“I haven’t taken my iron in months,” Nancy confesses. “I don’t have time to get my prescription renewed and I am too tired to deal with it.”
“I don’t have time to cook now that I am working more hours!” exclaims Michelle. “The drive-through is quick and easy. I really don’t know what else to do.”
“My kids are little,” explains Linda. “By the end of the day, I’m just too tired to cook. Last night, after I put them to bed, I had Teddy Grahams and juice for dinner.”
As a bariatric coach, I wish I could say these admissions are rare. They are not. Many women find themselves in difficult situations that make their self-care challenging. It’s understandable and nothing to be embarrassed about.
We all know what it’s like to be too busy and too tired. But I don’t think just our busyness and exhaustion is tripping us up. I suspect there is some perfectionism in there, too.
Deep down, we really do believe we should be perfect and that we should eat perfectly. Then when we fall short, we get discouraged and give up. We eat what’s quick, easy, and soothing.
We tell ourselves we are stuck in a never-ending loop of busyness and exhaustion, and that there is nothing we can do about it. But that belief – there is nothing we can do – is worth questioning.
If you are too busy and exhausted, and eating things you wish you wouldn’t, these are the two questions to ask yourself:
- What is the life I want to have?
- What do I need to say NO to, to have that life?
When asked these questions, Nancy insisted, “I can’t have the life I want to have, because I need to take care of my father-in-law when I’m not at work.”
Nancy isn’t wrong. He father-in-law needs help, and she is the most logical person to provide his care. But that doesn’t answer the question.
The question is: What is the life I want to have?
After a minute or so of silence, Nancy said, “Well, leaving aside my desire to be a gymnast like Simone Biles, I want to have a life in which I can just be, sometimes. I want to be alone long enough to have my own thoughts. I want to feel like some of my dreams could come true. Not the gymnastics one,” she laughed, “but maybe I could go kayaking.”
She sighed deeply, “But I can’t say no to my responsibilities.”
In considering the second question, Nancy had heard: What can I say no to, to have that life? But that isn’t the question.
The question is: What do I need to say no to, to have that life?
Eventually, Nancy was able to identify what she needed to say no to, even if she didn’t believe she could say no.
This small shift in how she framed the question helped her realize her problem wasn’t that she was too busy to take care of herself; her problem was she didn’t know how to get her needs met.
This is where perfectionism gets in the way. To get her needs met, she would have to admit she couldn’t do everything on her own – that she is limited in her abilities. She would need help and support. She’d have to have awkward conversations. She would need to get out of her comfort zone and learn new skills.
She would need to question her beliefs about what she thought she should do, versus what she could do.
We made a plan for her to start taking small steps toward getting her needs met. Nancy decided, for example, to listen to an audiobook on her way to work about caregiver burnout.
In my experience, motivation follows action. So, I was not surprised that within days of contemplating those questions, and beginning to listen to that book, Nancy had the epiphany that she could request a refill for her iron prescription on her physician’s web portal – so she did! And then she asked her neighbor to pick it up for her. Bonus points!
My metaphor for questioning my beliefs over and over again, until I come to a new understanding, is ironing out wrinkles.
When I was a child, I would iron my father’s shirts. Sometimes, to get one area smooth, I had to accept that another area might get a little wrinkled. I just worked my way through, smoothing one area, adjusting the fabric, and smoothing the next, until it was all presentable.
To me, learning to get your needs met is like that. It requires work, persistence, patience, and acceptance. Take action, smooth things out. Take more action.
The solution isn’t to be perfect. We were never going to be perfect. But we can be good enough. (Which is way better than exhaustion, Teddy Grahams, and discouragement.)
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From Katie Jay’s Small Bites newsletter. Subscribe and get your complimentary report: The 21 Most Common Mistakes People Make after Bariatric Surgery at www.BariSupport.com. © 2022, Katie Jay. All rights reserved.