According to physics, Time is a scalar quantity. Translated for people like me who almost flunked that class, this means something that has magnitude but no direction. Sounds legit. In my experience, Me Time is a concept of great personal magnitude and, ideally, also has no direction.
No matter how much one might thrive on activity (I don’t) or crowds (I really don’t) or deadlines (blech), down time is essential. And I don’t mean the kind of “down time” that involves Happy Hour shots of tequila or retail therapy, although I find both those things enjoyable. I mean Me Time. Time for just you. Time for you to recharge your emotional, spiritual, and psychological batteries. Time when you aren’t answering questions or texting or emailing or working or making meals or chauffeuring or meeting the needs of anyone except yourself. Time when you can pee in blissful, uninterrupted solitude. Time when don’t have to fix yourself up or make yourself presentable. Time when you don’t worry about what anyone else wants, needs, or thinks. Even if you manage only 10 minutes of this in a day, it is worth it, because without these interludes of self-indulgence, you will become a petulant, pouty, strung-out tangle of toxic resentment. Or maybe that’s just me.
One of the most awful things you can do to the people around you is be selfless all the time. Self-less. Without self. Because guess what? You can’t successfully sublimate your needs all the fucking time. It’s not possible, and it’s not good for you. It makes you unbearable. Who enjoys being around someone who refuses to draw boundaries for herself? No one you would want to know, that’s for sure. We all have wants, needs, and limits. It is unhelpful and unkind to pretend otherwise.
A long time ago, when I was a new mom and I was going through one of my chronic bouts of existential angst, I saw this woman on the Oprah show talking about how to cherish yourself. She said it was important, every morning, to make sure your cup was full. She wasn’t talking about coffee. Every day, explained the guru woman, before you went to your husband, your children, your job, you should take a moment to “come into yourself.” I remember being thoroughly annoyed. Very poetic, lady. Now, how the hell do I do that? I wake up every morning next to my husband. My 18 month old is still nursing, so he’s more like a growth on my left hip than a separate child-entity. And I’m a housewife, so I wake up in my job every damn day.
I understand now that what the wise Oprah guest lady was trying to say is that you have to take time for yourself, every day. Maybe not first thing in the morning, but at some point. I’ve had a spotty track record with this, over the years. There are literally days when I forget to eat breakfast or lunch because I have been so busy taking care of everyone else and fulfilling obligations that suddenly it’s 4 p.m. and I’m stupid-hungry. Then, I eat a bowl of cereal and realize that I’m not getting sick, I was just hypoglycemic. Carving out time to eat a meal does not, by the way, count as Me Time. Or it shouldn’t.
Here’s a quote from Ester Buchholz, Ph.D., in Psychology Today: “When listening to patients talk about their lovers, family, or friends, I am struck by their expressions of gratitude if they receive “time off” to engage in their own pursuits. Like prisoners who are granted parole before they deserve it, they feel that their freedom is a gracious gift. Therefore, they have a hard time ever suggesting the possibility of spending a relaxing day alone.”
Most of us see Me Time as a luxury, not a necessity. However, it is as important to our well being as food or sleep. This is when creativity bubbles to the surface, when we get some badly needed perspective on that thing that is making us crazy, when we gain an appreciation for our significant other/friends/family/job/what-have-you because we can zoom out and see the entire picture. Me Time is what keeps us from going to jail, folks.
I know my family can tell you that I’m much nicer to be around after I’ve had some personal time. They would much rather have me take a 45 minute break and then return refreshed and engaged than live with my tight-lipped, barely restrained impatience all the damn time. Nobody likes a martyr.
So, where to find this fabled Me Time of which I speak? That is the tricky part. There’s no specific formula. Here’s what some of my sanity breaks have looked like:
– 15 minutes of sitting on the step outside my house (which could charitably be described as “a festering armpit” filled with dirty dishes, laundry, clutter, and cats) while drinking a beer and ranting to my sister on the phone
– 30 minutes of wandering the aisles of Safeway with my earbuds on listening to my favorite playlist (sometimes it’s okay to multitask during Me Time, as long as you feel fulfilled), stretching a quick shopping trip into an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit mental health break
– 2 hours with my best friend at a grungy neighborhood pub on a Friday, after the family has been fed and tended
– 40 minutes on the elliptical watching an Orphan Black episode
How to indulge in these moments without feeling guilty? Look. If you’re like me, you’ll always have a twinge of guilt. You just will. But you’ll get better at moving past it. Remind yourself that you aren’t taking this time from your loved ones; you’re taking it for them. You’re giving them the gift of a calmer, nicer, more present you when you return. Seriously. Ask them which they prefer.
My life is hectic. I’ve got two school age children, a husband, a house that always verges on chaotic, an elderly mother to care for, and there’s this website I run. There are lots of needs to fill. There always will be. Some days, I am hanging on by my fingernails. I’m not going to get everything done, and I’m certainly not going to get everything done perfectly. So, the best I can manage is to remember to put on my own oxygen mask first.
Photo credit: Wonder Woman Relaxes by Popculture Geek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.