Updated: Feb 6
Someone recently brought to my attention that there’s a difference between self-care and being self-absorbed.
As if I didn’t know, but they wanted me to.
It was shitty, but not unwarranted.
Even though I’ve been sharing my self-care journey for the better part of a decade, I’ve also been quite self-absorbed in the process. You really have to be some of the latter to do the former.
Which I’m guilty of, as someone who’s crafted a life that empowers me to do what I want.
As a bona fide cat mom and aspiring writer at the stage of creating my own deadlines, I have the luxury of time freedom. Bath time abounds. And, as a highly sensitive person, I take on a little and can become overwhelmed a lot. In a snap, I can crumple under any mixture of unique life stresses, and find myself spiraling for days, weeks . . . I’m peeling out of four years of hiding brought on by immense burnout. I hustled like the best of ’em, but seemed to be chronically bad at it. Watching webinars and YouTube tutorials around the clock, networking, freelancing, crafting an “online presence.” Relentlessly self-improving a person I didn’t come to intimately know until I failed hard.
Even with my seeming heap of ugly bits, personal failings and undeniably bad choices, I’ve still managed to create a beautiful, calm, pretty simple life that prioritizes, well, Me.
And while I know that’s essential to doing anything of high value in this world, I’ve still caught the occasional whiff of judgment, and received a rainbow of variations of what I now call The Cat Mom Guilt Trip: “You don’t know what it’s like, because you don’t have kids.”
But I never really cared about that, because I never wanted kids.
I’ve never wanted to be married.
I’m absolutely void of the desire to climb any sort of corporate or conventional ladder.
No one will ever succeed at any attempt to trigger guilt over choices I’ve intentionally made in creating a life I want.
That’s a lie.
I feel guilty for my lifestyle all the time. I feel like I should be more overwhelmed and frantic, agreeing with the too-many-plates-spinning dialogue and sacrificing the abundance of Me-time that brings me most Joy. A day in my life without the sludgy energy of guilt creeping up my throat is hard to come by. A gray cloud hovers over me through most things, an ever-lingering feeling of never doing enough. I look around at anyone who is a parent, and thus, is automatically doing more. Entrepreneurs, trendsetters and those crushin’ it in both the corporate and creative realms — more. It seems like almost everyone out there is waking up earlier, staying up later, grinding harder and generally doing more.
More than me, who has a hard time working in two teeth brushes in a single 24. Me, who woke up at 10 a.m. today. Me, who is 5+ years in on my first book, editing before the line edit, before the agent, before a publisher . . . and none of what I accomplish seems fast enough or enough enough, inching along in the Land of Before, where I’ve been for what feels like my whole life.
Back in 2015, I was hustling with the best of ’em. Freelancing, networking, creating hordes of content to fuel the online biz machine. I’d healed an all-consuming skin condition through diet, graduated college, made the Dean’s list, worked at a grocery store while freelance copywriting, putting in 10–20 hours a week on a vlog, social media and in-person networking on top of 40+ hours of juggling shift and client work. I pulled all-nighters and unthinkingly jumped at opportunities. I’d do damn near anything to make it. I spiraled into that grind until I was more alone and unhealthy than I’d ever been. Everything in me shut down.
What never turned off was my protective mechanism of people pleasing. No matter how much I needed to stay in my own lane, eliminate obligations to prioritize my well-being and creative work, and, whole-heartedly, “Do Me” — I kept saying Yes to everything that resounded in the core of my being as a major No. I took trips to spend time with my friend so she would feel loved, flew to another state to watch my parents’ cat (something I moved out of the state to stop doing), took on side jobs that paid poorly and put off my own career goals. I gave gifts with money I didn’t have. Sent letters to friends that never wrote back. Poured time into relationships that had ceased to feed me long ago.
And still, somehow, I couldn’t win. I wasn’t “making it” by all external measures, and no matter how much of myself I expelled to help or be the “good” fill-in-the-blank or try to make someone else feel better — it was never enough.
After years of journeying inward, and coming to know myself like never before, being pegged as self-absorbed really fucking got me. Stuck with me like a piece of clear packing tape adhered to the countertop.
Why is it way sexier and far more acceptable to sacrifice ourselves to the point of deteriorating health, emotional shambles and clarity deficit, than possess open spaces of time or moments, seasons, even sagas of life that aren’t “busy”—pockets of space in which we reflect on experiences, integrate soul lessons and get to know who we are?
In this sense, self-absorption is the launch pad for crafting intentions of who we truly desire to become.
We have to look at ourselves, be with ourselves and make the time + space for introspection. We have to talk about ourselves, sometimes obsessively, panning over past histories to sift out the lessons that expand us into greater versions of ourselves.
Oh, we’re out there. Those of us sensitive souls, living soft, fulfilling, nourishing lives with close-knit communities nestled around us. Engaging in trusted dialogues, carving out caves of decompression to calm our tender nervous systems from this over-stimulating world, to reflect and process what we’ve deeply absorbed, applying that divine information in support of our higher soul.
