"Ewww! That's disgusting!" Those were my kids' words when they saw the decayed and rotted tooth that I held in my hand. And trust me, it looked really gross. I like you guys, so I will spare you a picture. "Hold up!" you're probably thinking, "How does a blog post about self-care involve a disgusting old tooth?!" Well, this is what a complete lack of self-care looks like in my life right now - an extracted tooth. Or, I should say, looked like because never again will I ignore my own needs when they are so clearly demanding my attention.
It started several years ago, with a nightmare visit to a less-than stellar dentist. A horrible job filling a cavity combined with a refusal to believe that I, being a redhead, needed more than the average amount of Novocain, left me with a tooth that still needed work and a healthy fear of the dentist. When we moved to a new state, I found an excellent dentist for my kids but refused to find one for myself. Any time I thought of having to sit in that dentist chair again, my heart rate sped up and all those horrible memories of that last excruciatingly painful visit came flooding back. "No thanks," I'd tell my husband, "I'm fine. I'll just brush really good and always floss." (I know this sounds crazy, but I promise I am not this delusional about anything else in my life, just my dentist-phobia.)
But as time went by, the tooth that was never really fixed in the first place got worse. I started to have extreme sensitivity to hot and cold on that side. No problem, I'll just be careful with what I eat and drink. Then I started to have some pain when chewing on that side. Again, I convinced myself this was no big deal, I would only chew on the other side of my mouth. And then I started to have intermittent tooth aches, pain that would come and go and get harder and harder for me to ignore. Until finally a friend, who noticed me wincing and holding that side of my jaw, convinced me that I had to go to the dentist. And lucky for me, she knew a really fabulous and gentle dentist, who would do a good job and listen to my fears.
So, I sucked it up and made the appointment. I thought I knew what I would be in for and, all through the consultation, I kept waiting to hear those dreaded words - root canal. But they never came. Nope, instead I got hit with a whammy of a word I was not expecting at all - extraction. I, a young woman in her mid-thirties with pretty good teeth (despite the lack of dental care for the past several years), was going to lose the tooth. How did it come to this? How had I let things get so bad? The answer? A complete lack of self-care.
As a woman and a mom to young children, this was the trap I had fallen into. There was always someone else who came first. Or something else that needed doing. I had become so good at putting myself last that even when my body was literally aching for attention, I brushed it off. Does this sound familiar to you? Are you this person? Well, I am here to tell you - stop it! Stop being the person who puts herself last all the time. Stop being the person who constantly does for others and never does for himself. Stop it before you lose a part of yourself.
If you had a child who was in need of medical care, would you ignore that need? If someone you loved was clearly suffering, would you accept their refusal to get help? Of course you wouldn't! So why is it that we treat ourselves as less than? It is time that us women and us mothers start seeing ourselves as the adored, cherished, and needed people that our family members see every time they look at us.
And trust me, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from ignoring your own needs. The longer you put off eating healthy and exercising, the more out of shape your body will be. If you continue to refuse to take some time for yourself to read, relax, or meditate, the higher and higher your stress levels will keep climbing. And if you are ignoring a crucial part of your own physical health, you will not wake up one day and be cured. You have to value your own self-care before you lose your metaphorical tooth.
So, I am religiously following my dentist's instructions for care following my tooth extraction. I am taking the pain meds on time and making sure I do the daily recommended salt water rinses. I am brushing and flossing. And I already have my six-month cleaning (even though it will not be until February) on the books. Because I am not losing any more teeth - literal or figurative.
Tell me, what does self-care look like for you? Are you taking care of yourself or are you ignoring your own needs?