It all started with me falling to the floor of my old studio apartment in New York City.
I lived in Hells Kitchen. In was a simple building, a small apartment, with a tiny kitchen and a large bed and a huge desk with two computer screens, so that I could compare documents more easily when working at home.
Because I was a lawyer. But I wasn’t working at the moment. I was recovering from surgery, after an intense operation on my shoulder to repair the ligaments that held it in place. Somehow over the years, they had all shredded, and were hanging loosely there in the joint, not doing their job of stabilizing my arm.
This actually sounds worse than it was. My shoulder did hurt before the operation, but it was nothing compared to what came after.
I lived alone so, once I left the hospital, I was at home, surrounded by space. Emptiness. And an ego-crushing inability to do even the most basic things. I couldn’t wash my hair. Couldn’t cook. Couldn’t put on a bra without some serious creativity. I still remember one of my dearest friends coming over, smiling warmly as she washed a sink full of gross dirty dishes for me.
But there wasn’t a lot of that. Friends, I mean. This was New York, and people were busy. Especially my people. Lawyer people. Big jobs, long hours. In a huge city, it’s easy to become anonymous and isolated, I felt both. In a time that I needed others the most. I was so used to being self-sufficient before. This was completely foreign territory to me.
I lived, day to day, in excruciating physical and emotional pain. And loneliness. Eventually, I succumbed to the dull ache of depression.
Weeks went by and, though I hid it well, I was barely functioning. The painkillers didn’t help much, so I stopped sleeping. The sleeping pills didn’t help much, so I stopped trying.
For a while, I just gave up. I did the bare minimum. I went into a parasympathetic “freeze” state of immobilization. This happens when our nervous systems say “ENOUGH.” Except, not in a yell. It happens in a defeated, defenseless whisper. It happens when we give up and give in.
The “dorsal vagal” branch of our parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for immobilization — kicks into gear. This is the lowest rung of Deb Dana’s Polyvagal Ladder. It’s our last stop on the stress defense train.
When we get stressed, enter flight or fight mode, but those defenses don’t work to help us feel safe, freeze mode (courtesy of the dorsal vagal nerve) happens. And I felt frozen.
But every now and then, I could pulled myself out of it enough to do yoga. Or, at least, I tried. Yoga had been my savior, for years. I discovered it in college, 2 decades ago. It had held and carried and nursed me back to health after gut-wrenching heartaches, disappointments, anxiety. It, quite literally, gave me — a Type A perfectionist — balance.
But now that half of my body didn’t work, I’d lost my saving grace. My one loyal coping mechanism, gone. I could barely move my arm. The physical therapist cautioned me gently “you’ll never be able to do chatarunga the same way again.”
Every. Thing. Hurt. All. Of. The. Time.
One evening, I was in particular darkness. I don’t remember why, only that I felt pushed to the brink. I needed a miracle, and I needed it NOW.
I walked across the room, and unrolled the mat onto the floor. Then, I fell down to my knees. I didn’t do any poses, I didn’t try any meditations. I just sat there, staring into the distance. I could feel my chest cave and heave, and then the tears finally, finally, came. They streamed down my face and onto my shoulder blades. My body shook, sobbing. My shoulder hurt even more. But I didn’t stop.
I finally let it come. I let it go. My heart-body-brain connection, released and restored.
And then something miraculous, indeed, happened the very next day: I started taking care of myself.
Little by little, it happened. I ordered enough groceries to not go hungry, though I had no appetite. I made a recurring appointment with my hair salon to have them wash my hair for me each week. I got laundry delivery service. I bought myself flowers. I listened to music. I spent precious time doing nothing with my cats. I watched television, read books, made art. I started healing, in more ways than I could’ve imagined before my health scare started.
Self-care is often the last option. But it’s the best way to renew our happiness and restore our nervous systems.
We go, and we go, and we go go go. We push ourselves, we “challenge” ourselves, we exhaust ourselves, and for what? For what really? Do we know the exact outcome of this effort? And is it worth it?
For me, the answer was a resounding “NO.” I’d created a lifestyle that was out of alignment with what I truly needed. And it was so busy that it took me years of time (and excuses) to admit it.
Now, before you go thinking that it was all about the burned out lawyer thing, or the New York City urban thing, or the single woman living with cats and not a husband thing, I’ll tell you: it was none of these things. Not any one of them, alone (though I sure could’ve convinced you it was, as I’d certainly convinced myself). Nope. The fact was that I didn’t take care of myself, and that lack of care couldn’t support the life choices I’d made.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot. So much so that I’ve created an entire business around helping other women make more honest, intuitive, and brave decisions about the lives that they create each day. Because, make no mistake, that is what we’re doing.
Each day, we create our lives. Every moment, we get to decide how to experience our experience.
And when you’ve taken care of yourself, the core of yourself, you have resilience. You have courage. You have contentment. You have peace. Your have inner vision that helps you see the outside world in an entirely different way.
Of course, the days are never all perfect. Right now, as I write this, I am again completely exhausted. I’m married, with a new career, beautiful babies, residing on a different continent, and in the middle of a time that’s even harder than that wake-up year of almost 13 years ago.
But the days are better, because my own care isn’t the last option anymore. Really, my own care the only option.
So if you’re reading this, and you, too, are tired, or any(every?)thing hurts, or you feel overwhelmed or overworked or over-scheduled; if you feel like you could use a hug, a compliment, a reassurance that it’s all going to be fine — it is.
Everything will be fine.
But if you take care of yourself… oh, Love. Then, everything will be even better.