Updated: May 21
I’m nearly 30, and I have an admission. I never learned how to take care of myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned to fend for myself at a young age. I know how to practically keep myself afloat with very few resources… but I never learned how to care for myself.
Think of it this way, I would never treat anyone in my care the way I care for myself. My life has been a tale of me vs. my brain vs. my body vs. the world. There have never been moments of kindness or compassion. Just beating the shit out of myself and demanding more.
Can you relate?
I’m skilled at living with nothing. Good at being poor, if you will. I know how to manage my money like a motherfucker. Great at “going without.” Excellent at sacrificing my comfort to make a buck.
In order to scrape those dollars together, I became skilled at working, hard. Until my head and body hurt. Until I can’t keep going. I can’t see straight. I’ve always had 2-3 jobs at a time. If left to my own devices, I will always work in my spare time.
When I don’t have anything to do is when I run into trouble.
Spare time anxiety.
Free time is something I historically struggled with, and still have to work on regularly. In my mid 20’s, working a “professional” job and suffering from dissatisfaction, I found myself with enough money and too much spare time. One job, no running around. That’s the period when my mental health really took a nosedive.
I never had any idea what spare time was; when it was suddenly laid out before me, I froze up. I felt overwhelmed and panicked by the possibilities – by the choice. I wasn’t accustomed to choice. I grew up and into adulthood following the leadership of obligation and necessity. Without survival to keep me occupied, I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do.
After years of ruining my own weekends (and life) thanks to free-time anxiety, I’ve finally got a better outlook on the situation. Today it’s clear I have fucked up core beliefs that tie my personal value to working. It’s obvious that I never felt like I deserved anything for myself unless I bled. Even then, I only deserved the cheapest Walmart version. Well, I guess that hasn’t changed much… working on it.
Today I work on spending my spare time instead of freezing in it. I practice managing my mindset so I don’t flip the fuck out when Friday night rolls around. Giving myself permission still isn’t easy. At all. But these days I work on seeing it as self-care. (ooo, big buzzword in action)
The thing is, I can’t work several jobs, find a new place to live, find a new car, research schools, support a trauma community, commission art, design new products, or be a good (anything) if my body and brain are all sorts of fucked. The last time I tried to do EVERYTHING at once is when my stress-induced chronic illness cropped up at 23. My therapist has said this was my body’s “force stop” override – I think she’s right.
I’ve had to try to accept that spare time isn’t a death sentence – it’s time for me. Time to actually use for my own good. To fulfill other needs so I have the energy to keep going. To refill the tank, so I have anything to give back. When I feel tired, demotivated, and demoralized, I need to give back to myself instead of pushing indefinitely harder.
If I feel a spare time overload coming on, I like to jot down a list of things I would like to do and hope to find a winner. Sometimes I can’t come up with one – so I keep a short list of productive and fun activities on backup. This is just in case I fucking forget what I enjoy in depths of a depressive spell or poopy day. You know. Sounds stupid; fucking works. My list is something like; going on walks, singing, driving, writing, reading, painting, listening to podcasts, taking photos of small things in the woods…
If I start feeling anxious, I’m pretty good at addressing it these days. The best remedy for me is to sit with it. To absorb the anxiety and think through causation. I might have to write a list to identify the multiple shitty situations bothering me. To work it through, I’ll likely get busy hiking on a trail in the woods. Hikes are absolutely my favorite way to expel anxious energy and think good thoughts. I know it’s old advice, but just go outside and get your exercise. It has made all the difference in my goddamn life. Please, go.
Whenever I’m just not sure what else to do, I try to think of ways to improve myself. Hokey as fuck. But, consider learning something online, listening to business or mindset podcasts, and reading self-helpy books when you’re stuck in the pits. Seriously, there are a ton of cheap and easy ways to keep yourself motivated and creative when you aren’t sure what else to do. Utilize them.
Lastly, I give myself permission to use my spare time to connect. It's important to keep people in my life, no matter what else is happening. If I want to take a 3 hour walk to catch up with my long-distance friends, I need to make room for that time…. And for the time to get ready, travel, and take care of myself when I get back. It’s okay to use minutes or hours for myself. I don’t have to rush back and start working without taking a pause. I also can’t be crippled by having zero work and the burden of decision.
If you're a fellow time-stresser, know you're not the only one who feels like there's never enough and also way too much. Connect any time @ email@example.com to talk more