I have epiphanies in the bathtub. Really, really important ones that shock me right back into breathing. Because sometimes I forget to breathe, particularly during stressful days like today. Not breathing is one of my defense mechanisms that works because it lets me feel like I have at least some semblance of control. Here’s how it works: when one mini crisis comes, I unconsciously hold my breath for a few seconds, then breathe out so I don’t pass out and repeat until said mini crisis is over. The bigger the crisis, the longer I hold my breath, or take really short, shallow breaths which don’t allow my lungs to fill with oxygen. At the time, I truly don’t realize what I’m doing. Not until about twenty minutes after the storm and I’ve had time to mentally recuperate and assess any damage do I finally drag a long breath in until I can feel my lungs expanding. Then, I go about my day as if it was all sunshine and roses because, if I don’t, I’ll get caught in the Pessimistic Quicksand I so fear.
This trait probably helped me survive a traumatic childhood but it has its flaws. Namely, the part where I just go about the day, refusing to personally acknowledge any struggle. This is bad for probably lots of reasons but, mainly, because it means I forget to take care of me. Rather a lot.
It was a bad, bad day. At the end of the bad day, once the girls were asleep, I started running a bubble bath without consciously thinking about it. I lit one candle and lay back in the bubbles. My eyes open, I spied my phone sitting on the back of the toilet. Without thinking, I sat up and created a playlist that had three songs: Tanya Tucker’s “Strong Enough to Bend” which is kind of like my personal motto, Travis Tritt’s “Drift off to Dream” because it gives me a reason to keep dreaming of a fairytale and Lady Antebellum’s “Golden” because every word in that song melts my heart. Turned the volume down low, put the playlist on repeat. Then, I lay back in the tub and closed my eyes.
I never, ever do this. Ever. Not once. My bi-weekly, candle lit bubble baths embrace silence; in fact, silence is sought after as a means of comfort during my bubble baths. But. The thing is, you see, music has an analgesic effect on my heart. Writing helps heal my wounds; music awakens my soul to the presence of joy. It soothes me and can lift my mood by the second chorus. Singing happens without thought and regardless if I’m alone or with strangers. If I know the words, I sing. And by so doing, I walk out of any sadness I feel. Music, and singing, are rather magic in the way they propel me into a circle of peace.
In short, music soothes me.
I lay in the bubbles and sang along. The first time. The second time through the playlist, though, I didn’t sing. I closed my eyes and made a concentrated effort to just listen. The deep beauty stirred my heart and then a thought whispered through my mind like wind through a willow tree: “Be good to yourself”
I joke that there isn’t time to take care of myself: I’m fine. It’s everybody else that needs something: food to eat, a lesson to learn, a new manuscript, a speech, a birthday surprise, etc. I don’t use sticky notes or a calendar but everything is etched in my mind and the list never ends. That’s the reason progress has killed or maimed so many–because if we don’t get everything on today’s list done, it’ll be bigger tomorrow and we’ll get behind and, if we get behind, we’ll never find Utopia. So we work round the clock, we invent reasons to be busy, and we say it’s all for a family we never get to see because we never get caught up. I’m not in the corporate world–but I feel the rat race anyway. Somehow, I find a way to meet the expectations. I’m very, very good at that because I want people to have a reason to let me be a part of their lives.
Until I stop breathing.
Tonight, in the bath, it occurred to me that, as long as I am neglecting myself, I will never be able to give 100% to anyone else — even my girls. I needed a space to stitch up little holes the day had torn in my confidence and heart. A bubble bath helped–but didn’t provide enough thread to mend all the holes. I needed another bit of selfish indulgence. Tonight, that missing piece was music. And only after soaking up the beat and the bubbles was I ready to shake the day’s debris off. When I don’t care for myself, a crumb of the day’s sour taste lingers on.
I have a hard time indulging myself with frivolous things like bubble baths because I am so dreadfully afraid of being selfish. But if I refuse to take a bubble bath or listen to music because it’s not “the right day” (I’ve done that), if I deny myself the things that make me happy and give rest to my heart, then ultimately, I’m little more than an American-made car that’s running on empty. Soon, my fuel will run out and then what?
And then my girls will become women who believe they aren’t worthy of happiness. They will deny themselves the things that bring them pleasure because they’ll think it makes them bad people. They will never learn to look in a mirror and see themselves as lovely but will instead feel like they are climbing a never ending ladder trying to find recognition and acceptance.
I can’t let that happen. Life is too beautiful and precious and lovely to live drained and ashamed that you exist. It’s too much of a gift to believe you have to earn the right to be happy, like I do. Humans are the only species, out of millions, that have the level of intelligence and abilities that we have: failing to believe in ourselves is failing to acknowledge the massive potential that exists in each of us. God didn’t make the world–and then me as an afterthought; instead, He made me for a purpose and out of immense love. Taking care of ourselves and remembering to breathe real breaths is like giving ourselves a hug. And everybody knows that hugs are the best at inspiring hope, solace and peace.
And so, I can’t feel guilty for the hour it took to soak the crumbs of the day away instead of finishing work for my classes or packing for another adventure-laden, fun day tomorrow. Instead, I think I’ll break my self-imposed rule of only having one bubble bath every other week and have one again tomorrow. With music.