The first year of our life in Turkey, we were entrenched in language learning and cultural adjustments. We set up a new home from scratch (using a language we didn’t yet know), then started learning Turkish as best one does while also parenting a two-year-old. Kyle typically went to a class downtown, since he needed and liked the school structure, and I hired a tutor, since I prefer the one-on-one benefits.
The honeymoon phase of our new life lasted about three months, after which things started malfunctioning internally and my knee-jerk reaction was to shut down. By month four, I was a mess, and was sure we had made a mistake by moving to a new country, 6,000 miles away from family and friends.
Oh, and then I got pregnant with Reed.
I was officially diagnosed with depression, and the psychologist on staff with our non-profit organization recommended we head somewhere to focus on my well-being for a few weeks to months. We looked into where we could go that wasn’t too far from Turkey, that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, where help could be found in English, and where kids were allowed on-site. The best place? Thailand, believe it or not.
If you haven’t checked a map lately, Thailand isn’t actually a neighboring country to Turkey, so it seemed wild to us that the closest place that fit those criteria was in southeast Asia. Going there in my second trimester with a two-year-old for two solid months seemed extreme at the time, but hindsight being 20/20 and all that, it was a short blip that made all the difference in the world.
I started on depression meds while meeting with a therapist three to four times a week (since we were there short-term, we met with him as much as possible). We separated ourselves from the otherworldliness of Turkey and found respite in a quieter, more refreshing environment—we stayed in a friends-of-a-friends-of-a-friends’ home who happened to be back in the States, and who had little girls with a bedroom with little girl toys. There was grass and neighborhood quiet where we were, unlike our concrete Turkish high-rise in a city of four million. I didn’t realize I couldn’t hear birds in our Turkish home until we were in Thailand, and I heard them out our window the first morning.
I got out and about a bit more, I got some much-needed sleep, and I even went running a few times. (And serendipitously enough, during one session, my therapist suggested I find a creative outlet in Turkey, so that I felt competent at something and could focus my energies on a task that charged by batteries. We left that session, and Kyle uneventfully said, “You like to write. How about you start a blog?”)
(This blog started about four months later.)
Those two months in Thailand saved my life. Taking a step back from my new world in Turkey also gave me space to evaluate the previous four or so years, and I saw that I had been running on empty for awhile—probably since I became a mother (I’ve written about my postpartum depression). I hadn’t taken care of myself for a long, long time, and in some ways, I realized that I barely even knew myself. As a chronic people-pleaser, I had marched to the beat of my best-laid plans since high school, and I never questioned whether the daily choices I made, harmless as they were, really were the best for me.
Fastforward. By the time we left Turkey several years later to return to the States, we were madly passionate about self-care—and about helping others find the same. We experienced, first-hand, how small, everyday, intentional actions to take care of ourselves made all the difference in the world—they helped us stay energized about our life’s purpose and take a breather from the myriad hats we wear all day.
I’ve mentioned before that’s what we do with our current non-profit—we provide guest houses around the world for other non-profit workers so that they can take small, regular breaks without having to spend lots of money. No need to wait for a diagnoses of full-blown depression; statistics everywhere show that most career non-profit expats return burned-out after five years, even if they plan to live abroad forever, and that a few breaks per year from their host country can make all the difference in the world to their sanity and longevity.
We are passionate about this, and I can’t imagine us ever not being in this line of work to some capacity. Kyle and I deeply and resolutley feel that this is what we are made to do, and we couldn’t be more honored to share in this small but significant, often-not-thought-of service.
But. This is what I’m also passionate about for all people, too, not just non-profit workers in cross-cultural settings. Moms. Dads. Students. Empty-nesters. Entrepreneurs. Everyone. I am a massive believer in self-care, and that making consistent, small choices on a regular basis makes all the difference in the world to our well-being.
This blog is about simple living, its definition here being living holistically with your life’s purpose. When we’re tired and depleted, it’s hard to live simply. It’s much easier to just give in to the system and swim downstream—to fill our home with things we don’t want or need, to cram our schedule full of extracurriculars we don’t want to do, to eat food we know isn’t good for us, and to make decisions according to the status quo, not because they’re actually best for us.
I have found a direct correlation between my eagerness and ability to simplify our family life—to live holistically with our life’s purpose—with how well I’m taking care of myself. True story. And yet the terribly ironic thing is that the best kind of self-care is the simple kind.
• A daily walk in solitude. Just 20 minutes.
• Reading a book, just for fun, while the kids are in their bedrooms for mandated afternoon quiet times.
• Date nights on a regular basis—even if it’s bringing home take-out and putting the kids to bed a bit earlier.
• Exercise, a few times per week.
• Meeting a friend for coffee once a month.
• Going on a drive out on country roads, listening to my music.
• Flexing my brain and taking an online class—just because.
• Taking deliberate time for that hobby that’s collecting dust.
• Just turning off the screen already and going to bed at a decent time.
Taking time for this, and I’m much closer to right-as-rain, eager to keep on keeping on.
Self-care can look like a lot of things, but for most of us, it doesn’t have to look like much. Small, simple choices can make a night-and-day difference to how well we’re living within our life’s purpose. But we do have to actually do those things.
What are you going to do this week to take better care of yourself?
Psst… I’ll be at Idea Camp next month, exploring the idea of self-care as a significant task for the Church, something we don’t do pretty well, in my opinion. Anyone else going?