I know it’s hard to imagine taking time for yourself. In fact, I imagine it’s like asking the moon to pull itself away from the tide. Where would the moon shine if it wasn’t on the crashing waves? How would the tide know where to go if it wasn’t for the moon’s gravitational guidance?
There are these unsung heroes wiping their children’s mouths, reading old magazines in psychiatric ward waiting rooms, and sleeping upright in outdated Emergency Room chairs. They resemble the average person in the daily grind of the mundane 9-5, but they’re anything but ordinary.
They drink their cups of coffee cold, eat their meals two hours late, and wear the same shirt three days in a row without realizing it. They are not forgetful when it comes to their service to their loved one they hold so closely. Medication is administered at the ding of a preset alarm. Necessities are on auto ship with Amazon and meals are planned and prepped in advance. Still, they neglect to take their own multi vitamin days in a row, forget to buy deodorant for themselves during their Target run, and leave their packed lunch on the counter top at home.
Suffering with a chronic and/or mental illness is difficult. Caring for someone that suffers is just as taxing.
Why You Matter
It’s been a long road. I know that and I don’t even know you personally. You see, there’s only so much that you can take without reaching out for help. You yourself tell people that again and again. You’re the advocate, the believer, the helper, and the friend. Everyone around you comes to you and deems you a saint of sorts. After all, the main question you’re asked is, “How do you do it?”
What do people even mean when they ask that?
Do they mean “How do you handle the stress?”, “How do you manage to keep your sanity when you’ve been up all night with your suicidal loved one?”, “How do you balance work, home, and taking your teenager to his third therapy session this week?”, or do they mean “How have you not given up on yourself yet?”
It’s such a loaded question: “How do you do it?”
What is “it”?
What they don’t see are your own panic attacks in the shower and the obsessive thoughts that race through your head each night. They don’t understand that you’re balancing medical bills in your head as you’re blowing out the birthday candles on your cake. After all, the days turn into months which turn into years. It all seems the same when you’re in survival mode.
Nobody says thank you which isn’t what you’re wishing for, but is also exactly what you need. It all just builds up and you cry in your walk in closet again for the second morning in a row. Your excuse your tears as selfishness and push your worry deep down behind your ribs again.
Sweet stranger, I see you. There have been times when I have been the care giver and times when I have needed someone to care for me. The hardest role of the two was caring so deeply for the loved one that was suffering that my very heart felt like a heavy stone. I know you’re rarely understood, checked on, or appreciated. Sometimes illness doesn’t allow those we are caring for to shower us in gratitude.
I want you to know here and now that you are seen, you are loved, and that you matter–outside of what you do there is you. You are not forgotten and you are not alone. Right here and now let me say, “You matter.”
This is a universal thank you to each and every person that has lost sight of who they are in the act of focusing on others.
We need to remind each other to let ourselves rest so we can change the world with our whole selves.
The Problem With Busyness
You have dreams of your own to make the world around you a better place. So once you entered the workforce, you got to hustling. A few times, you’d regretfully climb into bed feeling guilty about all the things on your to-do list you didn’t check off.
Then your email inbox started giving you anxiety, even if you’re not looking at it. When friends and family asked “how have you been” your reply was “busy.”
Then you got less excited about new ideas. You used to love being creative but now it seems like too much work.
Finally you googled “signs of burnout” and admitted to yourself that you needed a break. Then you look at your to do list again, realized how much you needed to get done and started knocking things off that list. Once you’re done, you can rest.
In a culture that tells us to hustle and grind, we glorify busyness. How full our calendar is directly relates to how important we feel.
But since when was busyness our goal?
M. K. Ghandi said “There has to be more to life than speed.” And I’m inclined to believe him.
We’ve tricked ourselves into believing that busyness will get us to a place where we can finally relax. Yet we never seem to arrive at that place. We just keep going. Sometimes until our bodies literally force us to stop.
The Reason for Rest
In Bec Heinrich’s Ted Talk on rest, she states productivity requires rest. She uses Michael Jordan as an example. He spent an average of 20% of each game resting on the bench because he realized his body and mind needed a break so he could go back out and give his all. Jordan played 1,072 games in his career. I wonder if he hadn’t taken a break, if he wouldn’t have been able to play as many games? I wonder if we don’t take a break, if we run the risk of shortening our own future success and joy?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to stop feeling guilty when I can’t point to something I accomplished. I feel the urge to pack my to-do list with lots of things that will prove I’m not lazy. But maybe the key to being truly productive is rest.
