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We’re dedicated to sharing the perspectives of people affected by chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). That’s why we created Arthritis.com, a place where people living with RA can find inspiration, lifestyle advice, tools, and disease information. Following is an article from Arthritis.com contributor Mariah Leach who is living with RA.
My loving husband, three amazing children, and our loyal dog are the true joys of my life. The time I spend with them – whether it’s a special occasion or your average Tuesday night spaghetti dinner – is precious. Still, having a family also comes with a lot of responsibility. My husband and I have a relationship to nurture. Our dog would like dinner and a walk. And each of my small children is like an overflowing bucket of needs.
With so many demands on my time, it would be very easy to let my own needs languish at the bottom of my to-do list. But everyone should make time for self-care – and I think this is especially true for people living with the added challenges of chronic illness, like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). So here are my strategies for finding a balance between caring for my family and caring for myself.
The Importance of “Filling Your Own Cup”
Whether your role includes being a partner, parent, or both, I think it’s important to remember that you have another role. You exist as an individual apart from your responsibilities, whatever they may be. And if you don’t make the effort to take care of your own health and well-being first, it will be extremely difficult for you to take care of anyone else – no matter how much they may need you.
I often hear the oxygen mask metaphor being used to emphasize the importance of self-care: whenever you get on an airplane, the flight attendant always reminds you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else. But while this advice is sound, it isn’t my favorite metaphor because it’s still technically possible to help someone else first, even if that isn’t the best choice for your own health. I’m certainly guilty of sacrificing my own needs to put those of my kids first, and the overall result has been negative for everyone.
So the mantra I like to use when reminding myself about the importance of self-care is this one: you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s not physically possible. If your cup is empty, you have no choice other than to take the time and effort to fill it up. Only after you replenish yourself can you possibly be expected to share with anyone else.
One of my favorite ways to spend “me time” is by soaking in a hot Epsom salt bath, so I can relax and ease my aching joints. I also like to focus on activities that are more difficult to accomplish when my kids are around like reading a good book, getting some extra sleep, or even just drinking a cup of tea while it’s still hot! I make an effort to use my limited “me time” as wisely as possible by focusing on things that truly help me fill my cup – and staying away from my endless to-do list!
Of course, there are always busy times when there isn’t realistically much time to spare. When this happens, I try to sneak in some “micro me time” by fitting in activities I enjoy with the kids and trying to be present in the moment. I’ll color in my adult coloring book while they work on their kid-friendly ones. We’ll listen to the 90s music I love when we’re driving around in the car. Or I’ll just take a moment at the playground to feel the sun on my face and breathe the fresh air.
The Benefits of Self-Care
As someone living with RA, I depend a great deal on my husband every day. Our responsibilities are divided in such a way that he already picks up slack in areas where RA presents additional challenges for me, which necessarily places an additional burden on him. This can certainly lead to feelings of guilt when it comes to requesting time for myself.
But thinking of “me time” as necessary to “fill my cup” makes it easier for me to remember that self-care isn’t selfish or optional. I need that time to manage stress, find a sense of balance, and refocus myself. Not only is “me time” necessary for my own body, soul, and sanity, it’s also the only way to make sure I have enough love to pour into my family.
Making “Me Time” Happen
Our family – like most modern families – is extremely busy the majority of the time. So the first step toward making self-care a reality for me was to discuss it with my family and ask for their help. Instead of using the phrase “I need some space,” my husband and I sat down and discussed all the reasons that having a bit more space would make me happier, healthier, and more available to my family the rest of the time. When my husband realized the overall benefits for our family, it became much easier for him to help me set aside time for self-care. In fact, he’s often the one reminding me to do so!
It’s also important for me to set boundaries for what I’m going to do with my limited “me time” – and to stick to them! For example, when my boys hear the bath water running, they’ll often use their best puppy dog eyes to try to get into the tub with me. But, if I cave to their request, my scheduled self-care time turns into more kid-care time. To stay strong, I remind myself that modeling self-care for my kids is also important, because it creates a family culture where everyone’s individual needs are important.
In the end, finding a balance between family time and self-care benefits my entire family. So please remember that you are important too. Make sure your needs don’t end up at the bottom of the list!