Self-Care Is Not Enough

Recently, I wrote about my depression. It was important for me to vocalize that, although very hard, I needed to be able to put myself first. I deserved more and I needed to step back to catch my breath. I was worth it, and so are you. Many people reached out after reading my post saying that it really resonated with them. Throughout my leave and my depression, I tried to be as transparent as possible while respecting my own boundaries. For me, I needed to feel like my experience would not only help me learn and grown, but would help others too… would give people the courage to listen to their hearts, to do what they needed to do to take care of themselves.

Since that rather dark post, a lot has happened, and as important as it was for me to share my struggles, I know it is equally as important to share the triumphs. If I can come out of it, so can you. There is hope.

As I prepared to head back to work at the beginning of February, countless thoughts flooded my mind. Am I really ready? What if I slip back into the darkness? What if the stress is too much? What if I can’t handle the pressure? But I am so excited to see the kids again… see where they’re at in their learning. I’ve missed teaching. I’ve missed them. I hope they’ve missed me. What if they didn’t? What if they preferred the teachers who replaced me? What if my family life becomes too heavy to handle while being back in the classroom? What if I get back into the classroom and I don’t find that spark again? What if I slip back into old patterns and routines… I learned a lot but what if I can’t put it all into practice?

Self-doubt. Excitement. So many emotions all wrapped up into one.

And really, there was no predicting what was going to happen until it did. So, with my head help up high, back to work I went!

I am so thrilled to be sitting here today to shout from the rooftops that things are going AMAZING in my life. Sure, there absolutely are hard moments and stressful times (hello report card season), but guess what? I can manage it! And it feels so good to be able to say that. I am loving being back in the classroom. I am happy again, excited about things we are learning, and my fire is raging. I also have energy for my boys after work and am not avoiding home life, but rather embracing it. Taking this leave to work on myself was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed since my return is that stressors that used to send me over the edge don’t anymore. A simple example… anyone who knows me knows that I am super-duper organized and very particular, to a fault (yes, Dr. Keates, I am still working on not folding my boys’ underwear). As I went back to school to spend one afternoon in my class before officially heading back to work, I noticed that things in my room were not at all the way I’d left them. No one was to blame for this at all; mandates and regulations had changed so students needed to be more distanced and therefore the furniture had to be rearranged. Fine. But things bother me… like you can’t have a tall shelf in front of a window, partly covering it. I. Can’t. Handle. That. NOPE! But, as I soaked up my afternoon with my students and the teacher, I let it go. I chose to smile and laugh instead of letting it get me down in the dumps. It’s okay, I can fix this when I am back. But that was a huge moment for me, proving that I’d grown leaps and bounds. That one moment could have seriously set me back and had I not done the work that I had during my leave, it absolutely could have made me fall right back into a deep depression.

So, what changed? Well, first of all, I’d like to clarify that I did a lot of hard work with my therapist and doctor’s help, so if you’re struggling, know that it’s important to reach out and get help. I’d also like to say that I am completely over self-care being shoved down our throats. Yes, self-care is important and necessary, but you know what’s also important and necessary? Looking at WHAT is making us need this self-care so badly and seeing if we can rectify, lessen or even eliminate these stressors. Yes, I said it. Let’s stop trying to put band-aids on wounds that will simply keep opening up. We need to reflect and try to get to the source so we can truly heal.

Naturally, there are things we can’t control. Covid won’t go away with a magic wand, report card stress isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but today I’m going to focus on the stressors that I can control and what I’ve done about them. Simple tweaks can go a long way, and managing the stressors that we can, might leave us with a bit more space and energy for the ones we can’t.

Stressor: Mom has too many responsibilities

Solution: I created a chore bucket for my four boys. We discussed that we are a family and mom needs help. Our boys always did chores but it was a constant battle of nagging and negotiating about what they were willing to do. This added a lot of stress that I didn’t need. So, the chore bucket was born. It’s quite simple; we have two buckets, a “to do” bucket and a “done” bucket. We have large coloured popsicle sticks, each of my boys having one colour, and the chores are written/drawn on the sticks. My boys know what chores they are responsible for each day and it’s easy to personalize it and change it day to day. They also know that chores have to be done before screen time, which is a great incentive and reward that works for our family.

Stressor: Leaving the house on time in the morning before school

Solution: Mom, after giving a few warnings (10 min to finish breakfast, 5 min, etc.), lets the boys know at 8am that they have 5 minutes to get ready and go outside. At 8:05, my timer starts, and anyone who isn’t ready yet starts to lose screen-time minutes (because again, this is the reward that works for our family). If someone is ready at 8:06, they’ve lost one minute of their allotted screen time that evening. This has also provided a bit of a cushion window of time so that if someone is having a particularly hard morning, we have built in time so that even if we are late leaving, we will not be late for school. If we have a great morning and end up leaving by 8:10, mom has time to stop for a coffee! Yay! Having more time and not feeling rushed has been very helpful while trying to leave the house on time with 4 kiddos!

Stressor: Self-inflicted work pressure

Solution: Less time on social media. I used to tweet about what was going on in my classroom often. Every morning before even getting out of bed, I’d also check out the school hashtag to see what was going on. I’d also read so many blogs and be very active on twitter – liking, commenting, retweeting, sharing. While this used to inspire me and bring me joy, it somehow turned to pressure and stress over time. So, I’ve decided to take that out of my everyday routine – doesn’t mean I never do this, I just don’t do it every day. The same is true for the pressure I’d put on myself to blog consistently. Letting that go has been freeing.

Stressor: I don’t have enough hours in a day to do all that I need to do

Solution: Maximize my time. I used to do laundry throughout the week, but the baskets of clean laundry would pile up until the weekend when I’d have time to fold (which was at least a 2 hour ordeal). Now, I’ve made it a habit to put the clean baskets of laundry right by my spot on the couch. When the boys are in bed and I sit down to unwind and relax with a show, my basket is there, ready to be folded. It’s so much easier to fold one load every night! I’ve also been more intentional with how I use my time. My sons’ hockey practices are a great time to get a run in, catch up on work e-mail, or do other work tasks that I can do from my laptop. Mindless tasks that I used to do at school after work are now brought home for me to do in front of the TV at night, or brought with me during lunch so I can do it while chatting with colleagues. It takes a bit of reframing how I think, but it has been so helpful! And I think it’s important to note that not ALL practices and wind down time are spent doing tasks… sometimes I focus on socializing with parents or eating some popcorn while watching TV, because that’s just as important! 🙂

Stressor: Mindlessness of morning and night routines

Solution: Being intentional about being present and letting everything go for a few minutes twice a day. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I allow myself to have 15 minutes of phone time. After that, it’s my dog Ellie’s favourite part of the day – snuggle time. She knows that when I put my phone down and roll over, it’s time for her to get really close and get tons of scratches, sweet talk, and dog owner ridiculousness! She loves it. I love it. And it helps set the tone for the day. The same is true for my nighttime routine. I’ve been having trouble with dry eyes, so my optometrist suggested I do warm compresses for 15 minutes every night. Well, that’s been a blessing in disguise! 15 glorious minutes of time to meditate, be in the moment, process thoughts and ideas… I’ve really come to love this 15 minutes of absolutely nothing to do but lay there with zero distractions.

Those are just a few example of minor tweaks that I’ve done to lessen every day stress that would add up. I’d like to invite you to reflect on stressors in your life and think about how you might make these easier on yourself. I’d love to hear what you come up with, and how it’s impacting you! Let’s rip the band-aids off and work on doing the work needed to truly heal instead of covering it up and holding our breaths until the wound splits open again. Self-care is not enough.

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