Prioritizing Self-Care

By Stacie Prada

Each year I approach the holiday season with excitedly high hopes and an underlying worry for the season’s demands. I know I need to be even more attentive to my health than usual to best navigate the next couple of months. Yet most years I put commitments and other people ahead of my needs. It leads to overwhelm and exacerbates my MS fatigue.

Self-care is an individual decision and responsibility, and it’s within our control.  So, what makes it so hard? Often, it’s the abundant needs of family, friends, profession, and self-imposed expectations competing with limited time, money, and energy to meet those needs. The demands of us and by us can be more than humanly possible to meet. So where do we draw the line?

It feels like the time or effort needed to take care of ourselves means we need to fail something or someone. Deciding to take care of ourselves at the cost to someone else feels selfish.  Yet we don’t live in a vacuum, and our actions or inactions affect others. External support is a reasonable need to grant ourselves permission to do what’s good for us.

Most of the time, I’m the harshest critic of my decisions and the most demanding of what needs to be done. No one else is usually complaining.  I’m comparing myself to a fictional ideal that might not be possible for anyone, even if they’re in perfect health.

I’m reminded of the scene from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire where sports agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) begs athlete Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr) repeatedly to, “Help me help you,” in hopes of helping them both. 

I hadn’t remembered the rest of the scene. Rod laughs at and mocks Jerry until Jerry walks out frustrated.  Rod calls out after Jerry, “You see, that’s the difference between us.  You think we’re fighting, and I think we’re finally talking.”

I like that shift in approach.  What’s going on when I notice feeling unnerved, unsettled, or stressed? Do I identify and heed my needs, or do I push through? Am I fighting myself, or am I finally talking to myself?

Once I stop fighting myself and acknowledge I need to make a change, looking at my situation and needs as if it were a loved one’s experience helps me gain perspective.  I imagine a loved one coming to me for advice. They perfectly describe living with my situation, challenges, and needs, and they ask what they should do. What would I suggest?

If they respond as I would, they resist my logical and obvious recommendations. They explain all the reasons why they can’t do what I think they should do. And the problem remains.

When I’m honest with myself about why I’m resisting, it’s embarrassing how stubborn and illogical I’m being under the guise of strength and responsibility. I know what I need, and there is a way out of it that doesn’t demand I be a martyr.  The answer to what I should do isn’t complicated or a mystery.

With the holiday season upon us, this year I’m committing to a few specific actions to combat overload:

  1. Check in with myself daily, and honestly assess how I’m doing.
  2. Do something each day that I’d qualify as self-care. If I’m resisting doing what I know would be best for my needs, it warrants self-examination. 
  3. Who or what is stopping me?
  4. Why is it a problem at all?
  5. Is the stress worth the reward?
  6. What is the cost of ignoring my needs?
  7. Share my plan and ask for support from trusted confidantes.  Let them know when I’m feeling conflicted.
  8. Give myself permission to put my needs first, and support others in doing the same.

Whether large or small, stress and burdens carried alone are brutally difficult. They become manageable when shared. If we mutually work toward helping others help us, we’ll all be better off.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 just shy of 38 years old.  Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope, and celebrate this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/ 

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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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