I’m not sure why, but whenever I find myself near a body of water, I always have a lot of things that get put into perspective. Maybe it’s the calming sound of the waves as the crash onto the shore line. Maybe it’s because looking out onto the horizon really makes it feel like there’s an infinite world around me. Or maybe it’s because the mountains that sit before me make me think about the mountains and valleys in our lives, the good and the bad and how everything that we’ve experienced thus far has shaped us into who we are.
Regardless of what body of water I’m sitting near, I always seem to learn a thing or two from this life that I’ve been fortunate enough to live. The lessons I’ve learned along the way, I’ve found are usually learned during the worst seasons of our life and often from the worst mistakes made (whether by you or someone else). I’ve found life is full of ups and downs; of joy and happiness and sadness and anger. We experience various trials and emotions… and sometimes we forget that it’s okay to be vulnerable and allow ourselves to feel. We’re human. We’re not perfect, nor should we be. It’s okay to make mistakes, to second-guess our decisions sometimes. And you know what? The perspective we gain through these times in our life changes us…and rightfully so.
In Ireland, I truly learned the meaning that life is short and that we should never take it for granted. While I have heard these said a million times, it never really sunk in until I traveled abroad back in May 2015. It was in Ireland that I found out my dad passed away. Being 3500 miles away from home when you get that kind of news is heart-wrenching. No one can prepare you for the kind of pain you feel when this happens, being so far away and not being able to do anything or be near your family. It was extremely difficult, but the lesson I learned from this still affects me today. Be in the moment, say all the things you need to say, and appreciate all of the people in your life, because life is short and we don’t know how long we get to live it.
Lake Michigan, and being in Milwaukee, has taught me home isn’t necessarily where you live, but rather, who you have beside you. Every place I’ve lived (Prescott, Montana, Milwaukee), has a part of my heart and so do the people that I’ve met along the way. Each place is beautiful for different reasons, and each city has impacted my life in some way. To be honest, it doesn’t affect me so much as to where I live, as long as I have a roof over my head, and a job that lets me eat and provide for myself. But the people, that’s what really matters. I’ve found that having a great community and support system has benefitted me so much more than my love for a particular place. Do I love mountains and being in the middle of nowhere where I don’t have to be so reliant on technology and the past-paced life that the city brings? Very much so, however, I’ve found that if I don’t have that support system, people who will encourage me and people who allow me to be the best version of myself, I end falling back into a place in my life where I just don’t want to do anything and isolate myself as much as possible. The amount of people I have here in Milwaukee, supporting me and having the same morals as me, has been something I’ve always cherished. I finally feel like I truly belong somewhere. I know that God will lead me somewhere new in the future, and I’ll move once again. Places come and go, and so do people I guess, but if you find those life-long friends, they’ll be by your side wherever you go. And believe me when I say that that has made all the difference.
Many Glacier, the place where I spent the last two summers of my life, has probably had the most impact on my life. It’s taught me more lessons than I can share at the moment…but I’ll stick with the cliché lesson of living in a national park with a mountain ranges as your backyard. The mountains and valleys, they symbolize they good and bad times in our lives. We all have them, and will continue to have them, because bad times will inevitably come as they always do. But I’ve found we can do one of two things when that happens. We can either sit and complain about the problem or we see the problem as a blessing in disguise. And please note, I’m not saying you can’t be frustrated, because I know that I was upset for a long time after my dad died, however, death is inevitable and sometimes, its in these moments where we receive the best things to ever happen to us. For me, after my dad died, I was a wreak and became heavily dependent on alcohol to solve all of my issues. I hit rock bottom because I didn’t know how to live without someone who had been in my life for so long. But God brought me to Glacier to see that everyone goes through bad times, that we’re all going to have those valleys in our life. I’ve found that most of my growth comes from those valleys, because while we all strive for those “mountain top moments,” there’s always going to be another mountain, and the lessons we learn from those previous mountains will help us with the next one. In Romans 8:28, it says, “God promises to make something good out of the storms that bring devastation in your life.” I can finally say that I’m almost 2 years sober and that I’m in the best mental health state that I’ve ever been in in my entire life. Some mountains are harder than others to climb but allowing ourselves to view them from a positive perspective changes our entire life.
