Today I saw myself through a new set of eyes. I have seen myself many, many times. After 40 years, I think I am pretty familiar with what I look like. I have blue, uneven eyes. My resting face looks like a frown because I have a downturned mouth. I seem to cock my head ever so slightly to the left, probably because my left shoulder sits higher than my right. I have strong eyebrows, and my nose looks “perky” because I broke it when I was 12. I am starting to develop lines across my forehead from furrowing my brow against the sun or while in deep thought. My usual state of mild amusement has etched itself on my face. I have the beginning traces of smile lines descending from the corners of my nose, and tiny crow’s feet can be seen at my eyes. The bags under my eyes finally departed once I started getting enough sleep and drinking copious amounts of water. I do not look my age, and multiple times people have asked if my daughter is my sister. They were not trying to flatter, just as they weren’t when I was her age and they asked my mother the same question. My lineage seems to be blessed with youthful looks.
Today though, I saw myself as a stranger. I saw all those little idiosyncrasies, but they were not me. I had just taken a shower and pulled the curtain back to reach for my towel and dry off, and there I was, same as always, staring back at myself. But the woman who was in the mirror was vulnerable. She was highly self-conscious of her belly, flabby after six pregnancies. Of her breasts, limp and floppy after 13 years of nursing those six babies. Of her thighs, thick with the weight of emotional eating to soothe her inner pain. Of her hair that used to be her vanity, that she chopped off in solidarity with her daughter who now hates her and declares her to be dead. That woman stood there staring at me with the look of someone who craved my love. The love I could never find in myself to give.
Charting self care
What happened today? Ten days ago, I printed up a self-care chart. (Go ahead and print some out for yourself.) I know I am horrible at self care. I run myself into the ground to take care of my husband and children, and then I get on Facebook or play card games on the computer to numb myself to my own needs. So I made this chart. It is a very simple chart, with checkboxes to track how much water I drink (the original inspiration to make it up), and whether I take a walk, do yoga, declutter for 15 minutes, shower, meditate, eat probiotic foods and go to bed at a decent hour. Each day has 11 boxes, and if I were taking great care of myself, all 11 boxes would be checked off each day. Over the previous nine days, I have marked off a total of 30 boxes. All but four were for drinking water. The others were one shower, two meditation, and one walk.
Today I decided to be productive. I sat down for some meditation before getting the kids up for school. Once they were on the bus, I finished up some commission sewing I had. When I was done early in the afternoon, I actually made up some lunch for myself. Usually I skip lunch because it is a hassle to figure out what to make up for one person for one meal. Sometimes I have leftovers, but usually I am too lazy. I decided to go for a walk by myself. Doing things by myself is a very novel concept to me. I have always been so entwined with others in my life that doing something alone wasn’t worth the bother. When I got home, I was inspired to take a cool shower. I never shower in the afternoon because I find it pointless to take my clothes off just to put them back on again. Usually I shower first thing in the morning or just before bed. And usually it is on a Saturday morning because I need to let the chickens out for the day as soon as I wake up. As I mentioned recently, I grew up without running water, so we took showers on a weekly basis, with occasional sponge baths in between if necessary. It has been very hard to shift my thinking to semi-weekly showers.
Love and compassion
All this to say that today, I actually took steps to take care of myself. The intent was mostly to take care of the physical body that houses me, rather than the soul within it. If I expect to live to be 108, which I do, then I need to take care of this body so that it lasts. I want to be a better person, I want to be good enough, so I am a self-development junkie. All of the self-development gurus highly recommend meditating every day. I have yet to find a method that works for me. Someday I will, but until then, I flop around with the methodology.
What do I do now? Each time I think of that woman I saw, I start to cry. Why is it so hard to love myself? Why do I have to dissociate from myself in order to have compassion for myself? I can easily love others, have compassion for others, but for myself? I don’t believe I deserve it. That woman staring at me from the mirror does, though. She is weary, run down, and tired of being an emotional punching bag. She doesn’t ask for much. Can I give it to her? Can I integrate her back into myself?