I had lunch with a dear friend during my hiatus, and we were discussing self care and wellness, as women of a “certain age” are wont to do.
We discussed the various aspects of our lives: our morning routines, which include exercise, meditation, journaling and more. Drinking enough water, eating real food, getting enough sleep. Being present in the lives of our immediate families. Stretching. Managing our work-life balance, whatever that is.
We paused for a moment, and I asked, “That’s a boatload of stuff to incorporate. I often don’t accomplish it all, and I have virtually nothing and no one putting demands on my time and energy. What about people who aren’t in these privileged times and places in their lives?”
I talked about when I student taught. I lived very near downtown Fargo, my 3-year old went to daycare in south Moorhead, and I taught at West Fargo High School and had to be there by 7:30 every morning. That meant we left the house at 7am. I drove like a madwoman to get him dropped off and all the way across town in time. I picked him up around 4:45. By the time we got home, it was after 5. We had to do all the regular nighttime stuff—cook, eat, clean up, take a bath, read and get to bed. And then I started grading. While this was not major city traffic and distances, it was a lot for me at the time: about 15 miles/day.
If someone had told 25-year old me that, in addition to all of that, I really needed to incorporate exercise, meditation and journaling into my days, I would have told them where, exactly, to stuff it.
And my friend and I barely scratched the surface of self care!
What about all the rest of what we’re told we should be including in our daily lives?
Making time for important female relationships. Keeping the spice in our relationships. Recycling. Volunteering. Exploring our spirituality. Reading the latest NYT best seller, listening to that killer podcast, keeping up with the newest binge-worthy series. Networking. Embracing our hobbies. Engaging in community. ..
I could go on and on, but you get the general gist here.
A little parable
I posed this, and it resonated for us both. I hope it strikes a chord for you, too.
Picture an ice cube tray full of ice cubes and a glass—it can be any size and shape you want.
Can you see both these objects? It’s especially important to hold on to the image of the glass you’ve conjured up.
Imagine each of these self care and wellness items is an ice cube, and you have a full tray of 16 frozen cubes. Each cube is equal in size and shape.
Now, look at the glass you’ve imagined.
Put all of those ice cubes in that glass.
Since they are all equally important, you can’t select 3 or 4—you have to make them all fit.
How did you do?
In my case, the literal glass in front of me when I was telling this analogy would hold probably 5, maybe 6, ice cubes.
OK, so what do I choose? Meditation but not exercise? Eight glasses of water but not real food? Seeing my female friends but not engaging with my husband?
Depending on whom you talk to or what article you read, you’ll start to believe that not only are these 16 vital to your health and happiness, but, actually, there’s at least one more whole tray of other cubes you simply have to incorporate to “live your best life.”
All that leaves me feeling behind before I’ve even gotten started, which kind of makes me not want to get started at all.
I think we have to stop trying to “do it all.” And I think we have to acknowledge that there are seasons in life, some of which allow for more ice cubes because the glass is bigger, and some which will barely hold a few measly pebbles of ice.
Right now, my life is approximately the size of a big gulp, but it wasn’t always that size. In fact, it’s a relatively new size for me. Stepping away from a full-time job, even one where my primary role was to think, write and network, freed up enormous amounts of time and mental space. Additionally, my parents are all healthy and my son is well-settled. My husband has a stable and satisfying job, our house is paid off, and our living expenses are low. We don’t even have our old pup Lilly anymore, and while I miss her, I appreciate not having the burden of an aging pet to manage. From this vantage point, I’m in the prime of my life, and my glass can hold all the ice I can find or want to make space for.
But for much of my adult life, I was struggling with shot-sized glasses:
- I was truly a single parent until my son was 5 1/2. Dr Marry stepped in almost immediately at that point in incredible ways, but we didn’t live together until Quinn was 12. I had the stress and strain of finances, home management, scheduling, work and more.
- I earned two degrees, that teaching certificate and a Master’s degree, in the years between Quinn being 20 months and 5 years old. Full-time school is a lot at any time—doing it as a single parent is bonkers.
- My stepdad got sick and died while I had my full-time job and was doing an extremely demanding play, and I was a primary caregiver for him.
- Dr Marry went into the hospital and rehab while I was helping my son navigate college and working my full-time job.
There have been plenty of “small glass, too many ice cubes” periods in my past. And I anticipate that there will be more in the future, even if I can’t identify them specifically yet.
The point is, the great majority of us are doing the best we can in the time of life we’re in. Could I be doing more to be intentional and manifesting and letting go? Could I be stretching more? Could I stop eating mindless treats at 2:30 every afternoon? Probably.
Dr Marry and I did just cancel nearly all of the streaming services we were subscribing to. They just felt like a waste of time and money. Am I worried about what I’m going to do when the next season of Bridgerton comes out and I don’t have immediate access? A little, but I’m more looking forward to the increased time that will now be mine to put to better purpose, or if not better, different.
If you’re beating yourself up because you should be doing more, putting more ice in your glass, let me encourage you to stop the beating. I’ve never known anyone who does better from abuse, mental, physical or any other kind. If you need to stop a negative behavior to make space for a positive one, then figure out how to realistically do that and make a real effort at it. And be kind to yourself as you navigate the change.
If there’s literally no more time in your schedule or space in your glass, then recognize that you are in a small glass season of giving yourself to others. Some of those seasons are the most blessed and demanding of your life: taking care of children, nursing a sick relative, growing your business, developing your art, leaving the wrong relationship, managing a debilitating illness. Whatever it is that’s consuming your time, try to accept it. As with all seasons, this one, too, will pass. And when it does, new avenues and opportunities to fill your time, to add more ice, will open up.
Don’t resent the glass that represents your life right now. I’ve never had a glass big enough to hold all the ice cubes my freezer has stored in it. Rather, I fill my glass with as many cubes as I want and put the rest back on the shelf for another day.
You can feel free to do that, too.