I’m a type-A personality. I’m wildly impatient, admittedly competitive, pretty organized, and I like to get stuff done. I think creative people are supposed to be more type-B or something. They’re more relaxed, laid back, and accepting of things being less than perfect. But for me, creativity and productivity have always gone hand in hand. For as long as I can remember, I just wanted perfection. From myself, from others, from my work.
In college, I developed a nasty case of insomnia and anxiety. It was senior year, and I was editor in chief of my college literary magazine. I had dozens of submissions to read, a million decisions to make, and felt like everything was riding on me working at 110 percent. I had an IV of coffee, greasy cafeteria food, and pure adrenaline to keep me going. And then, one night, I completely crashed.
They say sometimes you need to hit rock bottom. That was my rock bottom. Driving to my parents’ house from college at 5 a.m. with bloodshot eyes. I had no energy for anything. I almost quit everything I loved. It seemed like life was just all or nothing. I either had to be functioning at the highest level, or not functioning at all. Things had to be done perfectly, or not done at all.
And from that rock bottom, I learned about self-care. Balance. Radical acceptance. All those therapy terms that really just mean give yourself a break, woman. I’d become addicted to doing stuff. Addicted to striving for the next level. Addicted to praise and good grades and gold stars and positive reviews about my writing. And I just needed a break.
For me, self-care looks like writing when I feel like writing, and not forcing it. It looks like taking on less work and fewer projects so I can take my time. So I can slow it down. It looks like never working my day job after 5 p.m. or on the weekends. It looks like making sure I have the time to read the books I want to read, do some light yoga, and meditate for at least a few minutes a day. Some days it looks like watching Netflix for four hours straight. Or painting something truly amateurish just to unleash some imperfect creativity. It looks like hanging out with my friends, those awesome people who know me inside and out and still like me. And my family, that bunch of nuts who always reminds me who I am. And that I’m worth something no matter what I achieve.
I’ve relapsed since college, no doubt. There were years when self-care went out the window and rock bottom was close. The year after I graduated when I was trying to get my first book published and collecting rejection after rejection. The year after I got married when I decided to say yes to every opportunity and every social event that came my way. But self-care is a tool in my toolbox, and something I can go back to at any point.
Right now, life is getting crazy again. I have a big old house to fix up, a new rescue dog who needs lots of love and care, a job that requires a fully functioning brain and a heart full of passion, and my first book coming out. So I’m making sure to spend a little time sitting. Doing nothing. Or allowing myself to write something imperfect and without intention. In the words of Sylvia Boorstein, “Don’t just do something. Sit there!”
And so I sit, with my crazy dog by my side, allowing myself a moment of self-care. A moment of peace. A perfect, imperfect moment.