The art of just being—Safe in your own skin

Several weeks ago I sprained my ankle.  I have a trick ankle–(I have always wanted to call some body part a trick whatever ;-)–but the only trick that this ankle does is to randomly give out from time to time.  This ankle has given out so many times in my life that I have lost count.  The last time it had happened was two and a half-year prior, and before that three of so years prior, only that time the trick had me tumbling down a flight of stairs and left me with a foot broken in two places.  Of course, the break took priority over the weak ankle, so I never mentioned it to a doctor, nor had I ever treated it properly when it is sprained.  This last time though, I quit what I was doing fairly soon after I had hit the ground, and instead of trying to carry on as I normally would have, I told my client I could not finish.  I went straight to the store and bought two bags of frozen peas, some ibuprofen, and an Ace bandage.

Once I was home, I wrapped the ankle, took some medication for the pain and inflammation, and I elevated my ankle and iced it every two hours and I did this for four whole days.  It was a bad sprain.  My son was with his father that week, so I could actually take care of my poor ankle the way I knew I should have been care for each and every time.   I learned a lot during that time I was laid up.  In the past, I had always hated being laid up.  I am a mover and a shaker.  I had a friend who once told me, many years ago, that even when I was sitting perfectly still, it was as if I was vibrating.  I chalked that up to being a high-strung, expressive, high energy person, and to some degree, I believe that is true.  But these days, I am not strung nearly as high as I used to be.  These days, I can just be.

I had no problem at all laying in bed with my foot up for hours while I read.  I greatly enjoyed laying on my couch just thinking while I iced my ankle.  I felt relaxed and I feel comfortable with just being and I felt more than comfortable with taking care of myself properly.  I felt at peace.  It was lovely.  Of course, I had a lot of time to think and I realized that even two years ago I might not have been able to give myself this  type care.  In fact, I am certain I would not have been able to, and three years ago, there would have been no way I could have held still for even twenty minutes to ice my ankle.  What had changed after a lifetime of moving and shaking?  I finally felt safe in my own skin, and I finally felt safe to be myself fully, and that has only happen in the last year or so.

I thought back to three years ago.  It was shortly after I had left my marriage and I felt happy and free, but I was not relaxed.  I loved where my son and I were living, and I was making life changing choices, but I was wound so tightly that, in retrospect, I am surprised I survived.  I kept having random panic attacks that just came out of nowhere, like the great heart attack that wasn’t a heart attack incident on Thanksgiving night of 2009.  My kids had been home, and we had enjoyed a splendid evening, and a wonderful meal.  With the exception of my little boy, they had gone off to their Dad’s, and I was downloading pictures when I began to have chest pains.  I finally called 911, and there was an ambulance ride, and my adult sons came back over to fetch their brother, and in the end it was all anxiety. As I told the ER doctor, “I think I really just need a good cry.”  After my EKG and lab tests were fine, he agreed, and sent us all home.

The stress of that time still floors me when I think about it.  I had left a hideous marriage with nothing but a child and  duffel bag of clothing.  I knew I was going to prison and I knew I had a horrible divorce to look forward to getting through.  On the outside, I looked fine, but on the inside I was terrified and stressed beyond what most people could handle.  One night I was knitting and I realized that I was sitting perched on the edge of the couch.  I then realized that I never sat back.  I could not relax enough to do more than perch anxiously on the edge of the couch.  When I laid my head on the pillow at night, I had to consciously relax my neck enough so that my head was actually on the pillow, not hovering over it.  Amazingly, I thought I was doing really well at the time, too.

Now I have survived the divorce from hell and all ended well.  I survived prison and while in prison, I got to the core of my pain from age 5 forward and I uncovered my authentic self and have learned to love, respect, appreciate, and care for her—for me.  I know now that the all of that high-strung, ever-moving, vibrating person was me working as hard as I could, with all the power that I had at my disposal, to contain a lifetime of unexpressed emotions and pain.  I certainly expressed emotions, but not the ones that needed to be expressed, and I certainly felt pain, but I drank to cover that up so I could go on for another day holding everything in and functioning to the best of my ability.

Those two years prior to going into prison were like transition in labor.  Things had kicked into high gear, and everything that I had been repressing was screaming to get out, but there was no safe place yet.  Prison was the safe place where there were two very safe people to guide me through the birth of myself and the pain that accompanied the birth.  Now I have no problem just being.  When I work, I work hard, and I move fast, but a lot of the free-floating, hard to contain, frenetic energy is gone.  I do not have to work anymore hold in pain, or sadness, or anger.  It is gone, for the most part, and anything new that crops up is dealt with promptly and easily.  I can and do take care of myself now.  I have no problem setting limits, and it is becoming easier for me to say “no” when I need to say it.  I feel safe because I know it is me who keeps me safe with proper boundaries, kindness, and self-love which is something I denied myself for a very long time.

When I had returned to work after my sprained ankle one of my clients said, “Well, you had a nice little break, didn’t you?”  The comment came from a woman who cannot care for herself to save her life, and the comment was intended to induce guilt.  In the past, I would have felt the need to defend myself, or to justify my actions.  This time I said nothing because I knew I did not need to justify caring for myself.  I just glanced at her, smiled, and kept working.  After a bit, she said, “You really needed to do that, though, didn’t you?  You needed to take care of yourself.”  I replied, “Yes, I did.”