What I’m Learning
Here are some things I’m learning about rest…
What if we learned to advocate for ourselves in our own minds – Stop considering ourselves either Wonder Woman or a failure. So often we trap ourselves in either/or thought patterns that don’t actually exist. We can be strong AND need rest. We can be driven AND take time to do something fun and utterly pointless.
Maybe we have to understand that rest is personal. What makes you feel revitalized and ready to go might make me feel utterly exhausted. Self-care doesn’t have to look like a bath and candles unless that is actually how you ENJOY resting.
There are multiple types of energy and rest. We all have social, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional energy. Each is a little different from the other. Doesn’t it naturally follow that there are different types of rest as well? Instead of assuming rest always looks like a facemask and long bath (which might be great if you’ve had a physically demanding day), maybe we need to replenish the type of energy we’ve lost throughout the day. This requires us to ask ourselves questions about our tiredness and it opens up all kinds of new possibilities for rest.
Reframing how we think of rest can change everything. Rest is a way for us to replenish energy. It gives us the chance to say how/when we want to spend or save our energy. Productivity without rest will slowly get less and less meaningful until we’ve burnt out completely. Rest works best when we make it a habit – before we’re burnt out. Not as a last-ditch solution to feeling overworked and stressed. Once we’re in burn-out, we’re fighting an uphill battle to get back to ourselves. Yes, there are seasons of life that will beat us down and leave us burnt-out and stressed. But shouldn’t those be seasons of life and not the way we live our whole life?
If you’re someone like me who wants to change the world or maybe just our little corner of it, you need to learn how to rest. Spending all your energy does the world no good. Pushing through and living life as a well-meaning zombie means we all lose out on your spirit, your creativity, your heart because you’re too tired to share it with us. We need to remind each other to let ourselves rest so we can change the world with our whole selves.
This guest post was written by Cassidy Perry, founder of The Arise Box. The Arise Box gives you a simple, easy way to fight human trafficking in your every-day life. We curate products you can feel good about (ethically made, sustainable, give back, really world-changing stuff) while using part of the profits to build care packages for human trafficking survivors. You are worthy and capable of making a real difference in the world. We’re here to help you get started. Subscribe to The Arise Box at TheAriseBox.com to start empowering survivors, you world-changer you.
But I spend as much time as I can being creative, because it’s healing.
Dear Stranger, my name’s Caitlin and I have a mood disorder.
First things first…
I didn’t always have anxiety and depression. In fact, I used to be considered a class clown in my younger days. I remember being shy sometimes, but I was a pretty confident kid. As a girl I would love to make my friends laugh. I would draw funny pictures for them too, and make up characters. I’ve always been told I was creative.
But things changed once I got a little older. I was sitting in a classroom in 8th grade, and suddenly I felt a fear I had never felt before. I felt trapped. I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get out of there. I didn’t know it then, but I had experienced my first panic attack. They say something traumatic must happen to a person for them to have an anxiety disorder, but that’s not always true.
As a teenager, I started getting depressed and anxious. I was too afraid to take pills or seek therapy at the time. But when I was feeling low, I always had my sketchbook. I drew fairies and elves and hobbits, mainly. And when I wasn’t drawing, my friends and I filmed brilliant (to us) videos. If Youtube existed back then, let me tell you we would’ve had our own channel. Just like in my younger years, I would play countless characters for the video camera, trying to make people laugh. When I did that, I forgot about my anxiety and depression. I felt like myself again.
Fast forward to my years as a young mother. I had postpartum depression every time I had a new baby (and I had three kids in 5 years). I went through a period where I forgot how to be creative. I wasn’t drawing or writing anymore. But as the kids grew, I found that we could do crafts together. Making beeswax candles, making salt dough hand prints, …it was very fun creating things again, this time with my little ones.
The Spark of Creativity
I was still a lonely mom, but one day I had an idea. I decided to start hosting an annual tea party for my friends. It was called a Cupid’s Tea. We would craft Valentine’s together. Sitting there at my first of many tea parties, simply using a glue stick….it sparked something in me. From then on I never stopped trying to be creative.
I started being more crafty. My kids and I made fairy gardens outside, and painted birdhouses. I started scrap booking. I even got more creative with my hair. I may have had depression, but dying my hair pink, purple, blue and teal cheered me up. I may have had anxiety, but I could rock a mohawk!
