The other week, I drove to this field of wild sunflowers outside of my neighborhood with a pair of scissors and snipped about a dozen of those golden beauties to take home with me. I had just bought a new vase and couldn’t wait to set up these freshly picked flowers on a bookshelf to brighten our living room. So thrifty am I — I didn’t need a $9 bouquet from Whole Foods! All I needed was some scissors and the patience and grit to pull stickers off the ankles of my socks for 15 minutes when I got home. In the field, which is more of an overgrown empty lot, I cut the flowers from their mother stems, and each oozed with sticky juice that even the strongest of dish soap with water couldn’t remove from my hands when I got home.
I also realized, after a short drive back to the house, I transported a couple of small, eight-legged friends home with the flowers. When I saw the spiders scuttling and burrowing deeper into the center of the sunflowers, I promptly freaked out, dropped the bouquet in the kitchen sink, and gave them a quick rinse. Mentally, I’m still scarred that they were IN THE CAR ON MY LAP for approximately three minutes. Finally, my quick attempt at a free spruce-up of my living room came to a close when I patted them dry with a paper towel, filled my gorgeous new vase with water, placed them on their new shelf home, and prayed the spiders had found their new home — down the drain.
The flowers died the next day.
All of that for yellow pollen dusting the surfaces of everything within a two-foot radius of the vase and a short afternoon of some added beauty — oh, and trauma. You and I actually aren’t too different from these flowers, though. We have all of this beauty and value to offer, but we spend time putting others’ goals and happiness first, whether it’s at work or at home or among family and friends, that we’re sucked dry and left unfulfilled.
The darkest period in my adult life was when I felt stuck at a job and wasn’t pursuing anything for me. I had changed jobs a couple of times before this particular one, and didn’t want to be that person (okay, that millennial) who couldn’t stick with a job for longer than five minutes. So, I went to work every morning and my eyes glazed over in front of my computer screen for eight hours before going home at the end of the day with almost no energy left to spend time with friends, workout, or even cook myself dinner.
I’d sit on my couch and stare at another screen, the TV, usually with a glass of wine and some variation of snacks that I excused as my dinner (olives, crackers, and cheese is kind of a well-balanced meal, if you really think about it), before going to bed and doing the same thing the next day. I was draining myself of joy and self-worth because I didn’t think I had any other options. In fact, I told myself I didn’t have any other options, and that I should just try to stick it out for at least two years. Then, I could work on being happy.
Obviously, the routine I had created was not a sustainable one. Two years wouldn’t be reachable if I could hardly make it through a month, let alone a week. In a way, I was that sunflower that had been snipped, and was busy oozing negativity and allowing others’ maybe nonexistent opinions of me burrow deep into my heart. I wasn’t happy, and I certainly wasn’t living. I was frozen. It was around this time that a few people suggested seeing a professional who could help me sort out my stuckness and sickness. Going to therapy taught me a few things, most prominently that we are never stuck in our unhappiness.
My therapist pushed me to prioritize things like creating and writing content that made me feel excited and full, even if I didn’t do that at my 9-to-5. I started a blog. She encouraged me to seek ways to take care of myself even at the place that made me feel miserable, work. I began listening to true crime and self help podcasts (a little something to feed all parts of my wacky brain) while I worked on Excel spreadsheets all day.
I’d force myself to wake up early a few days a week to workout, because Lord knows it ain’t going to happen if I leave it until 6 p.m., and discovered that I could sustain energy longer throughout the day. I found a church and listened to worship music and learned to pray, like really pray and have conversations about all my dreams and desires and fears. I’d sit in my closet in the mornings and earnestly chat to God before continuing on with my day.
And, slowly, my life began to transform. It wasn’t one special thing that changed me. It was everything, on purpose, and on a regular basis. The whole prioritization of myself and the things that make my soul brighter made me feel a little less bitter about a job I disliked and a lot more enthusiastic about my life overall.
I think a lot of us feel bad when we prioritize ourselves and put “me” first. If you’ve never reached a super-low, where staying in bed all day kind of sounds like the greatest possible option, it can be even harder to see the full benefits of personal care and to not view it as self-centered. But I beg you to consider the things that make you feel better — maybe it’s going for a run 3 days a week, or painting in the evening, or taking 5 minutes to journal in the morning — and to commit to yourself to do those things regularly. Not once, not for a week, but consistently. Habitually. Ritually. Your life will skyrocket, I promise.
And if you’re currently in a sticky area or a slump, I cannot praise and offer the support of therapy strongly enough. That third party listener and idea-maker will give you real, unflinching feedback and insight into your possible blindspots. See the therapist. Do the workout. Cook the meal. Find the church. Keep living life in the sunny, warm field (instead of a cold vase), and in turn, your relationships, work life, and contentment will improve in strides along the way.
What are your favorite methods of self care and prioritizing you? Tell me everything!