Most of us are simply living quietly, content to share with those who know, instead of grappling to explain to those wrapped in chaos, filling themselves with static and never coming down from the perpetual exhaustion of the chase.
I actually started writing this post months ago, and I had to stop because I was circling around what I really wanted to say. I couldn’t quite get there. A few realizations needed to dawn in my own life first to even touch on this SelfLove topic, something I’ve been talking and teaching about for years, but in so many ways, haven’t.
I went through an awful friend breakup that I’ve written about in a blog series, and some of my greatest insecurities were flung back at me in response to a letter I’d written communicating my reasons for wanting a break from the relationship. I’d known this person for six years, a year and a half of which we spent apart because I had stepped away before. Worse than the breakup though, was the friendship itself, within which, I felt victim-y, misunderstood, needy, beholden, guilty, unsatisfied, negative — basically, poo, all-around. I felt like shit in that relationship. I’d get off the phone and be upset for days, playing over the times she cut me off or talked over me (biggest pet peeve EVER), put down my partner, gave me a backhanded compliment or carried out the conversation with an air of being somewhere else entirely, and never really having the time or presence to nurture the relationship depth I desired.
After we exchanged words and parted ways, another realization dawned, one of my own empathic nature, and how, during all those times I was near and around her that I felt an inexplicably horrible stew of emotions, I was actually taking on the feelings she had in her own life. It explained everything, and made me feel for her in the way I always did, wanting to save her, uplift, support, help or fix. But I was out of my depth, and beyond my business.
Until now, my M.O. included one big, deep, “best friend” type relationship with a dominant personality type. I’d wrap myself into their energy, mirror them, go with their flow, and in process, surrender my own well-being. I’d take on all their schtuff until I couldn’t anymore, then I’d have to abruptly end it because my resentment had bubbled to the explosion point.
I carried out variations of this pattern in all of my relationships. I hid parts of myself or stifled opinions to accommodate the other’s energy and avoid confrontation. I only expressed a piece of myself, because I was acutely and painfully aware of how I was being received — so I tailored my behavior to win favor. When I stepped away from ex-friend for the second time, I realized that I was similarly unhappy in every relationship I had. I quietly and gingerly began cutting energetic ties and acclimating to my Self again.
As I let go of stale bonds, new friendships bloomed in serendipitously equal number, with freshness and a golden compassion I’d been aching for without knowing it. They mirrored who I am and where I’m headed — I shifted into an embodiment of authenticity I’d never felt safe enough to express in other relationships. All my internal self-revelations that had been blooming within me for the past decade, began to materialize as a new way of being in my life, and my reality reflected my growth.
If I hadn’t been self-absorbed enough to acknowledge the unrest within my relationships and just kept “carrying on” and fixing and doing whatever I could to make others around me feel better, while sacrificing my own emotional body — where would I be? Still weathering phone calls I had to recover from. Blind to the necessity to maintain my own energy when in consort with others. Hurting myself to please others, because if they weren’t okay then I wasn’t okay.
That’s no place to be.
Some days, I feel needy, ridiculous, fixated and completely dysfunctional. Other days: independent, creative, healthy and brilliant.
Whether it’s a former or latter day boils down to my self-care.
Prioritizing that self-care, is the only way I get anywhere in life. I’ve tried the other way enough times to know it just doesn’t work for me — losing sleep . . . strung out after making myself a revolving door of Yes . . . bingeing on junk to cope . . . drinking to numb . . . ignoring unhealthy energy dynamics in relationships — these things have repeatedly hurt me, crashed me into walls, left scars on my spirit. Wounds are washed away, and then new ones tear through barely formed growth, because I thought, It’ll be different this time.
I know better.
I have had to self-absorb (verb) in order to figure out this mechanism, so I can flow magic through this trusty MacBook Pro, keep my house in order, create and give love.
I need a shit ton of sleep + a nap. Meditation. Tapping. Regular walks. Nature time. Cat time. Total decompression time, which means, no phone, computer or electronics other than some light ambient or piano music trailing in from the other room. I need more of these things than seems normal, at least based on the crazy busy, every-moment-packed lives of most of the people I see hustling out there in the world. Whether to provide, get by, surpass aspirations or simply live. We’re all trying to make it, folks, and no one deserves to be lessened for living life the best way they know how.
How many of us take the time to figure out what we truly need to function at our finest?
That’s not the work of a day, it’s that of a lifetime. It’s the daily work of coming to know ourselves, our path, purpose, and what we need to hold ourselves accountable to in order to realize dreams, tend to our lives and care for those around us, and most essentially, ourselves.
From now on, I take “self-absorbed” as a compliment in the highest. It doesn’t take away from how much I give to others and this world, or my Self. In fact, just the opposite.