I'm not very good at taking time for myself. It's funny, because I really thought I was. I'm good at binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, with a scented candle lit and a big bowl of popcorn on my lap. It's just, I've recently discovered that that's not entirely the same thing.
Because often, whilst I'm watching TV, I'm also checking my phone, to see if anyone has texted. If someone has, I feel the need to reply right away, because I know how much I hate it when you message someone and they either never respond at all, or they take days to do so. I feel that need to reply even more if the person texting has some kind of problem they need to talk through, or if they might be feeling lonely, angry or just fed up.
And, whilst I'm half-watching TV and checking my phone to see if there are texts I need to reply to, I'm also checking Twitter, to ensure that the abuse-awareness account I run isn't being forgotten about.
Before I know it, my "Me Time" has turned into "Me, You, Them And Whoever Else Time."
Normally, that's actually pretty fine. I'm a people-person. I like to have other people around me. I like being in touch with people. But my problem is, I have a habit of putting other people first.
Yes, I know. That sounds like a humblebrag. "Oooh, I'm just soooo selfless. I put myself second aaaaall the tiiiiime."
But, I promise you, I'm not trying to sound like that.
I just mean that if someone's need seems to be greater than mine, I will put my own needs second, in order to accommodate theirs. I tell myself that it's a nice, compassionate and mature way to be. But, in reality, it's not always helpful.
Because, in deciding that my feelings are less important than everyone else's, I end up doing a disservice to myself. I end up feeling guilty if I tell someone that they've made me feel hurt or angry (and, sadly, recent experience in that area has made me feel like I should never voice those feelings again). Indeed, sometimes I end up swallowing those feelings entirely, rather than risk a negative response to them.
I end up pushing myself to be there for everyone else, whilst ignoring my own feelings. My gut reaction to seeing someone I barely know on Twitter saying that they feel sad or lonely, for example, is to offer them my inbox as a place to rant. To offer my metaphorical shoulders to cry on. But too often, what I really need, is someone to talk to, myself.
What happens when you bury your own needs and feelings? They start coming out, elsewhere. You get short-tempered with people who have done nothing wrong. You feel absolutely furious with people who have (anger just starts gnawing at you like a dog with a bone). You start feeling the physical symptoms of stress. For me, in the last 4 weeks, that's meant a worsening of my asthma, a return of the griping stomach pains I'm on medication to prevent, lack of decent sleep leading to exhaustion and a desperate wish to escape. To literally anywhere.
Thankfully - and it seems bizarre to use that word in this context, but go with it - I'm having counselling, as a result of the grief I'm still going through because of losing two of my closest friends in the world. So, I was able to talk these feelings through with my therapist, this week. Her advice?
Go off the radar, a little. Stop trying to be there for absolutely everyone but yourself. Put Emma first, for a while.
It's alien and weird. All week long, I haven't sent a single text to anyone, asking "how are you?" Not because I don't care about any of the people I usually get in touch with to ask that question. But, because I recognise how thinly I was spreading myself. How much I was ignoring my feelings in order to try to put everyone else first.
Because if anyone had texted me that question, had I been brave enough to answer it honestly, I would have had to say: "I'm not okay."
The fact of the matter is, you can't be all things to all people. And you can't be anything to anyone, if you're not looking after yourself.
It's not selfish to say "I can't do X," or "I don't want to do Y." It's perfectly reasonable to feel a negative response to something and to express it. And it's not a character flaw to step back from the world and concentrate on fixing yourself, first and foremost. Because nobody else can: you have to recognise what your needs are, what your problems are and what you can do to sort them out. Nobody else can do it for you. And, in realising that, I finally realised that I can't fix everyone else's problems, either. Offering a stranger the chance to "DM me, if you ever need to talk" is kind and thoughtful, but there is no pressure on me to cure anyone's woes, because I can't.
I'll always be someone who likes to please people. I'll still be someone who offers her shoulder for strangers and friends alike to cry on and who tries to go along with what others want to do, because I don't like letting anyone down, or making people feel like I don't care.
But I can't do it, right now. I need to fix my own stress. I need to concentrate on what I want and what I need. I need to fall off the radar, just a little, and fill my life with things that make me feel happy.
I need a little time to put me first.
And that's okay.