My new mantra is “Make space for myself.” It has been nearly 18 years since I intentionally embarked upon this self-care journey and I still have difficulty putting my health and well-being ahead of the needs and desires of others. I often overfill my schedule and to-do list with meetings, projects, and activities that are largely for the benefit of other people. I say yes to things when I should say no, because I don’t want to disappoint. And I feel guilty about taking up space and time that I think should go to others.
I even feel guilty about how I utilize space in my own home. Last year, my mom moved out of our house, which left us with another (we already had one) spare bedroom. In a classic case of what my therapist calls “shoulding on myself” (say it out loud really fast), I decided that we should only have a house with a spare room if we used it to provide hospitality to other people. So I began making plans to refurbish it into a guest room. Mind you, we rarely have overnight guests and we already had a room that served as a guestroom/crafting space/gaming area/husband’s closet. But a “proper” guest room would let us offer better space for longer periods of time. After all, you never know when a friend or family member might need a place to stay for a while. And considering that we were so privileged to live in a house with more bedrooms than people, I figured it was the right thing to do.
Then came COVID-19. It quickly became clear that we would not be having guests anytime soon. And now that it was the only safe space for us to be, the guilt over being in a too-big house turned into relief that our family of introverts would be able to spread out enough to maintain our sanity while being stuck in the same place WITH PEOPLE every hour of every day.
When quarantine went into effect, I was preparing for a writing retreat at the Collegeville Institute (I name-dropped that for a reason so look them up!). I was planning to spend 25 days in an apartment by myself, with no duties other than writing and recovering from the cancer treatment journey of the past two years. I had anticipated being able to practice meditation and yoga on a more regular basis in a place where space and time were my own.
Ironically, I had originally been scheduled for this retreat in October 2018, but received news of my second breast cancer diagnosis less than two weeks before I was to leave. So it is an understatement to say that I was bummed when quarantine forced cancelling the rescheduled retreat. Given the careful planning that had been done to allow a retreat in the middle of a semester, I asked myself whether it would be possible to “retreat at home” and what I would need for that to happen.
I decided that I would need a space that felt like a getaway, a place where I could meditate and do yoga and spend hours reading and writing. So I created one. I moved my meditation altar, cushions, salt lamp, and yoga mat out of the corner in the master bedroom, and made them the focal point of this new space. I put up the relax/renew/refresh sign that I had made months earlier but never hung. I made new wall art and grabbed the Ma’at poster that had not found a place since we left Durham nine years ago. Instead of outfitting the room with a bed that would rarely be used, I added a papasan chair and ottoman. But the créme de la créme was the wall hanging.
Having an inviting space for meditation and yoga has turned out to be invaluable in maintaining a consistent practice. But it turned out to be only one of the many ways that I have been learning to make space for myself over the past few months. I have made literal space in a room in my home, yes, but I am also learning to make space in my schedule, to prioritize health practices in my daily routine, to protect time and energy for gardening and canning and cooking healthy meals. And I am learning to feel less guilty about using my privilege to make space for my health. Because health and well-being are human rights. They are my right and my responsibility and ultimately no one will make space for them on my behalf except me.
How might you make space for yourself in your life? Where do you need to show up better for yourself? What resources might you already have at your disposal? What permissions do you need to give yourself to use them?