So, imagine my surprise when Daniel and I had our second-ever couples massage in Asheville last weekend. Cornelius, the older Dutch gentlemen, had been at work on my shoulders for about thirty seconds when he said, “I can tell you’ve taken time for yoga or some stretching.” I acknowledged that I had, for more than 10 years, though not as often as I’d like. “You have kept yourself well,” he said.
After the massage, he remarked that he rarely encounters a client who is so “consistently relaxed.”
Am I bragging? Hardly. Astounded? For sure.
Words I might use to describe myself: passionate, structured, abrasive, contemplative (read: anxious), and, at once, driven and lazy. Notice I did not, nor would I ever say, “laid back” or “relaxed.” So this reading—based soley on physical evidence—shocked me, and I have reveled in and pondered it since.
“If you have figured out how to do that, why haven’t you told me?” Daniel asked.
I am a vocal proponent of caring for oneself, but that doesn’t mean I’m good at it. For mothers especially, working or home, self-care can be complicated and difficult. It can seem counterintuitive: To be a better wife and mother, I need not always focus on caring for my children or my spouse; sometimes I need to turn my focus on myself. For some, that just doesn’t compute. I have often lamented the Herculean efforts it sometimes takes to work out the logistics. And though I have been trying this year to do a better job nurturing my mind and soul as well as my body, I fail more than I succeed.
But the proof is in my apparently relaxed muscles, I suppose. Here’s what Cornelius gave me along with that compliment: He affirmed that what I am doing now is enough. I don’t need to wait until the kids are older or there is more time or I have more resources to turn my attention more fully toward my own wellness. He told me that my efforts today matter, despite my feeling that they mostly don’t.
Because keeping myself well on this particular day meant taking my daughter on a nature walk to preschool and walking with the baby after that. It meant putting the baby down and making myself a fresh cup of coffee and an omelet that required chopping vegetables (thus adding to my dirty dish pile), and eating it by an open window.
This does not come naturally. I’m the one in my circle of friends who introduced the idea of doing things to help your future self. Would future Christina want to wake up to lunches to pack or a kitchen to clean? Do it now, for future you, I’d advise. These words echo in my head daily. But not this day. None of these activities shortened my to-do list. But I can’t wait until everything is done to relax, because everything is never done. Sometimes future me needs to back off.
Maybe time isn’t a luxury you have. Sometimes I lament the luxuries I no longer have, like words of affirmation, or cute shoes, or conversations with adults. Maybe you don’t have a spare dime to spend on yourself. Don’t let those things distract you. This isn’t a thing you do because it’s convenient or it makes sense.
You might have no idea where to start. I can’t help you with that part. But I can urge you to keep searching until you figure out what it is that ministers to your soul and do it, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, even if it’s only once every other week, even if it doesn’t seem to be working right away—really and truly—no matter what. Even if it doesn’t feel like enough.
I don’t know what Cornelius meant when he said I “kept myself well.” Maybe he says that to everyone. Daniel has been merciless in his teasing about how flattered I am about it. But it’s made me rethink what that phrase means entirely. It’s not about weight or jeans or earrings or makeup. It’s about owning your holistic health and wellness—mental, emotional and physical. It’s about finding peace and calm and contentment now in the midst of life—not sometime later—even if it doesn’t look the way you wish it would.