I’ll never forget the day I went into my favorite store, White House Black Market, looking for something to wear to an event held in honor of my husband four days after his passing. I went in with my mom and one of my daughters. COVID-19 was just hitting, so there was barely anyone in the mall. The sales clerk said they were on the verge of closing the mall down, but there we were anyway. Because cancer knew nothing of COVID and COVID knew nothing of cancer. Death happens.
It seemed odd to be searching for dressy clothes when COVID was hitting and everything was about to be shut down out of fear for our lives. “Searching for anything special today?” asked the clerk. “No,” I replied, “just looking.” I’d told my mom to keep quiet about why we were in there. I didn’t want all the attention. I just wanted to look at my own pace and not have someone coming at me with 50 suggestions about what might be good to wear at a family-friendly event honoring my late husband’s life. It’s been six months since my husband’s passing, so I don’t recall the details of that day anymore, but I managed to keep the secret all the way to the point of the dressing room. I’d brought in all the pieces that seemed reasonable for the occasion. Time to get at it, try on all these wares and see what I might like to look like on the day I’d meet with neighbors, friends, and colleagues, mostly all young folks solidly sitting in the family rearing years.
I tried on one item after the next. Nothing was striking my fancy. Absolutely nothing.
The sales clerk asked again, “What kind of event are you needing this for?” I replied hesitantly, knowing my answer was going to cause waves of pity amongst all the clerks in the store, not to mention the waves of clothing that would start appearing once I admitted I was in there because my husband had passed and now I needed an outfit to wear to an event in his honor. But I gave in and answered honestly. Because as I stated, I hadn’t found a thing that felt right, and I honestly didn’t have time nor energy to scour the mall.
The clerk was kind. The diluge of clothing that appeared after my admission wasn’t nearly as annoying as I imagined it to be. What was shocking, though, was how terrible I felt in that dressing room as we continued to try to find something, now as a team instead of just me and my mom.
What I will never, ever forget is when I finally broke down and admitted to my mom and the sales clerk that I didn’t feel pretty, didn’t like the way I looked in anything, that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself for a good two years on this cancer journey. And honestly? Two years didn’t even cut it. The three years prior to that hadn’t been much better – a cross-country move, selling our house, my husband who had been laid off for 9 1/2 months, an ER visit and 10 days of panic attacks for me, a lung transplant and recovery for my dad, the discovery, diagnosis and treatment of my husband’s primary eye tumor, all while having JUST left my career to pursue writing and photography. I felt like crap standing there in that dressing room. The past five years had NOT gone the way I’d planned. At all. As I stood there, I could see clearly that stress had taken its toll.
I bought a pair of black dress pants, a silk cream shirt with embroidered black flowers on top, a long black cardigan, and a pair of flats. It was nice, but I didn’t feel special and I definitely didn’t feel beautiful.
The funny thing is, during the two years we journeyed through metastatic uveal melanoma, I’d begun to learn what extraordinary self care looked like. I forced myself to take time for myself, whatever that looked like. I took what I thought were extreme measures to keep myself alive and functioning to the very best of my ability. But I’ve since learned that extreme stress that lasts year upon year upon year takes a toll that can’t be measured until we’re truly out of the thick of it. Sure, I was learning how to practice extraordinary self care, but I didn’t have a clue how deep I was in stress. What I didn’t know at the time is that I was practicing extraordinary acts of self care just to stay ALIVE for my husband and my children. I was the strong one, the reliable one, the dependable one, the solid rock. I know you can relate. You’ve been there, right?
So now, six months later, when I look back at that day in the White House Black Market dressing room, I see clearly that even though I’d taken extraordinary measures to take extraordinary care of myself during my husband’s cancer journey, I was truly just surviving. I wasn’t thriving. When you’re in survival mode, extraordinary self care isn’t enough to bring you up and out. It’s only until you’re OUT OF survival mode that extraordinary self care will bring about the miracle you truly need.
So friends, I’m telling you now. If you’re IN survival mode taking care of all kinds of junk you never expected to endure in life, you need to treat yourself extraordinarily. If you’re just coming OUT of a long season of junk you never expected to endure in life, you ALSO need to treat yourself extraordinarily.
The Bible says “love your neighbor as yourself.” So what if you’ve loved your neighbor SO hard that you forgot to love yourself along the way? What if you’ve loved others so incredibly hard and given them your all that you forgot yourself in the process? How in the world are you going to recover? The Bible DOES SAY “as yourself.” There’s an assumption there that we’re going to care for ourselves and love ourselves. We must not dismiss this assumption.
