My Self-Care Journey3:45 PM
"Hema I think this is not good for you".
"Hema you have to go there".
"Hema you can't do this without my permission".
That's how I spent most of my first 25 years. Doing what others wanted me to do. I never dared break the rules that were set for me, for fear of being caught and punished. I was extremely sensitive and submissive.
Looking back, I realize I did way more than I should have done. "She's a nice girl", this is what everybody used to say, but something about being called 'nice' didn't sound right. I was still young and immature. I did not know any other way to be nice except by pleasing others. I was 'nice' but I hardly progressing.
When I look back I know I was leading an average life. I did what was expected of me. I never allowed myself to dream big. Nobody had ever humiliated or put me down as I did to myself.
I used to look myself in the mirror and go, "Look at yourself. Do you think you'll ever be able to do what you want? Just settle with what you have and what you have become".
I had sealed my fate.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the better when I got married and migrated to Australia in 2010. At first, I held on to my old self but struggled a lot. I remember starting University and desperately in need of a job to be able to pay my school fees and living costs.
But things didn't work out as I had hoped. I went for a few interviews only to get rejected. I was told I was too soft, lacked self-confidence and one even told me "you have to grow up a little bit". I thought they were being rude to me. Looking back, I couldn't have gotten a more honest feedback than that.
When I finally got my first job as a waitress, I failed miserably. This wasn't my cup of tea.
I'll never forget that one night while serving a customer, my hands shook badly, which led to spilling a glass of water on the customer's table. I quickly went to grab a cloth. Once inside, I was badly reprimanded by my employer. I came back to wipe the table, but this time trying to hold back tears, but in vain. I felt like a failure.
The elderly gentleman obviously noticed my plight and struck up a conversation. (He must have heard me being scolded).
"Don't worry, it's just a glass of water," he said.
I looked at him and gave a timid smile.
"How long have you been in Australia?"
"Two months", I said with a curious frown on my face.
"I can tell. My dear, your body language projects awkwardness, a lot of hesitation and lack of self-esteem."
He said that with such certainty and so gently like he had known me forever.
I felt horrible. I wished I could creep into a hole and hide there forever. That's how ashamed I felt.
I was offended. Instead of comforting me... Man! He was rubbing salt on my wounds and made me feel worse!
I wanted to get away from him, but then came the twist.
He continued as to what would be my very first life lesson or should I say 'self-care lesson' or maybe 'survival lesson' in Australia. Call it what you want.
It remains ingrained in my brain to this day.
"My dear, Australia is a lucky country, but also an unforgiving one. You will be tested and tossed around like a golf ball. If you are not mentally strong, you will be literally brought down to your knees. It will be hard for you to survive, let alone succeed in this country".
I stood still, looked him in the eyes and knew not how to respond.
He asked, "Do you want to live here?"
"Yes," I said with conviction.
"Then step it up. Move on. Don't get worked up about little things like this (pinpointing at the split water). Know your worth or you'll be bullied and treated with no respect all life long. Take a deep breath, dust yourself off and remember self-care is self-respect."
This time, he sounded tough and spoke like he meant every single word he uttered.
I gave a hesitant thankful nod and went back to work. The unknown gentleman dined and disappeared into the darkness never to be seen again.
For days and nights, those words kept ringing in my head.
He had prompted me to ask myself tons of questions.
- Why would a stranger advice me?
- Do I really lack self-esteem?
- Was I not taking care of myself?
- How did he notice my weakness?
I tried to figure out the real meaning of SELF CARE. I googled incessantly about it.
I gave up everything I had in my home country to start from scratch in an unknown land. At this point I felt I had no identity. I now began to doubt myself. Was it a wise decision to come to Australia?
Was I strong enough to keep going in this country? NO, I wasn't even close to strong.
But I wasn't prepared to give up either. It was a dream for my husband and I to give ourselves a new chance at life, start from scratch and see where we would end up.
I wasn't going to let that go in vain without giving it my best shot.
"Remember self-care is self-respect", those were his last words to me.
With unending support from my husband, I gradually let go of the negative self-image I had of myself that were hampering my personal development. It often was overwhelming because I was a mess and there was so much to unlearn and learn. I'd often sit and cry it all out before getting back up again.
Since taking care of myself, my life began to improve. It was a slow and steady progress. Nevertheless, I began achieving things I never thought possible. Funnily enough, I was being called selfish by a few. 'Selfish' because I had begun taking care of myself. 'Selfish' because I had stopped being submissive. 'Selfish' because I had decided to stay true to myself and do what I wanted.
Oh well! If what's known as self-care to me....translates as selfish to others so be it. You can't please everybody. Can you? As I grew older, I realized the better I served myself the better I was able to serve others.
Dear friends, such is life.
There will always be situations that will get the better of you, or that one person who will try to intimidate you, put you down and bring nothing but negativity in your life. As long as you allow yourself to be controlled by another, you will never be happy. It's your life. Know when and where to draw the line and say, 'I've had it, enough is enough'.
Start taking care of yourself. You will be called all sorts of names for doing so....selfish, arrogant, self absorbed....but that shouldn't bother you. Because you need to decide what you want for yourself and go after it. People will always talk, name and shame you no matter what.
Get over it! You're not the first to be criticized for no reason. Learn to ignore whatever doesn't do you any good. Put yourself high up on your priority list. Treat yourself well and the world will do too.
Here are a number of ways you can adopt to take care of yourself.
- Try not to complain too much.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others.
- Let go of what you cannot control.
- Exercise daily. It will boost your self-confidence.
- Do not resist how you feel. It's OK to feel sad. It's perfectly human.
- Be human. Embrace your imperfections. They make of you, YOU.
- Stay away from people who bring unnecessary drama and negativity into your life.
- Stop talking yourself out of your dreams.
- Spend at least 20 minutes alone every single day.
- Smile. There's always something to smile about.
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
- Compliment yourself on the good qualities that you have.
- Avoid looking for approval outside of yourself.
- Trust your gut instincts. You will know if it's right or wrong.
- For you girls/ladies. Sport your natural look. You are beautiful. Let people see the real YOU.
- Keep a Self Care Journal and note down one thing you do every day to take care of yourself.
- Make a list of what it is you want to improve about yourself. Self improvement is the key to success.
- Take a long walk along the beach or in a park.
- Nourish your body properly and indulge on few occasions.
- Establish boundaries separating work from home.
- Avoid negative self-talk at all cost.
- Be wary of those who manipulate you for their own benefits.
- Inspire yourself with these beautiful deck of cards.
- Learn, learn, learn. Learn as long as you live. It will keep your mind young.
- Listen to inspiring Ted Talks. Here's one of my favorite talks.
That's how I take care of myself and the list keeps growing every single day. I have never been so much in love with myself. I always find ways to pamper and love myself better. For those who have been with me and seen my growth in Australia, would know I have come a long way.
I am strong-willed, confident and speak up for myself and for anybody being treated unfairly.
I am still a work in progress and I am loving it.
"I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes".
Oh! Here's a good opportunity to thank the elderly gentleman who gave me that golden nugget of wisdom and literally changed my life. If you are reading this, Thank You! You have had a crucial role to play in who I have become today!