I’ve never been more nervous about pressing the publish button on a post than for my last one. I messaged one of my best friends shortly after and told him how nervous I was. Not so much because of the post itself – I’ve shared many things on the blog, so that’s rarely an issue – but about the picture I chose to accompany the post. The picture was of me in a hospital bed, taken shortly after a surgery I had in early November. And the reason why I was so nervous to publish it, and this was hard to acknowledge, is because I knew that I would probably receive several messages from people asking how I was. I knew this, and I was nervous about it. Isn’t that odd? That I would be nervous about letting people in, to show their love, care, and support for me?
It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to me, as I’ve always been the type of person who struggled to let people in. But through the many years of work I’ve done on myself, I somehow thought that this pattern of mine had become less rigid, and that I’d become better at letting people in. However, the whole process – which is still ongoing – has shown me the opposite. Even with the operation itself: only a very small number of people knew about it. I even debated telling my family about it. The friends I asked to come and visit me at home as I recovered were faced with a Ryan who whilst presenting physically weaker, was mentally and emotionally “fine”. They all came expecting and wanting to take care of me, and yet, I’d made sure that they didn’t have to do much at all. I was in charge, even at my most vulnerable, trying to display an image of being in control. To the friends who asked if they could come and visit, I simply said “if you want to”. At every stage of the process, I kept putting up these barriers, limiting the ways in which people who care about me, could care about me. And then I published the post, and I knew I would receive more care and support, and I didn’t want to face that. I was shocked at how deep this delusional self-sufficiency still existed within me.
Being a therapist and having a wide social circle, I see this delusional self-sufficiency in many other people. We all arrive to it in different ways. Mine started, funnily enough, from a place of caring and support. When I was young, still in primary school, my mother felt that I was ready to walk home from school by myself. She felt that, because I felt that, and mostly because it was literally a 5-minute walk, this was the early 90s and the world was quite a different place. I had my own house keys, and on my way home I always used to stop by my local grocery shop to collect an afternoon snack, before making my way home. I only learned a few months ago, that the owner of the shop and my mother had an agreement, and that he actually used to make sure I got safely into my building after collecting my snack. At home, I would then do my homework, and do whatever it was I did at home by myself at that age – read, play games, dance, sing, draw. My imagination was always very active, and I was usually occupied with something. I felt very independent, responsible, and mature.
This all fed into the narrative that I was a perfect kid, who could be relied upon and never did anything wrong. Day by day, year by year, this eventually turned me into an extremely self-sufficient person. Others could always rely on me to be good, but because I was often by myself, making decisions about my own time without having to consult anyone, I eventually became someone who felt like I didn’t need to rely on anyone else. I was always able to provide for myself, find solutions for problems I encountered, etc. This was combined with a familial and social culture of not sharing my emotions, just getting on with things as if problems didn’t exist, and voilá: you get me, in 2018, having a surgery, hardly telling anyone about it, and then having a problem accepting friends’ love and care.
Over the years since becoming a therapist, I’ve learned new ways to take care of myself, and I tend to be fairly consistent with them. However, this whole process relating to the surgery has shown me that my self-care and self-love, needs to include other people. This, to me, means that I need to be more open and authentic with those who love and care for me. It means communicating better and clearer with those people about what I need, want, but mostly about what I feel. It is saying “actually, I’m not fine”, or “spending time with you really means a lot to me, and I’d like to do it more often”. Sometimes I look back at my life, and even currently, and I see all these moments where I didn’t really express what I wanted to express out of some delusional sense of being “fine”, “strong”, “perfect”, or whatever, and missed some real opportunities for deeper connections, or even entire life experiences. Whenever I think of these moments, I think of that Gwyneth Paltrow movie, Sliding Doors. What would have happened if I had just ... ? I’m trying to incorporate this into my own self-care routine – to try and avoid these moments of literally limiting my own life, because I’m not able to voice my feelings or follow my instincts. I want to listen more to my instincts and share them accordingly to those with whom I feel the closest to. I want to reach a point in my life when I don’t need to remind myself that “Oh yes, I should/could share this with someone”.
I read somewhere that we need courage to be happy. That happiness isn’t so much a state of being, but a state of action, a choice we need to make regularly. And that to make that choice requires courage. I really believe this. I believe this because sometimes I find it hard to make that choice. Or I forget that it is a choice. And so, I also believe that self-care and self-love require the same level of courage, that they are also a choice we need to make every day, something that we have to remember to do, otherwise we can easily forget about it.
I’m adding the following to my self-care/self-love routine:
To take opportunities to spend time with people
To accept love, care, and support from others
To speak the truth in my heart more often
To accept that I am both ordinary and extraordinary
To play more
To say, “I like you” or even “I love you”, when I feel it
What is your self-care/self-love routine like? Be in touch!