I won't apologize for putting my well-being first. Told at an early age that I was selfish, I did everything in my power to avoid that label; that label made me unloveable, that label brought shame, that label brought with it shoulds and ought tos that were, at times, unbelievably hard to maintain. For too many years, I put me second.
I put me second to win my parents' love. I put me second to keep friends and maintain my first marriage. I put me second in caring for my autistic son. I put me second by wearing a mask every single day to be the person that fit everone else's expectations.
The fear of anxiety was a motivating force to keep me compliant; to be controlled, to stay immobilized in choices that didn't serve my health or my happiness. The sadness and despair of depression kept me locked in my own mind; a prisoner in an unlocked cage, too weak to break free from other's boundaries. The pain of Fibromyaglia brought limitations yet at the same time brought truths that my mind didn't want to acknowledge. Over time, the box became too constricting; the label became too heavy to bear.
When was I allowed to set the boundaries for what my life could or could not look like?
When was I allowed to determine who could or wouldn't be a part of my life?
When was I allowed to throw off the mask and simply be me?
When would my well-being be allowed to come first?
Through many trying years of managing anxiety, depression and chronic pain I've talked with many therapists and counsellors who've taught me the same lesson.
Sometimes, it's okay to put me first.
Sometimes, it's okay to say no.
Sometimes it's okay to step away from responsibilites, especially if they are harmful to my well-being.
Sometimes, it's okay to put myself first for the purpose of self-care.
Sometimes, it's okay to let people go and set boundaries for what I will or won't allow.
The label isn't selfish; it's self-loving.
Did I know this truth, all those years ago? Have the last twenty-plus years of my life been an unlearning of everyone else's opinions and expectations? Does having anxiety, depression, and chronic pain make sure that self-love and self-care will always be at the forefront of my daily experience? Did “selfish” come to be my teacher?
Through too many breakdowns, too many panic attacks and too much pain, I have now come to be unapologetic for putting me first.
If I'm depressed, I will give myself the time to work through my sadness and say no to engagements that, even well-meaning, will steer me away from my sacred healing.
If I'm anxious, I will do the same. I will honour my intuition and integrity and say no. If
I'm in pain, I won't try to push past it for someone else's benefit and make sure I take the rest and recovery time needed to bring me back to health.
Now, my well-being comes first.
Tracy Kelly is a writer and artist from London, Ontario Canada who manages Anxiety, Depression and Fibromyalgia.