I need to care for myself every day and I will continue to do it, even if some do not understand.  I am safe in my own skin.  I can just be now and that is a miracle.  The true beauty of it all, though, is the fact that now that I allow myself to be me, and I care for myself, everyone else gets to be whoever they are and that is okay.  The only person I have to live with 24/7 for the rest of my life is me.  I get top priority now and by ranking myself that way, everyone in my life benefits greatly.  What a blessed thing it is just being me–finally.  It was well worth the wait.

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18 thoughts on “The art of just being—Safe in your own skin

  1. Wow…thank you I needed this. I recently left an abusive 22 year marriage with nothing but my clothes. Its been two years. I’ve been busy trying to rebuild my life & try to provide as much stability for my to young adult daughters. Assuring them that our financial stability is just around the corner. Sometimes I get so tired feeling like I am desperately treading water & I want to scream UNFAIR…it’s nice to not feel alone with this feeling & I love your perspective.

    • I had to chuckle when I read your comment, because for me, for the very longest time, my biggest stumbling block was my perpetual inability to wrap my head around “life isn’t fair.” God knows my mother tried to drill that into my head, but I couldn’t get it—I didn’t want to get it. Life should be fair!! Right?? No, somehow, along with everything else that I got figured out in the last couple of years, I am finally a peace with life not being fair. I am a pro water treader—we live a very modest lifestyle with nothing left over, but it is so much better than where I was…where we were. I feel like the most blessed woman on earth most days, and on the days that I start to fret over money, I remind myself that it always works out. It is hard, and somewhere in the rebuilding and reinventing and parenting and earning a living has to come time for the healing. When the healing happens, it changes the way everything looks and gratitude just flows… You are not alone, and I hate to sound like Little Mary Sunshine, but if I had to trade things for my authenticity I’d do it again without a second though! Hand in there! We will get where we are going and it is going to be great! It already is! Xoxoxo

  2. What an amazing story of courage to face the healing that needed to happen so that you could learn to take care of yourself like this and to relax enough to “just be.” Brava! Your story is always such an inspiration to me, and I rejoice with you that you are now able to treat yourself with such care.

    • Thank you, KJ. Thank you very much! I am having fun now, and that is a blessed reward. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for fun before, but I am learning…it’s part of that self-care thing, too. I think you’re getting pretty good at it yourself! Xoxoxo

    • Thank you and bah! I saw the doctor about my ankle yesterday. I have an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon next week. PT does not help ligaments that have been stretched beyond their ability to heal. Did I say bah! A 4-6 week recovery time…when I am ready to do it, as if I will ever be able to afford to take that kind of time off. Bah! If I’d taken better care of this ankle years ago. Bah! LOL 😉

    • I learned a lot of things in school and then in college, and self-care just wasn’t a topic being offered for study. The theory I was taught was to suck it up, keep quiet, and keep going 😉 My son, the computer genius, also tells me that I fail at “cord management.” Cord management was also not an elective 30 some years ago, either. There were two cords—the phone and the TV…what was there to manage? I have a ways to go yet with the self care, but I am making progress. Just to be able to relax is huge for me. I’ll deal with my cord management issues at another time. Thank you, mimi!

      • Laughing – I thought ‘cord management’ had to do with cutting the cord between mom and son – and I wanted to assure you that I think that is a long term challenge!! 😉

      • Yes, I am still working on it! He’s my youngest of the first six kids, so he’s been harder. Who am I kidding? Every single one has been hard as heck to let go of, and it’s still a challenge…LOL!

  3. I loved the transition, the learning to take care of yourself but mostly the teaching at the end. Perhaps with just that gentle smile you lit just a small flame with that woman. It is so difficult to learn this lesson of self care. I am still trying, still working my way towards this. Wonderful, thank you.

    • Thank you, Valentine. I am heaving a heavy sigh because the woman, my friend, is 76 years old, and I do not think she wants to learn self-care. I have broached the topic with her many times, but her self worth comes from constantly doing for others, and her secondary gain comes from feeling like a martyr and being resentful. I wish her happiness more than anything, bit I have had to pull back quite a lot. It’s too hard for me to watch… I, too, and still learning, but is gets easier every day. My toenails need some painting, though 😉 All we can do is to keep moving forward and a baby step is better than no step at all! Xoxoxo

  4. Yes indeed how well I relate your story. I too have suffered panic attacks for years! This past June and July I was in & out of the emergency room with rapid heart rate and as I was whisked over to the ER the paramedic attending me also commented on my eyes & how they showed such deep sorrow..My body is in a constant knot from being stoic and taking it on the chin.. At least our bodies know when we’ve had enough of the emotional pain. Oh to be free like you!

    • Barbara, you know that I pray for you every day and the the biggest part of my praying is about getting you out to a safe place where you can be happy and free. God wants that for you. I want that for you. You are a beautiful woman and you deserve all good things! I wish that I were nearer so that I could help you, because I’d be there in a heart beat! Xoxoxo

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