Last weekend, my husband and I ventured out to a local festival, the Tomato Art Festival (yes, it’s what it sounds like — an homage to all things tomato). We had a delightful time, taking in tomatoey goodness and chatting with neighbors we hadn’t seen in awhile.
A few hours after we got home, though, I felt less than delightful. My right knee was swollen, aching and hardly functional.
And this wasn’t the first time.
What’s Up, Doc?
Ever the optimist, I decided to get myself to a doc — just as a precautionary measure. I was sure it was just a quick ice/rest thing — no biggie.
The doc had good news and bad — the good news is that my knees are overall in pretty good shape, and the long-term prognosis for my right knee is positive — if handled well now.
And therein lies the rub.
Because the bad news is that without physical therapy, rest and exquisite care for the next several months, my right knee will get much worse. It’s likely become like this due to an ankle injury from 4 years ago that never properly healed (because my doctor told me to go on a diet instead of actually getting the help I needed until it was too late).
You know those little nagging aches and pains that we (or, at least, I) routinely ignore? Because stopping to deal with them would be too inconvenient?
Yeah, it’s one of those. Except now it’s yelling instead of nagging.
My first instinct was to come up with a plan for all the ways it would be fine to do the workshops anyway. Surely with a knee brace, ibuprofen, icing before/after, an assistant for the workshop, riding one of those beeping thingies at the airport, rest for a couple days before/after, I’d be able to make it through.
I could teach, have fun meeting people, come home, rest and do it again the next weekend. Yes, it would take a lot out of me, but not disappointing people is more important, right?
I find, perhaps unsurprisingly, that my second instinct is usually best regarding self-care.
Because my first is always to throw myself under the bus.
On second thought, I realized that sacrificing my long-term knee health and well-being probably wasn’t that great of an idea. And I also recognized that “making it through” isn’t what I want to be about as a person or teacher.
Of course, I work with students with knee problems all the time. It’s one of the primary things I teach the Curvy Yoga teachers. But my first priority with my students is always to follow their doctor’s recommendation, so I didn’t think it was right to not hold myself to the same standard.
When I checked in with my body and heart about what was best to do, the answer was clear.
I knew I had to cancel.
But I still couldn’t trust it. Was I just making an excuse? Or was doing it despite what I knew to be best the excuse to keep up my non-self-care ways?
This past week has put me up against all of my baggage. It hits all my buttons about not disappointing people, my personal worth being in my work, the idea that taking care of myself is selfish in a bad way and even my body image.
To say I’ve been in the weeds a bit is an understatement.
I’ve had my commitment to self-care tested beyond belief. I had all my ingrained working-hard-is-what-makes-you-a-good-person beliefs up against my more newly developed if-you-don’t-take-care-of-yourself-you-can’t-do-anything-else beliefs.
I was (very) often in doubt over which would win.
I described this to a friend as being in a shame sandwich. And I think that’s going to be a metaphor I work with for awhile – because that’s exactly what these situations feel like, right?
We feel trapped, sometimes even smothered, between our competing beliefs, our gut instinct and our “shoulds.”
Some people have already told me that they are angry with and disappointed in me for deciding to cancel. I knew that might happen, though, and I certainly respect their feelings and opinion. I know that not everyone would have chosen the same.
I very nearly didn’t myself.
When I read the angry responses, I first felt a flush of shame, followed by righteous indignation. “Where do they get off?!”
But then I took a few deep breaths and gave myself some time. I saw how clearly their response had just as much to do with them as it did with me. And I realized that my job wasn’t to talk them out of being angry, to convince them how awesome I am — it was to explain my position further with compassion and love and then leave it at that.
Even if they remained angry. Even if I lost a relationship.
I can’t even tell you how simultaneously proud and pukey it makes me to say that out loud. I knew someone was disappointed in me, and I didn’t recant and sacrifice myself just to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
(In case you’re wondering, yes; this may be the first time I’ve been brave enough to do this. And yes, I’m pretty sure it’s a miracle — a minor one, at least.)
I made my final decision to cancel the tour when I realized this – that what I teach above anything else is self-care. This is the (clearly ongoing) lesson of my life and what I’m here to talk about. Yoga is my vehicle to this work because it enables us to get really clear and listen to what our bodies are telling us.
Not only that, it teaches us how to act on what we hear.
This decision – to take care of ourselves or sacrifice our wellbeing for something/someone else – is one we’re each faced with on a regular basis. I often feel I’m faced with this daily, if not hourly.
It comes up in myriad small and big ways – “Do I have lunch at my desk while catching up on email, or do I eat at a nearby picnic table and take 30 minutes to rest and renew?” “How do I tell my family member that I can no longer be their stand-in therapist?” “It won’t be a big deal if I stay up three hours late tonight, right?” “I’m sure that pain I’m feeling is nothing; there’s no need to spend the time/money to get it checked out.”
Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t stay in my integrity as a teacher if I chose to sacrifice my health for doing this tour. I would feel like a fraud, and I don’t think that feeling is particularly conducive to any of us being able to learn more and go deeper.
And, really, I think this is at the root of all of our self-care decisions. How can we stay in our own integrity while also being in relationship with others?
Because of course, of course, I want to see and spend time with y’all! I’ve been so looking forward to this!
But on the other hand, I know that self-care is an inside job, and that no one would stop me from not prioritizing it. Not really, anyway.
So although we won’t be able to meet in person this time around, I have some other fun fall plans cooking that I hope to share with you in the coming weeks.
If you’re one of the precious people who already purchased a ticket for a workshop in your area (thank you, thank you!), you will receive a follow-up email shortly. If you purchased from me, you will receive your refund by the end of the week. And if you purchased from a local studio, they will be in touch soon.
Thank you in advance for your continued support and commitment to your own self-care, especially when it feels impossible. And when you worry that letting yourself down is the better option than letting others down. And when you get caught in the story that you will lose everything by making one decision to be kind to yourself. And when you feel you’d rather sacrifice your health than feel embarrassed or ashamed or frustrated (because, trust me, I’ve been feeling ALL of that) by telling the truth.
We each have to renew our commitment to ourselves on a regular basis, and if I can’t do it, I can’t have a conversation with you about it, either.
Here’s to all of us making our self-care a priority. I’m so humbled and honored to be in this process (and goodness knows it is one!) with you.