love. Make contact with Janine today for your free, no obligation clarity call.
Follow more of Janine’s story on Free To Be Me – Wellness Coaching’s Facebook Page and Website.