To the One Who Matters Most

I used to think it was my daughter. Or my family. Or my (now ex) husband, the dog, the person who said an offhand comment that struck me, my (gulp) boss . . . the one who mattered most to me was the one who had the most influence over me that moment or day. Do you see where I'm going here and how crazy that was?

Not once was the person who mattered most . . . me.

I took care of everyone and everything else, and then wondered why I felt little, tired, frustrated, or taken advantage of. Sure, everything says, "make 'me' time," or "take time out for you," but that all sounded so . . . selfish, and 80's Me Generation to me.

Maybe it's the progression of time, or the storing up of bits of wisdom over many years of good and bad experiences, but it seems like it took me so long to figure out how important this one little concept was. Let me tell you, when you don't consider yourself important, stuff falls apart!

My health was crap because I didn't want to see myself for what I really was. My marriage ended. My child struggled because I didn't know how to help me, let alone her.

The funny thing is, it took an outside person to show me that unless I took myself seriously, I would never get what I wanted from life. I would always go around feeling stuck, taken advantage of, and lost.

It was a complete shock to me that there are people out there who say what they want, do what they want, and don't apologize or feel guilty for it. Really?? You can do that?? I had no idea...

At the end of the day, at the end of my life, the only person who would be able to look back and say she lived it was the one doing the looking back.

Here's a perfect example of this in action. I will (sometimes literally) do whatever it takes to make sure another person is happy and/or has what they need. But when it comes to myself, I make excuses or put off the things I really want to do because "it's just for me," "I don't have time," or "X is more important."

If any of those excuses sound familiar, you may know what comes next: I start to feel resentful and (ahem) whiny about the fact that everyone else is getting their needs met while I am not. And it took me SO long to realize that I'm the one who is to blame for that! Duh, right?

It happened with painting. I've painted since I was 14 years old, but sometimes I don't pick up the brush for months because life gets in the way and I push this "less important" thing WAY down on the priority list. Then, when I finally do paint, it all comes out and I feel silly for staying away for so long. Or, how about this? I found a riding school here that does English-style riding, not Western like the whole rest of the South does. I was so excited, and contacted the instructor for Sophie, my daughter, to take lessons, and for me to get back into riding, too. Something I hadn't done consistently since before my daughter was born. We both went several times, but soon there were a few hitches with scheduling and some talk about whether paying the $25 a piece weekly for lessons was something we could afford, and suddenly I felt so guilty for spending that money on something so frivolous that I let the scheduling conflicts take over.

There's power in recognition. Once you recognize that you do a particular thing, and that it's unhealthy, it's often easier to catch it and fix it. For me, it is recognizing that I have always placed guilt on myself about things I feel I am doing wrong, or that aren't perfect. I have carried around years of guilt about some things. Now I can also see when I am putting everything else ahead of myself. Sometimes it's okay and I'm happy to do the things I am doing. But when I am frustrated or resentful, it's time to step back and realize I forgot: I'm the one that matters most.

Do you struggle with this same problem? Here's what has worked for me so far:

1. Notice when I am frustrated, tired, or a little off and try to figure out why. Often, it was because I wasn't taking care of myself. Talking about it helped, because another perspective could give me the insight I was missing.

2. Don't take on the responsibility of other people. I felt a lot of pressure to please everyone else by saying the right things, shutting up about certain subjects, making sure everything was happy/peaceful/calm, etc. I thought this was me being a nice, friendly, good person. What it really was? Me trying to be responsible for making other people happy which, as I know now, is impossible and a waste of time. You can't make anyone do or feel anything.

3. Do the things that I always said after saying (or thinking) I wish. I wish . . . I had time to read, the housework was done, I could paint, I could find time to go for a walk, I could sit and read a magazine, etc., etc. Everything I wished I could do were the things that I needed to do in order to feel more like me. I would push them away when I should have really been making time for them. Sometimes I wouldn't get to do them exactly as I had intended, but just that fact that my wish for a long shower, or whatever it was, was coming true make me feel so much better!

And as I found out, when I took care of the one who mattered most, everything else got a lot easier.

Is this you? Are you overwhelmed with taking care of or feeling like you need to please everyone else? How did you deal with it? Let me know!