I moved to Bloomington in August 2016 to begin law school. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to continue acing all my classes and having time for a job, volunteer for the church, and hang out with family and friends.
Goodness, how naïve I was!
That first year of law school was really tough. Up until then, school had been relatively easy. I went into it knowing that it would be a lot of work, but also with every intention of still living my life. I soon realized that making time for myself would be much more difficult than I’d expected. Law school has been anything but a breeze and a lot of my self-care/mental health practices/consciousness of things other than law school went out the window.
We live in a society that happily touts the phrase “treat yourself,” which doesn’t seem to mean ‘take care of yourself,’ but rather ‘treat yourself whenever and however you want as often as you please.’
How can we find a balance between taking care of ourselves and acknowledging our needs while also remembering that we live in the world but are not of the world? Gluttonous desire for treating ourselves is not attractive in the eyes of God.
Still, it is not virtuous to ignore our needs, whether they are physical needs (healthy diet, exercise, doctor appointments, maybe even a pedicure), mental needs (a conversation with a good friend, a call home, seeking professional help), or most importantly spiritual needs (a long chat with the Lord, holy hours, frequenting the sacraments, attending mass, spiritual reading, going to that Bible study, etc.).
For me, I was so overwhelmed with keeping up with the readings every night and being prepared in case I got cold-called (lol) that I began to slip out of my healthy habits. I began to view my self-care habits as “treats” so-to-speak. Going on a run or taking the time to do my hair became optional, things I would do later or when I finished my readings.
This is dangerous territory to fall into because it is only a matter of time until you begin daydreaming during mass thinking about all the things you have to do when you get home or skipping meals because you don’t have time or energy to cook or ignoring the anxiety that seems to be building up inside you. Like me. This is what happened to me. And I didn’t realize it until I was a little too far in for everything to be fixed by a run or some pilates or a meal.
Things have definitely improved for me over the past year as I am more aware of the needs I have and can more effectively distinguish a need from a treat. A need for me turns out to be eating a healthy, vegan diet. A treat, on the other hand, looks more like getting my nails done.
After this latest semester, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. And I recognized that I needed a break. So my family went camping. We camped in the Brown County State Park, which is absolutely stunning! As Michael and I drove through the park, we kept saying things like “this is so beautiful,” and “I can’t believe we haven’t been here before.” The worst part is that the park is only about 20 minutes from where we live.
The busyness of law school, of wedding planning, of stressing about whatever else had kept us from venturing out of our 10-mile bubble which includes our church, school, grocery store, and taco bell. Really though. We were so busy that we failed to take an afternoon to check out a gorgeous place like the state park that was a mere 20 minutes away from our stresses.
That camping trip, we marveled at the beauty of the campfire, took a nap in a kayak, prayed together, and let ourselves feel how small we are while hiking in the huge forest.
Needs are sometimes different than treats but sometimes they are one in the same. Treats are not bad, just as I’m sure your mother told you that sweets are not bad (as long as you have them in moderation). This weekend camping and admiring God’s beauty in nature might have been both a need and a treat and I am so grateful for this new attitude and outlook on life.
I greatly encourage you to look inward and make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Do not neglect your physical, mental, or spiritual needs. And don’t be afraid to treat yourself every now and then. 😊