Nothing makes you quite so helpful to others as the decision to help yourself. I learned this years ago, because I'm a compulsive (and functional) procrastinator. Everyone wants to know when I'm going to write my book, or post another post. They enjoy reading what I write, or at least they say so in polite company. They also tell me their secrets, and say how reading mine makes theirs easier to tolerate or process or confront. If that's not motivation, I'm not sure what is.
And yet, writing doesn't come easily to me. Writing time is happily consumed by cleaning, until we get close to tax time. Then procrastinating about taxes includes writing (hooray for you, dear reader). And nothing gets me going on my taxes like an impending health test.
You know, it's all perspective.
I have made several (hundred) effective lists detailing How I Will Focus On Self Care. These include things like getting up earlier to meditate, going for walks, drawing, playing the violin, sitting in tubs of warm water. Sound familiar? You've probably made a list or two yourself.
Perhaps you've even set aside an hour or a day or a weekend and marked it off on your calendar: ME TIME or DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT SCHEDULING ANYTHING. In my experience, two things thwart the blocked calendar: someone else's personal crisis (real or imagined) or illness. If you dangle a personal crisis in front of me... even the hint of a personal crisis, I become the craftiest bloodhound. I can take your flat tire, your breakup, your fight with your mother and make it the centerpiece of my life for a finite window. As in, until my “me time” has passed. You might notice, you might not, because in addition to providing actual support and assistance, I often find myself just plain worrying for you.
In an effort to extricate myself from this destructive pattern, whereby I'm now 34 years old and somehow forgot to do the things that are important to me for the last 10 years, I spent my life savings and went to the Bahamas for two months and committed myself to the prison-ashram. There, I did my darndest to a) survive b) not make friends c) avoid the internet d) focus on my own damned self.
This worked in a few ways. I did indeed survive, although goals b-d were only modest successes in part because of the inane schedule and sleep deprivation. I managed not to take on the myriad personal problems that brought the inmates to the island. I relied heavily on friends back home to manage their own personal crises. Focusing on myself revolved primarily on two base instincts: sleep and food.
When I returned, I felt rather down about not having evolved spiritually. I hadn't found God, zoomed in on my place in the universe, or developed a kitchen gadget to pitch to the Home Shopping Network. No, I had focused on eating, breathing, and sleeping for two months. And then I landed squarely back into the rubble of the life I'd left behind, plus two months of dust and a little wind damage.
So I tried to maintain the meditation, the emphasis on breathing and eating and sleeping. I built solid walls into my calendar, sectioning my life into work, play, rest, and abstract busyness. But the old patterns are so tempting, especially the worry, and it seeps over those walls like a fog. It settles into every corner and soon I realize I'm not eating. Sleeping. Breathing.
Perhaps you've been here, or ideally you have no idea what I'm talking about. You enjoy an indulgent breath or yoga class like a responsible adult. But in case you are more like me than you'd care to admit, and you spend your time offering your last five dollars or your last five minutes (or both), I'll suggest a key phrase I've been practicing:
Help me not to help you. Help me to see that I'm the one that needs the help, and that my worry about me or you or next Thursday isn't helping anyone. You can't help me out of the dark places any more than I can help you.
But you can help me help me.