Self-Care and the Southern Woman

Mom and Sophie.

I have promised that I will always write truthfully on my blog in the hopes it might help someone out there who is fighting the same battles, and so I will be honest; I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now. On New Year’s Eve a very dear dog- one who I had adopted for my elderly mother and who was my constant companion for many years, died suddenly, bringing the grief of losing my mother to the forefront, and then I went right into several high-stress performances, work commitments and travel, all following the most stressful semester I’ve ever had.At least Marley knows how to relax…

I played a chamber recital the night before last and while on-stage my hands began to shake uncontrollably, my breathing was off, and I felt like my embouchure was not under my control. I wasn’t nervous, but my body went into that mode of fight or flight and I felt out of control. I played okay thankfully, but it was terrifying. I’d just come off of a very successful solo performance at a conference where I felt at ease on stage playing much more challenging music, so this took me completely by surprise. I finally realized it for what it was- a good old panic attack.Shiva vs. Charlie the Squirrel…

That night I went to bed and began to have chest pains and shortness of breath, so much so that I almost asked Dan to take me to the ER. Along with the deep sadness and tears that I had been experiencing, I wrote it off as stress and grief, but I felt an underlying worry set in. I’m fifty-six…is something really wrong? My oldest brother died of a heart attack, my grandmother had angina, my mother had heart issues…was it my turn now?My beautiful girl…

I’ve always been good at taking care of others, but not so much myself. I’m also very good at denial, putting off self-care so that I can continue living my life at breakneck speed- a recipe for trouble. I’ve always worked an overload…I honestly don’t have any idea of what a “normal” schedule is. I love my career, love working hard, staying busy…but it appears that my body is starting to disagree with me about the pace I keep.

After sage advice and encouragement from some dear friends, I decided to head to the ER to get checked out early this morning, as I’d tried to make an appointment with my primary care physician but would have to wait weeks to be seen. In case this truly was something serious with my heart, time was of the essence.

They ran an EKG, chest X-ray, and bloodwork, all showing that my heart is in great shape, thankfully. The doctor asked me what was happening in my life and tears began to slide down my face as I told him I’d lost my mother’s dog, followed by all the stress of the new semester. I was grateful that the doctor and the nurses were so compassionate and didn’t make me feel foolish for coming in to be checked. I shared with them that I’d already requested an appointment with my doctor, and that I had an appointment set to talk with my therapist about handling stress and dealing with my grief. Marley teaches us how to chill…

I am spending this weekend having a ‘heart to heart’ with myself about how to move forward in the healthiest way. I have got to cut down on my commitments, even though I love everything that I’m doing, and learn how to unplug from the stress in healthy ways. It’s not that I can’t continue to do many things- I just have to plan them carefully and make sure that I allow time to recharge my battery in between. I’m making a priority list…and including myself on it.

I have to admit, it is tough to write the words ‘I can’t do it all’. It is wired into women- and maybe especially Southern women- that we put everyone and everything before our own self-care. This is something that I have to think a lot about and make some big changes…my heart is telling me so, loud and clear.


12 thoughts on “Self-Care and the Southern Woman

  1. I’ve been reflecting (a lot) on how hard women work. I know that I use 98% of my capacity on a regular basis with my work while also keeping my home and our home life in order. I am not unusual in this. Most women I work with do the same, more, if they are mothers. Interestingly, the men in both of my work places seem to generally use 60-70% of their capacity, a little more if they’re in the positions of top leadership, and they generally seem to relax at home. (This might be different at the university, since it’s so competitive.)

    So, if we are generally using all of our capacity on a regular basis, what happens to us when some extra demand arises? Grief, an illness , home repairs… we draw on reserves, which, if we’ve been living this way for decades, have already been used up,

    Can we , as a gift to future generations of women and to ourselves, reel back how much of our capacity we use on a regular basis? Can we, like our male coworkers, use 60 -80 % ? What would that look like ? How much healthier would we be if we had some reserves to draw upon?

      1. It is so hard–and it feels like there’s so much at stake. There’s a very logical-seeming reason, sociologically speaking, for women our age to feel we need to work harder. And examining that and trying to redefine it in a way that’s healthy for us and younger women is yet another way we can be rebels and trail-blazers! 🙂

  2. We women just have to do it all ! I realised this still more after I went overseas for work, then came back to live on my pension – only to find that there was still no work, not even part time work. I slowed down and now wonder I ever did what I used to do.

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