When we moved from Virginia to Alabama, it wasn’t easy.
It was at this time I got really into painting wooden signs and making dream catchers. I made so many crafts that I was encouraged to start an Etsy shop, so I did. Knowing that people will pay money for the things I make is really encouraging. It helps me with my loneliness and my mood disorder.
Keep in mind, I still have a mood disorder. I have bad days. I manage it with medication and seeing a psychiatrist. But I spend as much time as I can being creative, because it’s healing.
I just want to encourage you, stranger, to try something just for you. Sketch, paint, blog, scrapbook, write, craft, or dye your hair red. There is something about creativity that has always helped me, and no matter what you’re going through, I believe it will help you too.
I will leave you with this quote by one of my heroes, which I love.
“You’re only given a little spark of madness; You mustn’t lose it” – Robin Williams
As David Horsey of the LA Times said: ” I very much doubt the “madness” of which he spoke had anything to do with mental illness. Rather, it is the spark of impulse, insight, enthusiasm and inspiration that is essential to creativity.”
It was time for me to face my fears. Money wasn’t just a tangible exchange of currency for goods. For me, it was a deeply rooted fear of going without, being out of control, and letting go.
To me, the world has always been a picture of souls interconnected by an invisible string. I’ve seen how just the “right” person enters my life at just the “right” time. It never ceases to amaze me and I find that it’s rarely easy to ignore.
The Way it Went Down
Matt and I have been struggling with our finances since we got married.
Money tips and wisdom weren’t shared with either of us growing up. In fact, money was a major trigger for stress in both of our homes. We were both raised by single parents for a long duration of childhoods. There was very little money and very little resources because of it. Ironically, both of our single parents married their spouses when Matt and I were around the same age. New income from new “breadwinners” in the home meant new opportunities that weren’t afforded to our parents when they were single.
All of a sudden both of our families were able to afford name brand cereal (heck, cereal at all!).
We got new school clothes instead of second hand clothing.
Matt looks back on his household and I look back on mine and it’s shockingly similar. Our parents essentially went from having nothing to having excess. This created a culture of entitlement, living beyond the families’ means, and debt. Then, as the credit card statements arrived in the mail, the arguments surrounding money began.
We both remember our parents and step parents fighting over money. Shouting matches over the stress of it all. Still, behaviors went unchanged and we both grew up in homes where money wasn’t dared brought up in discussion.
Avoidance became the key to keeping arguments under wraps.
Til’ Debt Do Us Part
Our lack of money smarts wasn’t all on our parent’s shoulders, of course. Matt and I never really talked about the financial specifics of our relationship, goals, or even pasts. Our conversations went as deep as:
“Yeah, my parents fought a lot about money.”
“Yeah, mine, too.”
Or, we would set lofty goals without any plan in place.
“The goal is to not go into debt.”
“Yeah, that would be horrible if we ended up in a financial situation like our families.”
The wedding came and went. We immediately spent the cash from the wedding envelopes immediately. On what, I don’t remember.
We opened credit cards for emergency situations because we didn’t have a savings.
Then, my health quickly and suddenly declined. Medical bills were thrown on credit cards and small personal loans with high interest rates became our cushion for survival. For years, and I mean years, we went into debt and total denial that our situation was as bad as it was.
Blank Slates and Fresh Chances
Years passed and debt increased.
Unforeseen circumstances kept mounting and throwing us into what felt like a whiplash state of saving then spending. We would make progress and then fall right back into spending and avoidance. We’d become stressed and then splurge on a vacation to get “away from it all”. (That doesn’t work, by the way).
Our daughter was born and we imagined a new chapter beginning. We dreamed new dreams. We made new lofty plans without any accountability or measurable goals in place.
Her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th birthdays passed and we were sinking further into debt. In this span of 5 years I began and quit multiple jobs because of my health. I could not hold down a full time job which left our finances even more unpredictable. Finally, we enrolled in the debt management program with CESI and consolidated our debt. (they’re a non profit and I highly recommend them!)
With new tools in our tool belt and a breath of fresh air, I started back to full time employment.
