By Laura Hoffpauir
I'm sure you've heard again and again about the importance of self-care. I want to share my story of how I realized that self-care is not only essential but urgent as well.
About six years ago, I began having some horrifying memory issues. I would come out of a store and not only be unable to find my car but have no memory of coming to the store. I was getting lost and disoriented in places I had been in many times before. I even came back from a week-long vacation and went to use a sink that had been removed 12 years earlier when the kitchen had been restored after Hurricane Katrina.
I have always had trouble remembering names or words for things. I have watched my dad go through this, and it always bothered me that I seemed to be only about ten years behind him in memory loss progression when he is 25 years older than I am. But this was sudden and drastic, nothing like I'd seen my dad go through. I was convinced I had a severe problem. My doctor was concerned enough about the related experiences that she sent me for some testing.
As strange as it may sound, the testing was fun. I always enjoy a good puzzle or mental challenge, which is a nice break from my daily routine. I didn't have any problems with the memory exercises I was given. So what did it all mean? I was given some self-evaluation questionnaire assessments along with all the memory tests. The psychologist told me at the end that my memory problems were due to anxiety and depression. Suddenly I realized that my worry over my rapid memory deterioration was causing it to spiral and become exponentially worse.
Much of my stress resulted from feeling that I couldn't take a break because my family depended on me for so many things, and without me, everything would fall apart. I began to see the truth: I had to start putting myself first because I'm no good to anyone else if I'm falling apart. And that's what I told my family.
It wasn't that I needed a two-week vacation. It was just that I needed a few minutes a few times each day to relax and reset. I needed to permit myself to make others wait for a few minutes to have their breakfast instead of jumping up without finishing my cup of tea. I needed the occasional walk around the block. Alone. I needed to make plans with a friend once in a while, call one of my sisters, play a game, have breakfast outside, hit the snooze alarm, or trust myself and do whatever I felt like I wanted to do on a particular day. For me.
I mentioned how I love puzzles. Well, they're good for keeping your brain young. So instead of thinking of word games or Sudoku puzzles as time wasters, I now permit myself to indulge in a few such games every day.
I also decided to apply game strategy when I can't think of a word for something. Instead of stressing out over it and getting frustrated and embarrassed, I use workarounds. I substitute a description when I can't think of a word. It makes my life one big game of Taboo! This slight attitude adjustment made a huge difference in my quality of life.
Writing everything down, rather than taxing my brain with trying to remember too much and beating myself up over essential things I forget, is another game changer. I accept that I'm forgetful, and I'm dealing with it in appropriate ways. It helps me to avoid that terrible feeling that I forget something, but I don't know what. It helps me to be a more reliable person. I use many features built into my phone:
Alerts for events on my calendar.
Reminders for when I leave or arrive at home or other locations.
When one of my kids tells me something while I'm driving, I ask them to text me so I'll have it in writing when I arrive at my destination. Then I can put it in the appropriate place, such as an event on my calendar, an item on my grocery list, or whatever the case.
Using a weekly digital planner has been a big help, too. A week-at-a-glance view helps me to see what's coming up, so I have time to prepare, shift things around when needed, and not overbook myself. As I plan for my week, I try to remember to include prayer time, time for little things that make me happy (self-care), fun activities with my husband, family, and friends, meal planning to avoid the 4:30 panic, and tasks that are part of projects that will help make progress toward goals. I have tabs with lists of ideas to pull from in all these categories. I also have tabs for health, continuing education, gratitude, journaling, lists of books I want to read and movies I want to watch, and even ideas for future blog posts. I like to find or make digital stickers to make it pretty, so planning out my week and checking it daily is something I can look forward to.
The idea that when I can't change something, I can often change my attitude if I think creatively has empowered me. Finding reasonable ways to fit in caring for myself and practical solutions to dealing with memory issues has given me more self-confidence and self-respect. Becoming proactive in planning my week, instead of living in a constant state of putting out fires and dreading what might be coming the next day, has given me a more peaceful mind and a way to keep my anxiety under control.
It took a crisis for me to make some simple but profound changes to prioritize my peace of mind. But you don't have to wait until you have no other choice. I encourage you to stop and think about ways to help yourself avoid burnout before you get to that point.
Laura Hoffpauir is passionate about learning and teaching. She has homeschooled her 6 children, taught small classes in homeschooling co-ops, and continues to provide tutoring services. She also enjoys crochet, crafts, birdwatching, word games, and live music of all kinds, from her daughters’ church choirs to her husband and son’s rock cover band, The Lakeshore Drivers.