When I got on the plane last week that brought me to Colorado, I only half-listened to the safety demonstration given by the flight attendants. After as many trips as I've taken, I pretty much know them by heart anyway. But as I sat there waiting for take-off, I heard the attendant talk about the oxygen masks. She instructed us that in case of depressurization of the cabin, these masks would drop from the ceiling and we were to put on our own masks before helping anyone else with theirs. I've heard this speech a dozen times, but for some reason I was feeling philosophical and took it with deeper meaning this time.
It made me realize that I have to stop, breathe and gather my strength before I care for others.
As I limped my way through the depths of depression this last year, I learned many things: about myself, about my family, about my friends and about my faith. If I had to limit myself to just one lesson to remember, though, it would be that I have to take care of myself first before I can take care of anyone else. That means setting boundaries and recognizing my own limits. That's not an easy task.
This oxygen mask thing is exactly that same way. I'd be the moron trying to hold my breath while my mask swings in my face as I help somebody next to me. Hello, dumbass! Put on your mask! Save yourself first!
I've always felt selfish putting myself ahead of my loved ones. To put my own needs first meant I cared more about myself than I did about those around me.
And that, my loves, is the point exactly.
I've spent my entire life putting everyone else first. My husband. My kids. My friends. My pets. My neighbor. My family. I give them what I have and if there's anything left, I'll take it for myself. Over the last few years, I've learned to take time for myself - vacations, nights out with the girls, dinner with hubby, eating the last package of popcorn without apologizing for it. But I still hadn't learned how to care for myself emotionally before expending that energy on others. I'm the friend people call when they need a listening ear or advice. I've always been that person and up until now, I've never turned anyone away.
The other night I had dinner with a new friend who is also a therapist and the conversation we had was exactly what my broken spirit needed. I realized that chaos, noise and craziness is overrated and when I'm in the midst of those things, I can't find peace for myself. I'm a strong woman - one of the strongest I know, actually, but I'm only strong enough to carry my own burdens.
So while I hate that someone else is hurting, I can't pick up the pieces for them. Someday I might be able to, but right now my hands are full with my own pieces. It doesn't mean I don't love them. It doesn't mean I don't care about their problems. It doesn't mean I don't want them to get better. It just means that I can't hold my breath while I help them find theirs.