Self-care is my biggest hypocrisy. I preach it, but have trouble partaking in it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I grew up caring for my younger siblings. I was a mother for them when I was still a child myself. That meant giving things up. It’s how I transitioned so easily from public to private school. Working all evening as a janitor and then studying all night was difficult, but it was necessary to get to somewhere better.
As I’ve grown, I’ve tried to take better care of myself. Each day, I’m allowed one gift. An energy drink, a quick nap, or even a few extra minutes in a hot shower is enough to make me feel like I’ve spoiled myself for the day. Last week, I went all out and paid for my first tattoo.
Despite my indulgences, I still find myself giving a lot. I stay up late to help people with papers and sign myself up for extra duties at work. I like to believe it makes the world better, and that someday, someone will acknowledge my hard work.
I guess that’s why it’s always so hard when my labors are for nothing.
Wasted effort is especially painful when it was given for another person. When I was in middle school, my best friend, Lakin, moved to another state. It was then that I learned my other friends weren’t friends at all. Lakin was one of the “cool” kids. Now that she was gone, they no longer needed to tolerate me.
For the first semester, I tried and failed to gain their approval. I thought that if I was nicer, or if I gave them more, they would invite me back to their sleepovers or let me sit with them during lunch. They never did. Finally, a string of bullying incidents broke my spirit and I begged my way into self-study at the local library for the remainder of my middle school career.
I never forgot that semester. The feeling of being cut off stuck with me, and I swore I would move on to be something better. Years later, a former classmate convinced me to come to a 6th grade reunion (why we even had one was beyond my reasoning). I didn’t stay for long, but I found my former bullies to be worn-out and still wrapped up in small-town drama. I have to say, I like them better from the distance they put between us.
In a way, I’m glad they did what they did. Pushing me out encouraged me to go to a different school, where I met my soon-to-be husband. It forced me out of a farming town and into the city. They made me uncomfortable, so I found someplace that treated me better.
Right now, I’m going through a another similar experience. Someone impossibly important to me cut me from their life back in November. I reached out to them several times, but they refuse to acknowledge my efforts. Their absence is one I mourned at first, but recently, I’ve been seeing things in a new light.
When someone you admired leaves your life, you go through an interesting process. At first, you can only think of all the things you loved about them. You blame yourself and desire their forgiveness. Then, one day, you wake up. You start to remember their flaws, and the things they did wrong. You distance yourself from their perfect memory.
Bit by bit, I can recall the bad traits this person held. For the first time, I can look back without the bias. When we were children, they used to hit me on the back of my head when I came near them. It got to the point where I was conditioned to flinch whenever they passed me in the hall.
I was told by my parents it was how this person let me know they loved me. The same behavior never would have been tolerated if it came from me. I now know that statement was a lie, intentional or not. Without this person in my life, I can finally see their low self-esteem, their grave misconceptions, exaggerations, and toxic, shortsighted beliefs.
Even with their flaws, I wouldn’t be against having them back in my life. But after an entire childhood of apologizing for taking up space in a hall, I’m not willing to write a tearful apology. Remembering the fight now, I realize that this was their shortcoming – not mine. If they want me back, they have to make the effort. I think I’m worth fighting for and if they don’t, then that’s their loss. Today, I learned that selfishness and self-respect are two very different things.