Many years ago, I was a mother of small children. With four children ages five and under, I could hardly take time to use the restroom, much less take time for self care. I had a domestic partner who didn’t seem to care much about my welfare, only whether or not he was happy himself, so I ended up drowning in a whirlpool of caring for everyone else.
Over the course of an eleven-year marriage, I became severely mentally ill, to the point where I couldn’t function. Because I hadn’t taken the time to give myself what I needed, I ended up in the hospital, and six months later, I found myself divorced, homeless, and alone.
My maternal family took me in and nursed me back to health, and through therapy and lots of introspection, I learned about self care. Even now, ten years later, I still struggle with depression, sadness, and anxiety. I sometimes have to remind myself to eat, to drink enough water, to move (I work from home), to go find someone to talk to when necessary. These basic aspects of self care – food, shelter, socialization, exercise – are the ones focused on most clearly, I think, when people talk about the importance of nurturing yourself.
One aspect of self care though, that I think should be emphasized more often, is the importance of play. Play, as unstructured pleasurable activity, is so often ignored by women. We so often find ourselves in unending roles of caregiving, that we ignore what really makes us happy. What makes our essential selves, the selves that existed long before we were attached to a significant other or to offspring, truly happy. We have forgotten how to play.
As we are tossed around by the terror and tragedy of this world and the constant media barrage coming at us from every angle, it is easy to become overwhelmed by darkness. I have learned, in the face of depression, or even simple sadness, that play is vital.
Luckily for me, as an artist, I have many creative interests, so play will often involve making something. When my kids are over, now all teenagers, we lie together on the floor with coloring books. We invent games to play during dinnertime. We find random things to celebrate, like the Star Trek memorial party we had when we learned of Leonard Nimoy’s death. We find new recipes to experiment with, and we try things we’ve never done before. We have themed movie marathons. We dance. We play repeated games of Ticket to Ride.
When my kids aren’t with me, which is the majority of the time, it is harder for me to play. It is more difficult to remember that I need this. But I remind myself, and my best friend reminds me, that I’m worth the time it takes to reconnect with my essential self.
Every day, I walk out to the alfalfa field across from my house and I watch the sunset. I breathe and take in the glorious color. I walk in the rain, I listen to music (much too loudly), I make tiny paintings of swear words and bigger paintings of my favorite pop culture influences. I am relearning how to play the guitar and finding my voice again. I hide in my room and sing, or I sit in the grass and let everyone hear, as my fingers stumble over the chords I’m trying to remember and I forget the words I just had in my head a second ago. I go to movies alone. I call my friend and we queue up a show on Netflix and press play at the same moment, eat snacks, and critique or laugh or cry together. I swing at playgrounds. I hike with my brother at night. I play board games with my husband. I write ridiculous fan fictions and make myself laugh.
I have to remember to search for that thing that reconnects me with my essential self. The thing that makes me smile and leaves my soul refreshed. I always emerge from my play renewed and a bit breathless. And always wonder how I could have forgotten how to do this.
HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.