You might not know this about me, but I have a weird emotional connection to the American election system. You might think this is because of my American friends - and it partly is - but it goes a lot deeper than that. You see, I was in Florida on November the 8th, 2016.
Yup. Of all my questionable decisions, vacationing in a hotly contested swing state on the day that changed the direction of a global superpower is right up there with the worst. I went to sleep comfortable in the belief that America was going Blue and well, we all know that worked out.
I woke up early that morning to a phone full of messages. A friend who had been threatened by her daughter's kindergarten teacher. Another friend sure she would die when Obamacare was repealed. Many many queer and disabled people reaching out to feel connected in the chaos. As someone who got to leave in six more days, my heart broke for them all - even the ones I hadn't met yet. Not a great start to a day in the "happiest place on earth"...
And then it got worse. I had an argument with my (now) ex-husband. Not a little one, an absolute fucking mess of an argument. I won't go into the he-said/she-said stuff, but suffice to say, I was hurting for the "people like me" that day and he... wasn't.
So on that day, in the car park of a Target, I made a big decision. No matter how it happened, I was done with disrespect about who I am as a person. If someone couldn't respect the fact that I was bisexual, disabled, female (and a bit... quirky...) then you bet I was putting a boundary there and KEEPING it there. I wasn't thinking about changing the bigger picture, because I honestly didn't have the brain space. I was making a change that was just for me.
Four years later, I am no longer married, my hair is pink, I run two businesses without burning out, and I live with my amazing partner and three idiotic cats. Times are still hard - there's a pandemic on after all - but I know that I am embodying the respect I want and changing the things I need to.
Is it okay to want changes "for me" when the world is on fire?
I think a lot of us are "programmed" to put ourselves way down our internal priority list. When I talk to people who are considering coaching, a lot of them say that prioritising themselves feels "selfish" or "wrong". I understand them - that was my objection too. I had people to care for, a job where people relied on me, and a list of causes that tore at my heart but felt unchanging. Picking something just "for me" seemed as foreign to me as biscuits and gravy (which seriously America, wtf?!)
Any of this sounding familiar?
The thing is - putting yourself way down the list just doesn't work in the longer term. I look back at my past and see that it was at the heart of my three epic burnouts, kept me in unhealthy relationships, and made me bitchy at work and a martyr at home. It kept me feeling sick, sad and stuck.
I'm feeling called out here, BUT...
If your brain is full of reasons why you shouldn't put yourself first right now, here are some thoughts from my brain to yours. They're not facts, they're just things to consider.
"People rely on me and I can't let them down" - You're right. There will be people in your world who rely on you. Who look to you when things get tough. Right now, there's plenty of tough to go around! If you're aware of how many people need you to stay functional right now, you could give this thought experiment a whirl: what would happen if you were so exhausted you got sick? If a migraine knocked you out for a few days, what would those people do then?
"I'm a mum and my kids come first" - First off, anyone raising a child in this world has my utmost respect. I've not done it yet, and I take my hat off to those who can keep a tiny human alive on a daily basis. You're shaping your kids into the adults they'll become. As a highly specialist Speech Therapist, I would tell you that modelling what you want to see in them is one of the most powerful ways to help them grow. So if you're noticing this thought, you could consider what parenting experience you'd like your kids to have when they're older. Where do you want them to be on their priority list?
"I don't want to hurt people" - I get it. I honestly do. Sometimes, it can feel like putting yourself first would mean that you upset your nearest and dearest. Putting a boundary in could mean that they won't get what they want, and it could cause conflict. But... what if there was a way to get what you need and leave everyone feeling okay? What difference would that make to you tomorrow?
"It all feels too much. I don't know where to start" - this is where I come to the title I started with... If things feel rotten right now, there may be a lot of changes you would want to put in place. No wonder that feels overwhelming! So, what would it be like with a guide? Someone to steer you through, one small step towards transformation at a time. Who could help you move from here to there peacefully?
At the start of this post, I made it seem simple. One day, one election result, one choice and BOOM! NEW LIFE! It makes for a compelling (and timely) blog post, but it's not the whole story. That decision wasn't created by just one argument - things had been feeling bad and I had been aware that I was sick and stressed for about two years by that point. I made the decision on November the 9th but by trying to make the changes solo, it took me another six months to do the thing I knew was what I most needed.
Things only started to snowball for me when I started being coached. Finally, I had someone to help me untangle the mess my mind had become. There were tools I could put in place when I was triggered into "snappy cow mode" or when I needed a new boundary where there wasn't one before. I learned - small step by small step - how to claim my own power. And it felt peaceful.
Now, what comes next for you?