You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

Yesterday, I made a critical error. I replaced the batteries in our bathroom scale and stepped on to weigh myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this, probably at the beginning of this year, which feels less like months ago and more like a decade ago. In a perhaps misguided attempt at “self-care,” I had chosen to ignore our scale for months. I was also ignoring the fact that most of my clothes no longer fit. The last few months have been trying for everyone. I have defaulted to delivery and comfort foods for many reasons, and now, a reckoning of sorts has happened.

Now that I know, it’s harder to ignore, but instead of feeling motivated to make changes, I simply felt extra defeated, tired, and lacking any drive. I had broken one of the boundaries I had created to protect my mental health, and now I was facing the consequences. Feelings of shame, disgust, and disappointment.

Self-care is a pretty mixed bag these days. There’s also a whole other piece of this – the creep of capitalism and consumerism in wellness and self-care. The way the focus is almost always on women, and how they can and should reap the benefits in order to go back to squeezing every last bit of energy and emotional bandwidth on the wellbeing of others, but I know it’s already been addressed by people with far more expertise than I have. Feel free to give it a Google while you’re surfing the web.

Self-care is often touted as something as simple as taking a hot bath, wearing a face mask, creating a multi-step skin care regimen, or treating oneself to a favorite meal, self-care can be all those things, but it’s also about setting healthy boundaries in order to allow yourself the necessary time to replenish your personal resources. The activities are merely what you are able to do because you’ve created space for them. The actual space you create is the true self-care. The focus should really be on finding what works best to allow you the time and space to do what makes you happy, and leaves you feeling content and satisfied. It should be less about accomplishment and outward achievement and more about fulfillment. What do you need to say “no,” to in order to say “yes,” to yourself?

I think often, and use often the expression in the title of this post. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You should secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The grass is greenest where you water it. All of these say the same thing – you must take care of yourself and your own happiness before you can truly serve others. Depleting yourself does not provide you with anything left to give to your family and friends. While I absolutely believe these things to be true, I wonder if I’ve also allowed those ideas to serve as excuses for actually doing the work of my own self-care. Have I maybe even let these phrases lull me into a false sense of self-care but not addressing the root of why I am stressed, tired, anxious? Probably, and almost certainly this is the case. Looking too closely at the why is hard. It requires acknowledgement of what is no longer serving you, no matter how “comfortable,” you’ve convinced yourself it makes you, and then it requires work to make the appropriate adjustments.

I think a lot of us are in a place where adding more work, especially the difficult emotional work of self-improvement, to our plate feels impossible. I feel like no matter how many naps I take, or plates of deliciously comforting pasta I eat, or wonderful books I read, I am still tired, I am still hungry, I am still feeling restless and struggling to maintain focus. Seeing a number on a scale pushed me to put all of my current coping mechanisms into a harsh light. Truthfully the food I have been eating by and large has made me feel gross. It isn’t particularly nutritionally robust, and I have had heartburn and acid reflux almost daily for months. It got to a point where it didn’t seem to matter what I ate, the result was the same. Oatmeal? Heartburn. Egg noodles with butter? Heartburn. Bagel and cream cheese? Heartburn. Avocado smashed onto toast? Heartburn. Certainly the usual suspects also created problems (wine, tomatoes, spicy foods,) but even absent those ingredients, heartburn. The burning in my chest and throat kept me from sleeping, it made my stomach a mess and I have been incredibly uncomfortable. I finally decided to do a food sensitivity test kit, and it turns out, the foods I love so much, and eat in volume on a regular basis may not love me back.

The highest reactive foods were bananas and egg whites. Second highest is pineapple, and then there are seven mild reactive foods that included asparagus, coffee, cinnamon, egg yolks, garlic, ginger, and wheat.

Wheat! My beloved. While it falls into the more mild category, the amount of wheat I consume (both in obvious foods and in those I had no idea included wheat, like soy sauce,) is very likely creating problems for my digestive system. So, in the name of actual, productive self-care, I am working on significantly reducing the amount of wheat, egg white, and egg yolks, cinnamon, garlic and ginger that I consume. I don’t drink coffee, and asparagus isn’t a regular in my meal plans. I haven’t had any banana or pineapple in months, so the main culprit certainly seems to be the pasta, bread, soy sauce, garlic, and eggs I have been consuming multiple times a day. I was shocked to not find dairy among the list, but I will take the small favors where I can.

This is a rather long and not particularly cogent ramble, but essentially, being shocked by a number on the scale has caused me to truly re-evaluate my own self-care routines. I’m not going to give up my warm baths, or my skin care routine, and certainly won’t give up my books, but maybe it’s time for me to spend more time on the whys, and less time on the activities. Time to evaluate how I am choosing to refill my own cup, and if it’s actually getting the refill I believed. Ugh, emotional work, am I right?

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