When I saw the article “Anxiety Survival Tips I Learned from My Cat” pop up on my Facebook newsfeed, I opened it expecting a few chuckles about how cat antics relate to human life. Instead I got an article about how a woman’s cat has helped her cope with anxiety, and how she has learned to apply cat philosophy to her own life.
This paragraph had me in tears:
So today I am taking care of myself like a cat would. I will eat and sleep and drink enough water. I will be present and gentle with myself. I will play when I need a break from working and will not apologize for putting on my own figurative oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs. Change will come, but I’ll always have cat naps.
As someone who suffers from anxiety, this really spoke to me. Too often we go about our lives fulfilling the expectations of others without realizing our own oxygen tanks are depleted.
At work, a million demands (only a slight exaggeration) await me at every turn. Sometimes I find myself physically unable to comprehend something a coworker is saying to me, yet I still do not take a break. I push through and work harder, open a few more emails, start more projects when others ask me to, because that is what a good business person does. Being unable to carry the full burden is not an option for me, even as I buckle beneath the weight of it all.
At home, I have to do laundry, cook dinner, clean house, and a plethora of other responsibilities that always seem to find a way out of the woodwork. Any attempt to retreat to my bedroom amidst the shadow of a sink full of dishes is swathed in guilt, which is its own sort of anxiety.
I stay awake until the wee hours of the morning blogging, writing, marketing my published works, because if I work hard enough I will make a living as a writer and all the other stress (see above) will fade away. I’ll be able to quit the day job, have more time with my kids, the house, etc. And when I check my sales reports on Amazon and pull up my book trailer on Youtube, I am hit with the realization that the overnight success stories make the news because they are uncommon. If I want to succeed I need to try harder, stay up later, and keep going until my fingers bleed.
Through it all, I am gasping for air.
I “relax” by going to church, but too often I am so focused on ministering to others I forget to allow myself to be ministered to.
I fight my introverted personality by forcing myself to be an extrovert, which often backfires when I become so overwhelmed I find myself retreating into my safe haven of isolation. Any fledgling friendships are quickly snuffed out by my sudden departure from this world I have built for myself, which I cannot sustain because it goes against the core of who I am.
But what if I were to be kinder to myself? What if I allowed myself to be selfish? What if I stopped blaming myself for not being an overnight publishing sensation, for not always being the corporate star, and for not being part of the social elite? What if I took time to secure my own oxygen mask?
The truth is, I am often forced to retreat into isolation, where I avoid calls and texts until people stop trying, I fail at work, I stop writing, and I let the dishes pile up. I have learned the hard way that if you do not rest, your body (smart thing that it is) will make you. And when the smoke clears I find myself friendless with a lot of messes to clean up.
Today I am inspired to make a conscious choice to rest before my body demands it. I choose to say “no” when work projects pile too high. I am deciding to trust that my writing will take off when it is meant to and that banging on that closed door will not produce the key, even if I try until my knuckles bleed. I will step away from social engagements when I am too tired or not up to the anxiety of being in a social situation, even if that means fledgling friendships will not grow as quickly as I’d hope. A true friend should know me for the introverted me that I am, anyway.
I choose to take a cat nap from life, take time to regroup, and know that I will be stronger because of it.