I am happy, in fact beyond happy, to report that six months after my husband’s passing, I am finally feeling the positive effects of taking extraordinary care of my extraordinary self. These past six months, I’ve taken extraordinary measures to restore my body, soul, mind, heart, and every aspect of my living being.
Let me share some of the very tangible ways I’ve done this. Because I know you. You’re a caretaker. You’re a lover of souls. You don’t know what it takes to take care of yourself. You’ve done this for far too long and you honestly might not remember what extraordinary self care looks like. So let me tell you, my friend.
Extraordinary self care means buying yourself flowers at the grocery store and at the side of the road. (Notice I said AND. That means you buy flowers for yourself not once, but twice or more…as needed, friend.) It means weeding the garden and adding a new plant that you and only you think is beautiful.
Extraordinary self care means getting honest, throwing away half of your underwear and buying yourself new underwear, a whole lot of underwear. Beautiful underwear, practical underwear, super sexy underwear, soft underwear, underwear that fit, underwear that expresses your style even though nobody knows but you. Extraordinary self care means going into Victoria’s Secret and saying hey, I deserve this. I deserve a beautiful, well-fitting bra. Not only that, I deserve (and NEED) three beautiful, well-fitting bras, so I’m going to get ALL of them. It means taking a long, hard look at your closet and realizing that you’ve had clothes in there for 15 years and that is WAY too long, even for the pieces you once loved dearly. I’m being honest here, even your favorite piece from 12 years ago needs to go. It’s time. Extraordinary self care says I am worth it. That shirt was amazing, but I am worth a NEW and even better shirt than that. Extraordinary self care grants you permission to bring those old clothes to the thrift store and step into your favorite store with a fresh start in mind. You simply say what do I like? What do I need? What makes me happy? What one simple thing will make me feel better, live more freely, more comfortably in my own body? Extraordinary self care brings peace. You leave the store with two pair of jeans, one comfy sweater, one classy sweater, and a beautiful lace top, and know you did yourself well today. Well done, good and faithful servant. You loved (your neighbor) AS YOURSELF today. And yes, you did NOT worry about the $177 you spent on yourself because you are worth WAY more than $177.
Extraordinary self care means tossing out the old tennis shoes with holes all over the place and buying a new pair. Just buy the brand that’s worked for you in the past, friend. Treat yourself well. You know what you need. Just get it. And after that, it means going home or going to the gym. And you walk, you run, you lift, you jump, you pose, whatever it is you need to get your heart moving so you can keep yourself healthy. You stop eating junk and start feeding yourself good stuff, stuff that energizes you and replenishes your reserves. You decide this is important. This is necessary work. Your health and mental health are paramount. Your needs are not any less than anyone else’s needs. Extraordinary self care says I am worth it. When you feel better you will DO better. You will LIVE better. You will BE a better person. I promise. Take care of yourself. Take care of your ONE and ONLY body.
Extraordinary care means doing all the little things they tell you to do…take a bath, take a hot shower, buy some good smelling shampoo and actually smell it, light a candle, drive slow, look longer, find something beautiful, cry when you need to and laugh when you feel like it. Listen to some amazing music and DO what you LOVE.
And most of all? Extraordinary self care means seeing yourself as worthy. You are worthy of LOVE. You are worthy of CARE. You are worthy of GOOD and BEAUTIFUL things, friend. Extraordinary self care means writing that friend and trusting her with your secrets, and then listening when she writes back to tell you that YOU are indeed something special to be treasured. It means listening to her and taking her words to heart, the very bottom of your heart. It means realizing once and for all that you are WORTHY of LOVE. You are a true CATCH. And I don’t mean in a sexy, superficial way. I mean, you are ONE TRUE CATCH, my friend. Our Father created you and you are wonderfully, beautifully and fearfully made. You are a CATCH. You are divine, my friend. Live every single blessed day with that in mind. You are a blessing. Your life is a blessing. You are loved beyond measure. You are important and you are to be treasured.
Find these places of centering. Whether you’re in the thick of it or you’ve come out the other side, DO what you need to DO. Extraordinary self care is necessary here AND there. The world needs you, and it needs the very best you. Stand in that dressing room and say here I am. I am beautiful. I am worthy. I am lovable. I am going to be okay. I am worth it. I am divine. I am here. Here am I.