I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety and depression in the past, and one of my most problematic tendencies is my habit of getting excited about something and then work, work, working my ass off on it. I’ll work obsessively on just this one thing, and then after a few months I’ll burn out, because I worked way too hard and never gave myself time off. This applies to almost every facet of my life. I recently quit one job and started another, and I took a week off in between to give myself a break. This was supposed to be fun and relaxing, but the whole time I kept thinking – “Am I having enough fun? Am I wasting this break time that I have by hanging out watching Netflix? Should I have made travel plans instead of staying at home? Or no, should I have planned a bunch of work to get done? Should I be writing my book right now? What if I never have this kind of free time ever again, and I’m wasting it watching The Great British Bakeoff when I should be writing my book? I bet Nadiya never just chills and watches Netflix. That’s how she got to be the winner of The Great British Bakeoff.” (I hope Nadiya does chill out and watch Netflix sometimes though. She deserves it.)
Learning to give myself a break is an ongoing process for me. I know self-care is important and essential, but I always feel like it’s taking away from my productivity, like tie spent on myself is just time I’m not spending on my career, on my writing, on my email. (Why does email feel so much more important than making myself dinner? I don’t know. I have no justification.) I’m getting better about this though.
One of the things that’s helped me the most with this in the last year is being in a relationship.
Before this one, I’d never been in a long-term relationship, so it’s a definite adjustment for me. I don’t think it ever really occurred to me before that relationships take a lot of time. People have said this before, but I didn’t get it until I was in one. Sustaining a healthy relationship takes up a lot of time. I spend tons of time every week now cooking with my boyfriend, watching Netflix with my boyfriend, making dumb faces at my boyfriend, cuddling, eating his gummi bears (not a euphemism, even if it sounds like one). In short, all the activities that I now feel compelled to do for the good of my relationship are also kind of the same activities I’m used to doing for self-care. Somehow, because they’re in the context of my relationship, they feel more acceptable to me. Watching Netflix is productive now, because it’s not just time I’m spending on myself, it’s time I’m investing in my relationship. And sure, as an end goal, it would be nice if I could consistently invest in my own self-care without feeling guilty, but this works as a pretty good cheat code until I get there.
For awhile I felt like this made me somehow a bad feminist, or like I had lost my independence and self-sufficiency, but I realized, it’s okay to be dependent on people. The fact that my relationship makes me a better me doesn’t mean I’m any less powerful or strong or independent.
It means I worked hard to cultivate a good and healthy relationship. It’s okay to lean on people sometimes. It means you can save up your energy and spend it when you really need it. And there’s nothing more powerful than that.