Throughout all of these places, I’ve realized how much of a necessity self-care truly is. Andre Lorde once said, “I have become to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” I have to wholeheartedly agree. You can do all the things you want in the world, but if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re just going to burn yourself out and have no motivation or drive to do anything. Nothing good comes from putting yourself on the back burner. So here are some things I’ve done in the past couple months that have gotten me to where I am currently, maybe they’ll inspire you to put yourself first too.
Staying In. Please note, I’m not saying isolate yourself from society. The last few years, I’ve always had this “go-go-go” mentality, always moving, trying to hang out with as many people as possible and working so much so that I didn’t know any different. I think the first time I noticed myself living like this was when in my final year of college. I was working full-time (50-60 hours) while taking a 20-credit class load and still volunteering at my church and commuting into the city every other day. Make sure you’re taking the time to rest, to do some things by yourself and allow yourself to breathe. Don’t overwork yourself, you have one body and one life, and it’s up to you to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.
Self-Love. In a previous blog post, I mentioned taking soul breaks. Similar to staying in, it’s just another way of making sure you don’t burn yourself out. Self-love looks differently to everyone. To some it may be doing something by yourself: hiking, taking a nap, going for a long drive, playing your guitar or whatever your heart so desires; just doing something that allows you to refresh and nourish your soul. To some it may be making sure you take time do the things you love. For me, I’ve regained my passion for a few things: hiking, reading (yes, I’m a book worm and have no shame for this), painting, coloring in my journaling Bible, and writing. While as mundane as these hobbies may seem, they bring me joy and allow me to forget about all of the “problems” I thought I had. And to others it may be rebuilding your self-confidence. I recently read a book by Annie Downs, there was a specific quote that really it me. It said, “If you are going to be the person who does the brave things God is calling you to do: speaking life and developing beautiful things in others with your words, it begins with doing that for yourself.” How can I speak life into someone when I barely do it to myself? I’ve made more of an effort to remind myself that I was made who I was for a reason. I’ve learned that I’m shy at times, and other times I’m sillier than I could imagine. I’ve learned to embrace who I am as a whole. The thing is, my worth isn’t found in the opinions of other people. It’s defined by God and who HE says I am. If you find yourself in a place where it’s hard to love yourself because you’ve been so consumed by the thought of what the world has made you believe, remind yourself of this: society’s standards of beauty didn’t create you, as they are unattainable and give you a false identity. God created you. And He doesn’t make mistakes…let that sink in. Learn to speak life into yourself, it all starts in your mind: what you give power to has power over you, or as my friend likes to say, “The thoughts in your head rule your world.” Think positive. A beautiful day starts with a beautiful mindset and when you wake up in the morning, think about what a privilege it is to simply be alive and healthy. The moment you start acting like life is a blessing, it will start to feel like one. Time spent appreciating is time worth living, learn to see the world through the lens of self-love, care and humility.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No. Regardless of why you might think, the word “No” is in the English Dictionary. And yes, I feel like it took a long time for me to actually use this word. I’ve always been the type of person who would put other people first, and sometimes I still do that. But, you have to find a balance helping others and maintaining a good mental health. If you’re feeling tired or burnt out and someone asks you do them a favor, make sure you aren’t afraid to say no. You have to make yourself a priority too. If you’re like me and hate saying no, try compromising and say something like, “Hey____, I’ve been working a lot the past couple days and just really want to rest today. Can I help you tomorrow?” This shows you still care and want to help, but also shows that you are trying to take care of yourself as well. Don’t feel like you need to carry the whole world on your shoulders, as one of my friends from Glacier told me last summer, prioritize you. You can only help others once you’ve helped yourself.
Kim McMillan once said, “When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.” When it’s all said and done, you have to invest in yourself. Self-care is a necessity in life, and call me selfish if you want, but I’m finally putting myself first. I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t always been easy. I had to learn how to love myself again: from the messy hair and tired eyes to the pure joy that came from simply finding time to rest. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done, mainly because I care about helping other so much, but the end of the day, it was worth it. Because in the end, the only person you really have to count on is yourself, and if you don’t love you, who will?