Big Picture Self-Care: Sharing a Piece of My Story
Updated: Jul 18, 2022
Acts of self-care come in all sizes. Today I want to share part of my story that relates to the bigger picture aspect of self-care. When I think of self-care at its best, I envision living authentically, with clarity, enthusiasm, and radiant joy. And it takes more than lattes and pedicures to get there! Sometimes self-care means taking a good hard look at what is working in your life and what isn't, and then deciding what to do about it.
Before I go on, I want to share my hesitation with you. Though I love hearing others' stories (in webinars, podcasts, biographies, on Instagram, etc.) I'm really struggling to articulate my own. Maybe I'm getting caught up in comparisons, thinking that my life is just not blog-worthy. My inner critics (yes, I have several) are telling me that nobody will find this interesting or relatable. Why would anyone even want to read about me? My life is so unremarkable. And who do I think I am, going on and on about myself as I'm someone important?
I'm also hesitant to talk about my life because I know that the choices that have been available to me are not available to everyone. I am incredibly grateful for all of the opportunities and freedoms that I have and recognize that I live with many forms of privilege (race, cis/hetero, socio-economic, etc.). That being said, I want to share my personal story with you, and privilege is woven through it; I can't separate my life from the context in which it exists. I am trying to learn how I can leverage my privilege for positive change, and this is an area where admittedly, I have a lot of work to do!
I hope you will forgive this long tangent/caveat. I felt it necessary in order to go forward. I also want to say that while the specific choices I made may not be available to everyone, I do believe that everyone has some choices available to them and that we sometimes fail to consider all of the options we do have or all of the changes we can make to better our lives. Sometimes we're too caught up with our limitations, or with just getting by. I know I was, for a while.
Now that that's off my chest, let's dive in. I'd like to take you back to the fall of 2019. Kate (4) had just started kindergarten, Andrew (2) was in daycare, and my husband and I were both working full-time. I was an Employment Advisor at Lutherwood, a local non-profit. We left the house around 7:30 to get one kid to daycare, one kid to before-and-after-school-care, Jamie (husband) to work, and finally myself to work. After picking up the kids at the end of the day, we got home around 5:30. Everyone was tired, hungry, cranky, and just ready to fall apart after keeping it together all day long. Then there was supper, dishes, bathtime, bedtime routines, and making lunches for the next day. It was exhausting, to say the least.
I had an amazing employer, a great work culture, and enjoyed many aspects of my job; but my overall job satisfaction was starting to wane. When I returned to work after my second maternity leave, my role went through a few changes, and I ended up eventually taking on a workshop facilitator role for youth experiencing multiple barriers to employment. I genuinely enjoyed facilitating and connecting with the participants, but this new role was quite demanding, and running a group for 6 hours a day was a total energy drain for this introvert! I was also slowly losing interest in the subject matter I was teaching about day in and day out - employment. It had seemed like such an important and meaningful field when I first got into it, but as my enthusiasm faded, it became harder and harder to muster up the energy required to do my job well. I felt the need for change creeping in. But what kind of change? I had absolutely no idea and even less mental space to figure it out.
Come October, I cracked. Not completely, but enough that I had to miss a few days of work, which felt significant and scary at the time. I also attended counselling and saw my doctor, who wrote a prescription for anxiety and depression medication. I didn't end up taking medication, as I wanted to pursue other alternatives first, but it felt important to me to consider all of my options. (That being said, I believe medication can be a life-saving and essential component of self-care. It just wasn't right for me at the time.)
In counselling, I realized how burnt out I was becoming, and that my daughter starting school was a bigger milestone than I had expected it to be. She was adjusting well but I wasn't. My kids were growing up right before my eyes and I wasn't content with us getting the worst of each other each day - rushy mornings and then the after-work-to-bedtime grind. Weekends weren't much better. I was in need of a serious recharge by then, but between groceries, laundry, cleaning, and trying to spend some quality time with the kids, there wasn't much time left for me to recoup.
