Friday, February 28, 2014

Self-care

Hello. My name is Matt, and I hate myself.

Well, no, I don't actually hate myself, but lately I've been paying attention to the way I treat myself, and what I do to take care of myself, and I've concluded that if someone else treated me this way, I would assume they hated me.



Self-care is a weird thing. I'm not sure if it's American culture in general or the Evangelical culture I was raised in, but my head is packed full of harmful notions of what it means to be a good husband. During pre-martial counseling, our pastor stressed that "Jesus laid down his life for the church; you need to lay down your life for your wife. All of her needs and wants come before yours."

Obviously, I can't know the intention behind what he said; I brought years of baggage to the table and took that concept hyper-literally.

I was miserable for years because I never did anything I wanted. I still struggle with this.

Take a look at this amalgamation of several conversations that we have had over the years:

Sarah: What's wrong, honey? You seem really sad.
Me: I never get to play music anymore.
Sarah (puzzled): What do you mean? You have plenty of time for it.
Me (angry): No I don't! You always make me watch teevee shows!

Do you know why this conversation happens? Because I am constantly asking Sarah if she wants to watch teevee shows without ever expressing my desire to do anything on my own. See:

Me (thinking): I really want to practice my guitar. I haven't touched it in weeks. Last time I played, I was terrible. I really should practice. But I've been at work all day, and last night we had to get groceries, so Sarah probably wants to do something. I'll see if she wants to watch [show] and hope that she counters by suggesting I work on music.
Me (aloud): Hey, you wanna watch [show]?
Sarah: Sure!
Me (thinking): Shit.

See what happens there? In attempting to take responsibility for Sarah's happiness (something she never asked me to do), I end up making her responsible for my happiness without telling her. In what world is that fair? If I suggest that we watch a show that both of us enjoy, how is she supposed to know that I want her to turn me down? Ridiculous, right?

But a good husband puts his wife's wants and needs before his own. And then he berates himself for failing to do any of the things he puts on his to-do list.

Thankfully, after much coaxing, Sarah was able to convince me that the best way to take care of her was to take care of myself. To do those things I secretly wished I could do, but didn't because I feared letting her down. And I learned some things.

I learned that allowing myself to get enough sleep made me less cranky and easier to get along with.
I learned that it was possible to spend two hours playing music and two hours with Sarah.
I learned that spending time reading gave me more things to talk about.
I learned that prioritizing my creative work made teevee breaks even more enjoyable.

I learned that taking care of myself doesn't harm my wife.

I'm still not good at this, though, which is why I'm writing about it here instead of just thinking about it. If I tell the entire world that I am ok with taking care of myself, it will make it less scary to actually do it.

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