I have spent a lot of time in therapy over the years and trying to figure out how to take care of my mental illness (depression and anxiety). The over-arching consensus amongst professionals seem to be summed up in these few words:
"Take Care of Yourself"
Pinterest and FB and even Instagram are full of sound bites and memes that absolutely agree. From "it's not selfish to think of yourself" to "you can't help others until you put on your own oxygen mask," I've seen how the social ideology is to focus on the self in order to serve others.
I tried this concept for a long time. Because it seems to make sense. In a way, it does. But the fine line gets crossed over too frequently and it's hard to find it, anymore.
Time away from home, time away from the kids, time to myself, focus on me, saying "no" to everything stressful, serving myself before others, taking the time to analyze every feeling and thought and wrestling with it and wringing it out and spending hours telling all my closest friends and family (sister, mom) about all of it... I have done the "me" thing. I have done the "it's not selfish to put yourself first" thing.
And guess what, dear reader? It's not true. It doesn't work.
Truth is, it's not been helping me at all. Whenever I focus on myself like this, I tend to get quite a bit worse. People want to be around me less. I'm more ornery. My depression lasts longer. My therapist doesn't understand why I refuse to give into it beyond the "you cannot run faster than you have strength." (Mosiah 4:27), But, dear reader, I can't give into it. Why?
Well, thanks to a friend for sharing a speech ("The Doer of Our Deeds" by M. Catherine Thomas), as well as some serious reflection and meditation and prayer over this, I have learned some very important things. Here's what I've surmised:
First: There are no positive references to self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love in the scriptures. Anywhere. If it's referred to, it's referred to as something to STOP doing. All you will find will be like unto what I linked to up there (the Mosiah scripture). Wisdom and order, yes, but that's a no-brainer. I need to eat and sleep and take a shower! I need to read and relax and laugh and breathe. I need to be nice to myself and talk with friends and date my husband. I need to realize I'm doing better than I think I am and see things the way God sees them. But sometimes, there is not enough time in the day to choose both me and the kids. So, who wins? The kids or me? The husband or me? The neighbors or me? Which do I choose as I'm making millions of tiny choices every minute of the day? If I choose others instead of me, am I making a horrible mistake? The world says I am making a mistake, but I don't buy it.
Second: Christ taught us to serve others. Sacrifice. Put God, Him, and others first. "He who loses his life shall find it" (Matthew 10:39). Christ is the epitome of selfless service, and He has asked us to follow Him and to be like Him. He knows that if we do, we will be more happy than we can even imagine. Is it easy? No way. It takes a lifetime to practice and understand, and without His help, we just can't do it.
Third: Taking the time to serve others, especially those under my stewardship (i.e. my husband and children, those under my calling, those I visit teach), and seeing it as a privilege instead of a frustration or burden, has done better things for my brain than taking the time to serve myself ever did.
Fourth: Two things seem to create guilt --Sin and Satan. Sin causes guilt because we know what we've done is wrong, and the Holy Ghost is prompting us to repent. Satan causes guilt because he's a big jerk-face and the more we listen to him, the worse we feel. I have found that if I take the time repent and ignore Satan (or just tell him to get the heck outta here), I am much, much happier.
I've learned that serving others is infinitely more important than focusing on "me." Our society has become so self-possessed and I honestly think it's caused a lot more harm than good.
Once, when Brandon was out of town, I had to take the kids to finish cleaning up the church. It was our assigned Saturday and because Brandon knew he would be out of town, he and #1 (and others) did a lot of it after mutual on Tuesday (good man!). I had told some of the other families that they didn't need to help because there wasn't much left (I thought?!) and I had to do it really early (long story, but it has to do with dropping off my mutual-aged daughter for a stake YW thing). Anyway, I arrived with the kids. I was so mad at Brandon. Angry that he wasn't there to help us, angry #1 wasn't there to help us, angry that I was up so early with so many kids to clean a big church, angry because I was tired and pregnant... just mad. I wanted to go home.
The philosophy of what I had learned from the "it's not selfish to be selfish" world would have told me to just go home. Call someone else to do it. Refuse to do it because I had every right to say no! I was tired and pregnant! I was supervising all these small kids! My husband wasn't there! I wasn't getting paid! Why didn't I think of this? Why didn't I plan ahead and give myself a break? I needed to focus on me, people!! I have depression and anxiety and I was TIRED!!
Well, the kids and I cleaned the bathrooms (some of which were so gross) and the kitchen; we vacuumed and checked for any garbage that might have been missed, we wiped down windows and drinking fountains. I sent kids to sweep the gym floor, and we double-checked each room to make sure it was clean. We re-stocked toilet paper and paper towels as needed. #3 mopped the bathroom floors. It took about two hours for our small brood to finish.
When we left, I felt chastised because it was a good experience. The Holy Ghost confirmed to me that what we had done was wonderful. We had cleaned the House of the Lord, we had served Him and our entire ward, the Stake presidency, the Philadelphia mission office, and the Family history library (all which use our building, although we didn't wander into locked offices, of course). I had taught my children the purpose of service and hard work. We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts on the way home as a reward for all our efforts, and the kids chatted about how good they felt doing those hard things. I felt so wonderful. I apologized to Brandon for being angry; I apologized to the kids for my bad attitude. And I did feel good. I felt peaceful and satisfied. The Spirit told me that what I did was sanctified and pure, regardless of my original attitude.
That, dear reader, is what happens when we forget ourselves and get to work (President Hinckley). That's what happens when we ignore the world's philosophy of self-esteem and follow Christ's teachings of service, instead.
And I have several more examples of this in my life --many in the last few months alone.
So, I would encourage you to take care of yourself, yes, but in that same vein --serve others willingly and quickly. Be swift to serve. You'll be grateful you did. So will your self-esteem.