I’ve been feeling tender lately. It’s almost as if my soul is a little bit bruised and I need to be protective of myself. One of the gifts of being in your forties is that you aren’t a mystery to yourself anymore. While this particular bout of tenderness stems from sending my oldest child off to college, any number of things have knocked me down in the past. The good news is that I know how to care for myself so much better than when I was younger. The things that bruise me are different, but the means for healing follow a pattern.
Here are a few things that help me fortify so that I can face things from a place of generosity and strength instead of fear and powerlessness:
1. Tell someone what’s going on with you. This seems pretty obvious, but for those of us who process events internally or very slowly, the people closest to us can get worried. Even if we think we are hiding our hurt, they know that something is up.
2. Let your people care for you. My daughter Katie plays the drums and she was recently teaching herself to twirl her drumsticks for dramatic flair. She and her fellow drummer planned to unveil their trick during their most recent rock-cital. The teacher warned them that if one of them dropped their drumsticks during the twirl, the other shouldn’t stop playing. Katie told me very seriously, “You don’t stop playing and try to help them pick up the drumsticks. You just play harder so it’s not so noticeable. You play louder to cover for them.” It’s not forever, just until they get their rhythm back. Let the people who love you play harder, while you figure out how to jump back into the song.
3. Stock up on your particular emotional vitamins. For me, this includes some time alone, but not too much. I also know the importance of reaching out to friends who have already been where I currently am. I draw on the wisdom of people who don’t minimize what I’m feeling. I convene my squad.
4. Seek predictability. I never used to watch reruns or reread favorite books. I just figured there was so much to see and read that I didn’t want to return to things I’d already experienced. Recently, I’ve found myself watching reruns instead of new shows. I just can’t take any unnecessary surprises at this stage in my life. It’s tremendously comforting to me that “Parks and Rec” will inevitably be sweet and “Veep” will always be ridiculous. I seek out all things that bring comfort; this includes shows, food, friends and spaces.
5. Give yourself permission to not care so much what other people think of you. When you are tender, it’s helpful to take high expectations of yourself down a notch. This includes trying to please everyone around you. The work of healing is internal work. Author Martha Beck says she practices the mantra, “I respectfully do not care,” when people are upset with her. The truth is that I care way too much what people think of me. Thinking “I respectfully do not care” gives me some freedom to let other people’s opinions of me pass on by.
During tender times, I am protective of myself in the same way that I am protective of my kids. Many years ago, when I was pregnant with my oldest child, I remember someone being really ugly to me in a church meeting. I instinctively covered my stomach because I didn’t want my baby to have to listen to that kind of talk. It’s taken me awhile, but I am finally learning to “mother” myself by drawing boundaries that protect my own heart. A good metric for me is to ask myself “What would I do for my child in this situation?” Then, for just a bit, I care for myself with the same compassion I so readily extend to others.