Selfless or Selfish
I am selfless.
I care a whole heck of a lot. I care what people think. I care what people do. I want the people around me to be happy, to be learning, to be cared for. I want them to feel loved and supported. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I do all that I can to make sure everyone is okay… even if it means that I am not.
This isn’t unusual. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is typical for a teacher and for a mother. As Glennon Doyle says, women in particular were brought up to believe that being selfless is the holy grail and it is what we should strive for, always. This is part of our taming. If we’re not being selfless, we are being selfish. Period. And no one wants to be selfish, especially teachers and moms. So, we give and we give and we give.
A few years ago, I had a very difficult year where big stressors piled on so much so that the every day usual stress became too much to handle. Because I’m so selfless, I kept on plowing through, ignoring the warning signs. Eventually, my body began to break down. It was during that year that the left side of my body, including my face, started to go numb. After ruling out urgent things, I was sent for an MRI to see if this was the onset of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), something completely possible as my sister was diagnosed several years ago. It didn’t stop there. After a routine mammogram, I was sent for a biopsy, with the looming possibility that I might also have breast cancer. In the end, I was diagnosed with neither, and came to the conclusion that stress can do some really intense things to the body. I finally started listening and began taking better care of myself. It’s when I started running. Nothing fancy at first. Small manageable goals: run 10 minutes a day and don’t miss two days in a row.
As the pandemic hit, despite my running, more stress began to pile on. With activities being cancelled, and learning from home beginning, as a mom of four boys, I had more time and more flexibility than I’d ever had. So, I began running more.
I wonder what running a 5k would feel like? (It felt like death, by the way).
I wonder if I could build up to a 10k? (I did, but not without rolling my ankle first, needing physio to heal, and learning that pace is important, especially when adding distance).
Is a half marathon within my reach? (Yep, even extreme wind couldn’t stop me).
How about a half marathon finishing under 2 hours? (Nailed it, I feel strong!!)
What if I helped my sister raise funds for MS and offer to run 1km for every $100 that she raises? (Done! Queue my longest run to date: 25k)
This has been my progression over the last 16 months and naturally, it’s taken a lot of hard work, and many hours spent running, lifting, and training. But do you know what else it’s created? A lot of mom guilt… I am not being selfless right now, I am being selfish. I was able to control this guilt as it crept in, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. It was always there, in the back of my mind, making me second guess my running goals and the time, effort, energy, and hard work in took me to make them become a reality.
Then, a moment of clarity: my husband, four boys, and pup were camping, and as I was doing the dishes one evening, I heard the boys setting up their next game, while drawing a big line across the road with chalk. “Run all the way around the bay. It’s not about speed, it’s about stamina. You just have to finish without walking.” Be still, my heart. My boys, my four boys, were playing a game about running, as they’ve seen me do countless time. They were cheering each other on and running together as my running friends always do for me. They were supporting each other every step of the way and celebrating as each one of them completed their laps. They didn’t resent me for all the time I’d put into running, they were learning from my example and running with it. They were learning that taking care of yourself is not selfish and should always be a priority.
As Glennon Doyle says in her book Untamed, “My children do not need me to save them. My children need to watch me save myself.”
I am working on it, and I hope you are, too.
You don’t always need to be selfless. You need to put yourself first. It’s not selfish, it’s essential. And just maybe, putting yourself first will take care of those around you far better than any act of selflessness could. Let that sink in.