Why is it that we as parents often take care of ourselves last? Why can't we be smart enough to remember happy parents equal happy kids? Instead we throw our energy into brushing little teeth, packing lunches, chaperoning field trips, and chauffeuring to baseball practice, telling ourselves all the while the money for our much-needed haircut is better spent on the kids or the few extra minutes in our day have to be spent folding laundry in order for the world to continue spinning on its axis.
My last haircut was at MOPS Spa Day last October. It was free and fabulous, but since then I've neglected to budget the time or money to have my split ends shaped up. And believe me they're screaming for help. I convinced Jason several months ago (after many years of pleading) to grow out his beautiful, dark, wavy hair. He's got that great McDreamy hair, and I've loved running my fingers through it since he agreed to "just say no" to scissors and clippers. However, he has risen the past few mornings looking more Chia Pet than Patrick Dempsey and as a result, I finally concurred he at least needs a shape-up. I'm thinking it's time I made the effort to schedule my own haircut because I seem to remember even the slightest of trims does a lot to boost self-esteem and keep away bad hair days. We women understand the irrational turmoil and havoc a bad hair day can wreak even when our men puzzle and scratch their heads over our tearful meltdowns and dodge the hairbrushes we toss away in frustration.
I digress, but my point is loving ourselves is hard. More than just finding time for yoga or budgeting money for the the good face moisturizer, committing to the relationships we have with ourselves can feel far more daunting than loving the people in our lives unconditionally. When I was twenty years old, I suffered a debilitating bout of depression that left me a shell of myself. It was not the first time in my life I had suffered such overwhelming emptiness, but this time I lost twenty pounds and any desire for happiness or pleasure at a time when I should have been discovering who I was and who I wanted to become. My dad and friends pushed me to seek help, and I fought them with every ounce of what little energy I had. I knew I wanted a different kind of life for myself, but I was so afraid to revisit the pain of my childhood. It was hard to look inside myself because I knew there was a very strong possibility I wasn't going to like who I saw. My pain was what I built my sense of self around for many years, and without it, I feared I'd be lost. Who would I be if I wasn't the girl who felt abandoned and angry over the hand I was dealt? How would I make my way in the world without my self-destructive and self-induced chaos? Was forgiveness really liberating?
Looking back, I was so incredibly lucky to have a father who understood I needed help and somehow managed to make sure I got it without ever making me feel weak. After a diagnosis of clinical depression and two years of sometimes grueling, sometimes uplifting talk therapy, I emerged from darkness a whole new person. There is a Christian song on the radio entitled "I'm Not Who I Was," and I smile in understanding every time I hear it. The woman I am today was buried somewhere beneath layers of hurt and fear, and I fought hard to peel it away and discover how to love myself. My counselor saved my life, and I feel gratitude for her validation every time I look at my beautiful family, talk to my dad on the phone, read my mother's loving words of encouragement on my blog, or simply catch a glimpse of myself (whole and happy) in the mirror.
I often wonder what path my life would have taken if I'd never taken the step to focus on myself and make it a priority to understand I was worthy of love and deserving of a new life. Clinical depression is a lifelong diagnosis, and there are times I've had to take action when signs of of my illness creep up on me. There are also still painful aspects of our childhoods both Jason and I have brought to our marriage, but understanding why we think, love, or disagree the ways we do makes the journey of marriage more fulfilling. Self-awareness and self-love are incredible gifts to give yourself, and it's never too late to find the time to work through whatever holds you back from embracing both.
I know my husband and kids deserve to have the best version of me I can offer, too. I hope something as simple as Jason's heading OI (what my family endearingly calls going off the island) and letting a real stylist shape up his luscious locks brightens his day and his confidence level. I hope I can stop feeling guilty over purchasing $12 shorts for myself instead of buying clothes for the kids and rock my new khakis at the grocery store come Monday. When I gather round the table with my Savannah ya-yas this week for coffee and mindless chit-chat, I hope I remember it's as important to nurture my own spirit as it is for me to nurture my four little doorsteps. In fact, it's not just important to love ourselves to be better parents and partners---it's absolutely essential.