Over fall break, two very good friends of mine got married in the midst of a hurricane-prompted downpour. The wedding was standing-room only, since it had been planned as an outdoor affair, and the ceremony was short and the reception was lovely and my boyfriend gave the best best-man speech I’ve ever heard, in my (not) entirely unbiased opinion. Following the reception, there was an afterparty at the bar we used to go to all the time when the couple first got together, and we drank and danced and marveled with one another over how we used to have the energy to go there most weekends. This outing with my friends was one form of self-care.
Another was what I did in the two jaw-droppingly clear and bright and breezy days that followed, the gorgeous first that really felt like fall. I did not set my alarm. I read three books over those two days, mostly on my front porch. I made breakfast potatoes and bacon and eggs, steak with roasted butternut squash and brussels sprouts. I ran five miles. I watched the first two episodes of This Is Us, which I thoroughly enjoyed and seems primed to fill the Parenthood-shaped hole in my heart. I took a long bath and thought about how fully human I felt, and how happy. I napped and refused to let myself feel guilty, somehow succeeded in not thinking of it as time lost. I listened to music, really listened, for the first time in a long while, and I folded my laundry with the windows open, felt accomplished as I surveyed my clean room. These things, too, are all self-care.
All weekend, I let my computer sleep. My textbooks stayed stacked on the shelf in my office. I could have worked, even just a little, and made some progress that would’ve helped the rest of this week be less stressful. I could have made progress. But I had been feeling so overloaded going into break that it was impossible to resist taking a few days off, giving myself a respite from the pressure I put on myself and the constant need to Get Things Done. Even now, as I face down everything I’ll have to accomplish over the next several days, and try to work out exactly how, mathematically, I’ll find the time to do it—even now, I know that time away was necessary, and worth it.I’m working on trying to strike a good balance between all of the things I want to do—professionally, as a student, for my family, with my friends, for my health; things that are often laden with some should-feeling, that purposeful drive to be the productive, successful, loving person I’d like to be—and the time I need to take away from those goals, doing less immediately productive-seeming things, in the service of my own mental health and well-being. Sometimes I’m tempted to think of that time away as selfish or lazy—it can be hard to see it as necessary, as filling its own function that ultimately allows for my productivity, even though it is. I don’t know that the balance I’m seeking is anything it’s possible to definitively figure out; instead, I imagine it’s a lifelong process of assessment and reassessment, which when I am in the right mood seems hopeful rather than exhausting. We can create our terms and change them. If we are not as patient with ourselves as we should be, that’s okay. We have plenty of time to learn.