Unfortunately, after nearly two years of employment, I had to resign due to health issues once again. I immediately talked to my therapist during this grieving process. It was so taxing on me and disappointing that I had to give up a position I loved so much. She suggested that I consider freelance work as a virtual assistant and writing. My love for administrative support (major geek over here!), writing, and desire to stay on track with CESI gave me the push I needed to jump into the unknown.
Enter Amazing Breakthrough
My freelance profile posted and I got a message shortly after from the lovely Whitney Hansen of Whitney Hansen Co. It turned out she needed a virtual assistant ASAP and well, I needed a job! The thought of working for a finance guru intimidated me like crazy!
Day One: I pushed my fear aside and got to work on my newly assigned tasks.
I read all about her work, listened to her podcast, and began reading her blog. She had me hooked. Whitney talked about things I had never heard about: side hustles, how to start a savings, and manageable goals for paying off debt. I soaked in everything like a sponge. She wasn’t talking at me, she was sharing her heart and also her mind. In one of her podcasts she interviews Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less . My intrigue was sparked. I bought the book used on Amazon and got to reading.
My Rude, but Gentle Awakening
The first few pages of Cait’s book made me cry.
Whitney’s podcast made me cry.
Sessions with my therapist made me cry.
Something ran deep within me and I couldn’t figure it out. What was it?
I began to grieve.
I dug deep into the soil of my soul and there, just at the rock bed, was fear. On the surface everyone else saw my health concerns, my best intentions, and my polished facade. Deeper, there in the dark, was the fear I had buried as a child. Fear of losing what I held dear, fear of lacking control, fear of letting others in. Spending had become my salve. I shopped for comfort. I shopped to forget. I shopped to control.
“Tiny” well-meaning purchases over time had buried me.
It was time for a rebirth.
I could not be held responsible for what I did not know growing up, but I was responsible for choosing not to grow up.
The following weeks, I decided to stay at that root and to look it dead in the eyes. I observed the deepest and darkest places of my behavior. Places that I felt ashamed of–the impulsive spending, relentless excuses, and denial. I did not stay there, though.
We cannot dwell in a place of regret. Nothing blooms there.
I asked Whitney for help by joining her in her 1:1 coaching. She graciously accepted us and all of our nasty debt into her arms and began gently coaching us on how to take ownership over our finances.
I began working intentionally with my therapist about my desire for comfort, suppression, and hiding from fear.
This has been difficult. The first month of setting a budget did not go as planned. We basically fell on our faces. Whitney helped dust us off and encouraged us to keep going. I replaced spending with eating for a short time. My therapist listened with true empathy as I cried through the realization that I had exchanged one bad habit for another. (Cait highlights this common tendency in her book).
Matt and I are setting goals and working hard to be a team. It’s fun to be on the same page and dream together!
I’m learning to not be fearful of finances, but instead feel empowered by my choices.
Let’s End With This
You’re not defined by the mistakes you’ve made.
Evaluate the “mood behind the motion”. Are you eating, spending, sleeping, avoiding, or drinking when you’re stressed, scared, overwhelmed, sad, or angry?
You’re not alone.
Advocate for yourself. Ask for help. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
I promise, there’s something beautiful waiting to bloom.
Her face was a bit blurry on my side, but she could see me clearly.
“Why do you believe it’s hard to sit with yourself?”, she asked. I sat up tall and adjusted by earbuds. I smiled nervously as some self-deprivation joke entered my mind.
She looked at me eagerly, but patiently.
“I don’t know. It’s just hard. It’s uncomfortable to sit in the silence with myself. My thoughts become too loud. I try to avoid myself, I guess.” I admitted. The joke surfaced again. “I guess I just don’t think I make good company.”, I blurted out and then laughed.
My therapist smiled and offered, “You do know that you’re wasting your life away by not sitting with your pain, right?”
The smile stretched across my lips vanished in a split second. Then, out of politeness I forced it to return. My heart felt as if it had just been sunk in the deepest water. I cleared my throat and leaned against the headboard. The bed creaked as it gave way to my full weight.
She continued, “You have to be able to sit with yourself. Aren’t you tired of running from yourself? Sit down, listen to your heart, and make the choice to stay. Stay in the discomfort because that is the only way healing can take place.”
The next day I grabbed my keys and slammed the front door behind me. I took refuge in the local coffee shop and sat down with my laptop. I began to type and didn’t stop for four hours. 5,000 words looked directly at me and we held that uncomfortable eye contact for a long time.