I started to prioritize self-care and opened up to my supervisor about my mental health. Fortunately, she listened and asked what I needed. I was able to go down to a four-day workweek, which was incredibly helpful. With these changes, I got out of the rut I was in pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the counsellor wanted to discharge me after just two sessions. I negotiated one more session because as far as I was concerned, I was just getting started! After that, I sought out a new counsellor at Exhale Therapy in Kitchener, who I saw a few times in early 2020. (By the way, I highly recommend their services! Their space is also very relaxing and inviting, feeling more like a spa than a clinic.)
Aside from counselling, some of the most helpful forms of self-care I explored during this time were coaching, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, spirituality, and self-reflection, including time spent alone, journalling. My counsellor at Exhale Therapy introduced me to Eckhart Tolle's work and his book The Power of Now is one of the most influential books I've ever read. The book read as a meditation. Rather than just explaining concepts about present moment awareness, Tolle drew me into this awareness through his words, his voice, and his silences. I could go on and on but I'll just share a quote that points to the heart of his message:
When you say "yes" to the "isness" of life, when you accept this moment as it is, you can feel a sense of spaciousness within you that is deeply peaceful.
Within this sense of spaciousness, I was able to start considering my options openly, without panicking over the enormity of the decisions that lay ahead. At one point, after a yoga class, I sat in a cafe and wrote out all of the different possible scenarios, imagining and feeling into them as I wrote. These included keeping my job, looking for a new job in the same field, looking for a new job in a different field, going back to school (perhaps for a master's degree in social work or counselling), or taking some time away from work to raise my kids. For a while, I needed to live with this uncertainty about what to do next, while remaining open to all of the possibilities.
Throughout this journey, another person who was invaluable to me was Natalie Beachamp of Lotus Unfolding Courageous Coaching. We had several virtual one-on-one coaching calls and each time, I felt deeply heard, seen, and held by her kind, non-judgemental presence. She saw my strengths and had unshakeable faith in me, which helped me access my inner wisdom, and trust that I was in the right place every step of the way. While counselling was a good fit when my mental health needs were higher, coaching was an amazing tool when I needed support and reassurance to continue moving forward in a positive direction.
Now I'd like to take you to the end of February 2020. I had been mulling over my options for some time, oscillating between openness and overwhelm, without knowing which direction to take. Then suddenly, clarity came after volunteering for a danceathon at my daughter's school. This, I thought. This is where I'm meant to be. Of all the different pieces of my life at the time, my job was no longer a fit for me and my kids weren't getting any younger. My husband had been suggesting for several months that I could quit my job, but I just couldn't imagine doing that...until suddenly, I could. I had never wanted to be a stay-at-home-parent...until suddenly, I did. I thought I had to figure out my next few steps before taking any steps...until I didn't. One step, taken with certainty, was enough.
I spoke with my supervisor right away, then wrote my resignation letter and gave a 6-week notice (from early March until mid-April 2020) hoping to provide a smooth transition. Little did I know that we were about to experience a global pandemic! It was a strange time to leave a job of 8 years and say goodbye (virtually) to my co-workers, but I'm incredibly grateful that I was able to jump straight into the full-time caregiver role when everything shut down.
I may write another post to update you on what's gone on from then until now. Long story short, 2020 was a better year for me than 2019 and I think that says a lot! This is in part a reflection of my privilege, which the pandemic has highlighted for many of us. This is also because of the changes I've made, big and small, to live a life in greater alignment with my values, putting self-care - along with caring for my family - front and center.
If you have read this far, thank you. If any of this has resonated with you, I'd love to know! Quitting my full-time job and embracing the unknown was one of the biggest and boldest self-care moves I've taken and I can say that it was worth it. I wonder if someday I'll be able to make these big life decisions without struggling so much in the process and doubting myself along the way. Regardless, I won't stop pursuing a life that brings out the best in me, so that I can hopefully make a joyful, meaningful, and authentic contribution to this world.
Here's a sequel to this post - albeit a briefer snapshot in time than this one - written roughly one year later: Another Piece of My Story: A Moment of Ripeness