I pride myself on being an involved Dad and husband. But there are days it’s really freakin’ exhausting.
At one point, I was a youth pastor, professional sign language interpreter, wedding photographer, radio host, husband, and father. As an interpreter, I worked full-time in a public school, including all of my student’s after-school activities. My radio show consumed Tuesday and Friday nights. Wednesday nights and all day Sunday were eaten up by church functions, and Saturdays were spent photographing weddings, with youth group activities, or both. Long days and late nights were the norm.
I burned the candle at both ends for four years, until there was nearly no candle left. A suicide attempt at the age of 28 forced me to re-evaluate my life and my priorities. It also taught me about self-care, which I’d never even heard of before. Since those desperate days, I’ve done a lot of hard work to recover my life and my family.
Here is 4 self-care tips to help any tired family man:
1) Redefine your purpose and priorities.
In those dark and very busy days, my wife begged for attention. My friends constantly complained that I was missing in action. And my anxiety was through the roof. I’d bought the lie that it was my job to save the whole world. If not me, then who? Souls were at stake! Lives were hanging in the balance! How could I possibly sleep with the guilt of someone’s eternal damnation on my hands?
Since the suicide attempt, I’ve learned the importance of personal space. I had no idea what I was missing, but my family certainly did. Now, instead of making major decisions without considering the impact on my family, I have made my wife and children my number one priority. As a result, I have started respecting their schedules and helping my wife balance duties at home. I’ve learned how important it is to unplug, to not live so focused on the next activity, to give myself time to just be. What is one thing you could quit today to give yourself some space to breathe?
2) Don’t miss the celebration.
Growing up, I heard people say, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” Before my suicide attempt, my eyes weren’t empty. They were just forgetful. I’d forgotten to look for the good things in life. But now, I am finding joy in the most mundane places: at the kitchen table with my wife, working through deep-seated fears; in every intentional moment I spend with my children, cultivating their innocence and self-worth; and even on the couch at the counselor’s office. I am happy now. That did not seem possible before.
Remembering to look for the good in people and situations is hard, but it helps. Celebrate the gracious people God brought alongside you in the journey. For me, the nurse who cared for me while I was in ICU sticks out as a real guardian angel. Plus there are friends I never expected to support me in my recovery, but do. Life sucks at times, but when we find things to celebrate, we shouldn’t just gloss over them.
What do you enjoy? Is it the smell of fresh cut grass? The taste of soda through a straw? Notice the details of your life that are pleasant, even fun. Make a note to notice something every day.
3) Don’t let hard days define you.
If self-care new to you, remember to take hard days one day at a time. Hard days don’t last forever. For me, sometimes hard days mean I take an extra five minutes on a lunch break to hide in the server room at work and take a few deep breaths. If necessary, I am also not afraid to take medicine my doctor has prescribed specifically for those moments, or even take a “mental health day.” I’m not an advocate of hiding under the covers, but I also believe in knowing yourself well enough to acknowledge your limits. If the day is bad enough and you don’t put your job in jeopardy, there is nothing wrong with saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
4) Ignore the critics.
My wife’s family doesn’t like me, trust me, or believe in me. Not one single in-law is supportive. And for a few years after the suicide attempt, it really bothered me. Does it still hurt? Sure, it does. But I no longer allow their opinions to control me. I am fully aware of the mistakes I’ve made, but I have moved on. My life is nothing like it was before the suicide attempt. I am a new person. I choose to live today, instead of carrying around the shame of my past. My life changed when I started letting others’ opinions go.
Photo by Erich Ferdinand