I wrote about trauma I had endured, people that had disappointed me, a God that I was sure had forgotten me, and how in some strange turn of events I was made whole by my pain.
My coffee had gotten cold and the afternoon sun started to warm my face. I did not cry. There was a certain joy that radiated from the raw places I had buried for so long. The power was in using my voice–my writing–to face the demons that I had been running from for so long.
That writing session has allowed me to face my fears. I have become comfortable in my own skin and in my own company.
I believe that our pain should propel us into community. Shame hides. It runs and doesn’t look back. How much could we heal if we knew that we are never alone?
Gather with friends, family, “your person” that you love, and God–the ones that have never left you.
Most importantly, sit with yourself. Don’t let another day pass where you are living numb.
Sometimes there aren’t words that can truly convey the weight that a new chapter brings. I celebrate new chapters when I am reading a great book. There’s nothing better than being completely immersed in a true page-turner. Anticipation builds at the end of each chapter and cascades into something new when the next page is turned. The joy is following each character or bit of wisdom into the next wave of inky creativity.
When it comes to new chapters of life the excitement can be completely abandoned and adopted by fear. There is fear of the unknown or in my case–fear of what previous chapters have entailed.
I have struggled with my physical and mental health for ten years now and once again I find myself at the brink of a new chapter. A few days ago was my last day in a job that I absolutely adored. My resignation was the end of a chapter that I will always have fond memories of. Now as I turn the page to something uncharted and new I find that I am afraid. I worry that my health will become as bad as it has been in the past. My limited view into the future evokes negative associations for me. Will I be able to lead the life I want to or will I have to bend once again to limitations? Is my future bright with promise or will I have to continue to sacrifice more of the things I love?
But There Is Hope
As all of these fears have taken root in my mind, I have ironically been surrounded by extremely timely advice and encouragement. These instances have been the strength that I have needed to make it a day at a time; fifteen minutes at a time.
Perhaps life’s new chapters are not much different than those bound in a book. Maybe we should be filled with anticipation, joy, and wonder as we turn the page on the unknown. The truth could be that our story is not defined by individual chapters at all, but rather the complete work of art.
I am going to do my best to enjoy this chapter. Yes, I will have moments when I am distressed, distracted, and even depressed by what lies ahead. May I encourage you today? You’re not alone in your fear of the unknown. If you’re facing a chronic illness, mental health diagnosis, or love someone that is–this chapter is yours for the taking. Live among the words and let them settle in your spirit. May this next chapter inspire you and bring you encouragement that you never thought possible.
wasn’t until I stood up that I saw how badly I had skinned my knee. I was at
the top of the hill and my bicycle was now in the ditch. My leggings had a hole
in them from the friction of the gravel and my face was stained by tears. I
looked down the hill and could see my home. “Mommy!” I cried. She couldn’t hear
me, and I knew that. The back bicycle tire was still spinning; pushing the
daisies down with each revolution. Fear filled my chest as I realized the only
way to get home was to get back on my bike. My leg hurt too badly to walk, and
my voice wasn’t strong enough to carry very far. With tears streaming down my
face I pulled my bicycle by the handlebars and dragged it toward me.
I reached the front yard, I let my bicycle fall to the grass and ran up the
faulty front steps. “Mommy!”, I yelled. She pulled the quilt aside that blocked
the kitchen off and came out with wet hands. “I fell off my bicycle!”, I cried.
“I was all alone and you couldn’t hear me. I am so scared, and I need you.”
Mama looked at my knee and lifted my small 6-year-old body onto her lap. She
held me and assured me I would be ok.
Those that I have served in The Salvation Army social
services office since November 2017 have reminded me that we all need comfort.
The addict with her needle marked arms and sunken
Children with caregivers that are too overwhelmed to
comfort them when they cry.
Mentally ill that cannot live in their own minds
without fear and extremely painful memories.
The single mom that prostitutes herself while her
children are left to put themselves to bed.
Elderly that have experienced such great loss and have
no one to talk to.
The unemployed man that cannot find work because he
does not have transportation.
The recently incarcerated who have been demonized and
have the cards stacked against them despite their recovery.
are the stories that have filled my heart for nearly two years and these are
the stories that I will remember forever. May we all elevate our own hearts to
a place of pure and unconditional compassion. My hope is that we tune our ears
to the cries of the broken. “I was so scared, and I need you!”. May God’s love
in us cradle them all—the children that they are—and show them they are loved.