A couple weeks ago I got a stomach flu, and was completely incapacitated for 24 hours. The house was a mess, food was wasted, and my work became back-logged in a bad way. It was a serious illness — I was vomiting, shivering, feverish, and weak. I really needed time and rest to recover. I still wasn't able to eat for days, and my body craved sleep at all hours.
Yet, as soon as the first 24-hours of intense illness was over, I refused to give myself a break. I beat myself up over not being able to jump back into my usual routine. I got mad at myself over working at a slower pace and not staying on top of household tasks.
My recovery took weeks instead of days, because I pushed through when I knew I shouldn't.
It’s not an uncommon thing for me to do. I will power through when I am sick, get back to my routine when I am emotionally unstable, or put more on my proverbial plate when it is already fuller than I can handle. I consistently hold myself to a standard I would never impose on others — which is great when I need to hustle, but terrible whenever I need self-care or make even a small mistake.
It’s the key to my success and my destruction — and it’s something I’ve been nurturing for years. I have always found it hard to go easy on myself because I was raised with a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality.
You have to rely on yourself. You have to work harder than everyone else. You have to keep moving, even when you don’t want to.
Thinking like this made me a resilient kid and a successful adult. I did well in sports. I made good grades. I held onto jobs. I chased down new opportunities.
I’ll be drowning in deadlines and still trying to keep up with whatever ill-advised meal plan I concocted before looking at my work schedule — instead of handing over the recipe or ordering takeout.
It wasn’t a mindset I expected from others, but it resonated with me. I liked the self-sufficiency I had built within myself — especially when I came up against challenges. Rising to the occasion time after time made me feel strong. I worked full-time and finished my degree while pregnant. I pulled myself out of debt even while struggling to rise above the poverty line. I fought my way through a year of postpartum depression. I dealt with three vomiting kids while my husband was overseas for work.
I did these things alone, even when I clearly should have asked for help.
Because the truth is, I don’t know where to stop with the bootstrap mentality. I don’t know where to draw the line between self-sufficiency and self-sabotage. I want to do it all myself, even when it hurts — even when I can’t — because it’s the only way I know how. Asking for help isn’t part of the self-sufficient curriculum that was drilled into me. Being the kind of person who relies on others is not a part of my identity.
I find it hard to even delegate tasks to my husband when I desperately need help. I’ll be drowning in deadlines and still trying to keep up with whatever ill-advised meal plan I concocted before looking at my work schedule — instead of handing over the recipe or ordering takeout. I’ll stress myself out over piles of laundry instead of asking my family members to put away their own goddamn clothes. Again and again I refuse to prioritize, refuse to let anything slide, at the expense of my physical and mental health.
The truth is, no one expects me to do everything I do, not even my family. If I put spaghetti on the menu three times a week, no one would bat an eye. If I let the housework slip for a couple days, the only person who would be bothered is me. If I needed to push out my work deadlines because of a serious illness, nearly every editor I know would give me a more than gracious extension. The stress I put on myself isn’t just unhealthy, it’s wholly unnecessary.
I could ask for help and the world would not implode.
In fact, the world (or my world at least) would be a lot easier to handle. I need to start learning how to go easy on myself — how to lower my expectations when I need a break, how to practice self-care instead of “self-sufficiency.” My life doesn’t need to be so hard, as long as I allow myself a bit of ease.