The email was signed, “Take care.” I looked at it, bursting into tears at the closing. With those two simple words, it felt like someone had reached deep into my vulnerable heart, offering to hold it for a moment.
I was in a weird place- things were happening in my life that shook me deeply to my core. I was newly married, living in a brand new condo that my new husband and I had bought. I had just finished my Masters, and graduated at a week-long ceremony in London that saw me bunking with one of my best friends, exploring the city that she had made home.
I was also reeling from that trip, where I had visited family in Ireland, learned more about my deep family history and was reconciling with the fact that my aunt, as distant and estranged as we were, had committed suicide weeks before my wedding. I had come back to a job that wasn’t satisfying me, and that new husband of mine was working out of the city, leaving us with an unpredictable schedule and weeks without seeing one another.
Shit was weird. Hard. Rollercoastering. Highs and lows.
So when I got that email, with a closing, “Take care.” It triggered this dam that I had been building up. And I fully acknowledge that it was a standard email signature, and that the subject topic (work) didn’t really inspire deep concern for my well being. But those two words were a stark reminder that I really did need to, you know, take care.
Thank you, long-forgotten colleague with the email signature.
Sometimes when we go through the motions of surviving life—the treading water, the “everything is fiiiiiine” response—we barge on with little-to-no focus on what we need to actually survive. It is that elusive self-care piece of the puzzle.
So how did I take care? I cried. I quite honestly cried. As one of my mentors has always asked me, “Alex, when do you feel better- before or after you cry?”
Always after. I released it.
I moved a little more slowly—I stopped guilting myself for not being superwoman. I read books that helped me understand the human mind a little more. I asked for help, ordered in meals, slept a lot.
I burrowed, crafting an inner circle that was small, supportive and could hold onto my heart. I took time to identify how I could shrug on my identity (that I had seemingly lost along the way)—writing was the fit. I had some amazing sessions with life coaches that helped me to chart a path, focusing on something beyond my shitstorm.
I recognize that everyone’s shitstorm is different, that any combination of factors and life may show up differently in your own life. The important thing is to take care. Put that oxygen mask on first, show up as your best self, investigate what you are missing in your life. Because life doesn’t have to be just “fiiiiine” and you don’t have to tread water forever.
What helps me?
- Take off that Superwoman (or Superman) suit, and hang it by the door. Perhaps there is time in the space in the future, but right now, you need to focus on you. Remember- put your own oxygen mask on first.
- Write it down- what is the situation, what do you need to do? What is important, urgent or can be dropped? Saying no to certain things opens up space in your life—try that on for size.
- Take time and space to look closely at what is causing the overwhelm. For me, it was hard because I felt like I should be fine and happy (see: new home, husband, degree), but that overshadowed the things that were pulling me down (see: major shifts in life, death, flawed family history).
- Look for what is missing. Friends? Family? Alone time? Writing? Passion project? Basic hygiene? Take time to find space for that, even if it is 15 minutes somewhere in your day.
- Look to the future. Sometimes future-tripping can help you, tethering you to a future dream that moves you forward through the current state.
- Ask for help. Help can show up in many forms. Perhaps it is tag teaming with family to pick up kids, hiring someone to help clean your house, grocery delivery, a coach to help define that future, or a therapist to help sort out what is going on in your life. Whatever it is, asking for help means getting vulnerable (scary!) which can help with getting on track (blissful!).