When you’re someone like me, taking time for yourself isn’t easy. Convincing myself that I’m worth investing time in is a hard sell. I grew up learning that sacrificing your wants and needs for others is coveted and expected, but I was never explicitly taught to balance that with self-love and self-care. These last three years have taught me the importance of these things the hard way.
In November 2013 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA for short), an invisible disability that you probably haven’t heard of. This isn’t your typical arthritis that Grandma Jean develops as she ages—RA is an autoimmune, degenerative bone and joints disorder that brings about feelings of lethargy and exhaustion. One major trigger that can cause the disease to activate from dormancy is a drastic lack of self-care.
Rewind to 4 months prior to my diagnosis: I just started a new, high-stress job as I simultaneously began my 2nd year of college. Self-care was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted to do was impress my new boss and start the school year off on the right foot. I wasn’t eating much (if at all) and I’d do anything to fill my time with activities that would benefit either my relationships or my work. In short, I was my last priority.
I began to develop a limp because my body would ache and I couldn’t walk properly. I would wake up with my hands bruised and swollen, making it impossible to take notes in class. Even during these experiences, I refused to believe anything was wrong because ultimately, I didn’t matter as much as the people and obligations in my life. What mattered was getting through the day, successfully working my full-time job, attending class, and ensuring that my relationships were at a solid homeostasis. Only then could I think about myself and my needs, but by the time I had fulfilled my other priorities, the next day was already about to begin.
It wasn’t until I blacked out and fainted on a staircase in front of coworkers and friends that I finally accepted that I needed to make myself a priority. After months of jumping between urgent care doctors and specialists, I settled on a treatment plan and was ready to get back to my “normal” life. All the while, I was going through a break up after a 4-year relationship and had just completed my first semester of my sophomore year, receiving the lowest GPA of my college career. Something needed to change, but it wasn’t until I graduated college, moved to Los Angeles, and started my life over again that I realized how bad things were just three years prior.
Fast forward to present day: This fall I started a new, high-stress job as I simultaneously began a new life as a completely independent woman. Self-care was the last thing on my mind (again) but I’ve grown a lot since 2014. At nineteen I was young, naïve, and my priorities were clearly not in order. Although I’m still young and relatively naïve, looking back on my early college years has made me think twice about how I prioritize my emotional and physical health.
Since I’ve begun life as a new college grad in LA, I’ve invested in me. I cook healthy meals, I budget properly, I indulge (maybe sometimes a little too much), I exercise regularly, and I’ve started to place time and energy into the people and causes that matter most to me.
I still struggle and have bad days. I still overwork and overexert myself, but the balance of self-preservation and selflessness in my life is getting closer to a manageable equilibrium as I grow older. My 19-year-old self would be shocked and confused at how much my world view has changed, but the progress I’ve made has been nothing but positive. My shift in self-care has been drastic, and my body and mind thank me for it every day.