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Mandy's Story

I was out to dinner with a group of friends in October having just ordered almost every appetizer off the. Let's try everything I said with a smile. Thinking about the topping laden flatbreads and dips that were in my future. We sipped our drinks, bathed in the warm glow of the fireplace table, drinking in the cool autumn breeze with sprigs of rosemary and wedges of citrus perched on the rims of our glasses.

God, I love food. I was so glad we were sharing. Then my friend Maggie asked, What are you doing right now for self-care? The question took me by surprise at that moment, but it probably shouldn't have.

I have a weird relationship with self-care, being out together enjoying a meal after yet another year of challenges felt deliciously decadent. Wasn't that a form of self-care? I looked back at Maggie's face and saw her smiling back at me beneath her wide-brimmed felt. I could feel my face flushing and my muscles tensing at a question that I probably hadn't even thought about for myself based on everything. Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, the media, my therapist, my friends, and the Treat Yourself episode of Parks and Recreation were telling me I should be thinking about this all the time, but I don't.

When you grow up worrying about whether or not it's useful to own a pair of slippers, or if a facial moisturizer is really just a scam to get you to spend more at c V s, you don't think about your wellbeing in the same way. In fact, you don't think about taking care of yourself much at all. I've spent hours talking about it with my therapist, where it comes from, how it manifests, and what I might be able to do about.

No matter how much gratitude journaling I've done or massage appointments I've scheduled for myself, I never feel like I deserve it, that somehow it must be earned or saved for, because the everyday motion of living has to be prioritized ahead of my own worth. It comes out in ways I never would have expected.

I save napkins in the drawers of my desk and keep shoes that give me blisters because I paid for them. , my stomach drops and I feel shame. Anytime I feel I pay more than a hundred dollars for something, I say yes to far too much and hope that everyone I meet gives me gold stars for my hard work. When I put on lotion, rarely I rub my fingers over knuckles and elbows and knee caps and think there are women who do this every day.

What lives? They must live. Here's what I. I'm a highly sensitive person and a work in progress, and like everyone, I carry the familiar baggage of imposter syndrome, anxiety and childhood traumas. I do try to work on it processing things that have happened, the unspoken fear and worries and the judgment I put on myself for indulging.

I know that self-care is something to be cherished and celebrate. The act of nurturing yourself and being your own best caregiver is what we all should work at hell. We should throw ourselves parades for it. Taking care of yourself is a very special and important kind of love, and I enjoy celebrating others as they practice self-care.

When a loved one shares their decision to take up a new hobby, to stay in for the night, or to finally take that trip, I think that's awesome. I'm truly happy for you when you tell me something that you're doing for yourself. I want that for you, and I love that you're taking care of yourself in a way that feels good to you.

I celebrate your choice and your work on nurturing the parts of yourself that need it most. But like so many of us, I have a hard time making space for that for myself. It's so easy to focus only on what is deemed e. , your work, your bills, your living situation. What are you doing? What are you producing?

What are you earning? This is what life expects from you. Suddenly, it's not so crazy to feel like the scented candle you bought should be saved for a special occasion and the money you spent on concert tickets would be better put into an IRA. You question your worth because the world does not see or appreciate your inherent value.

Now I'm out to dinner with friends, an act that I figured out how to forgive myself for, and I'm being asked a significant question about how I'm valuing myself. Well, I chirped back to Maggie running through the list of things that I do that seems like the right answer to this question. I'm taking voice lessons.

My goodness, the. A grown woman taking voice lessons because it was something she could never could have done as a child. How dare I do something like that? It seems silly, really to judge myself so harshly for seeking out and paying for experiences that I didn't get to enjoy when I was younger. I have the time and the means now, logically, I know that this is a good thing, that creative pursuits lead to greater happiness, better brain health, and lower blood.

Plus, I wanna be in a musical someday, but I can't help but feel like I'm somehow silly for hopping on Zoom for a half hour every week to sing show tunes and learn about palette shape. It took me years to get to a place where I was ready to give myself something like this. I spent hours researching and sending inquiries to teachers only to never follow through.

Then about two years ago, I took the ung. I can't find the right words to describe how good it felt to be able to fulfill a childhood wish at 32. I love Maggie for asking me what I'm doing to give back to myself, but I hate her just a little bit too. She's holding the mirror up to my face and asking, who are you really?

I'm someone who had to develop a level of resilience to survive in a world that doesn't care that your family never had an emergency fund or a nest egg. There was never the possibility of a college savings account. I learned at an early age that I had to depend on myself because there wasn't another option.

There was no safety net. You'll work multiple jobs to pay rent and bills and to put yourself through college. You'll cry and feel like a failure every time your car breaks and you're confronted with that question of, can I get to work today? And every day, you're reminded, you're only one catastrophe away from disaster.

Today, I'm safe and relatively secure, or as secure as anyone can feel in the world that we live in. I've tried to do everything right with varying degrees of success. I'm grateful and I feel. , but still I can't let go of that fear of making a misstep and ruining everything. Self-care becomes a current that I'll be swept away by until I've messed up and lost what I've worked so hard for.

Logically. I know it's a silly idea. Emotionally, I'm still working on it. I've remind myself that weekend naps and fuzzy socks won't ruin me. I can recognize that I've made progress. I don't shrink down to my 12 year old former self. When it comes time to buy a new winter coat, I've convinced myself that it's okay to own a robe and to spend more than $5 on facial moisturizer, which I've figured out is actually not a scam and can be quite useful.

I'm trying to build more margin into my weeks so that I can have meaningful downtime, but still, I have a lot of work to do on letting myself just be myself and letting that be enough. To learn that I am enough, Maggie nods and takes in my answer, satisfied with my response. I decide to go all in. This seems like a moment to go big and reveal what I've really been working on.

I'm also going back to school in January. I said I'm going to get my MFA in creative writing. Oh my, this is selfish. Isn't. I wince at my own admission. Another thing to discuss with my therapist going back to school for a degree I don't need rubs my poverty mindset the wrong way. It doesn't feel right to be able to use tuition remission to get a degree that isn't tied to a career ladder rung or some other kind of goal that feels worthy through the validating eyes of strangers.

That's not why I'm going back to school to achieve some kind of. In fact, I'm going in without any goal in mind. Everything I am is being stretched, and I am fully prepared to be beyond uncomfortable as I accept perhaps for the first time that I could do something that I just want to do without necessarily having to think about the return on investment.

This is a choice I've made for me and I want to be able to celebrate it. I hold my breath for a moment and ex. I try to remind myself to relax my shoulders and to just sit with this moment of discomfort. I don't always feel like I deserve the life that I'm trying to build for myself, but I will try.

That's great. Says Maggie. Sipping on her ginger beer mocktail. That's really great. I can't help but agree. I think about the inward little victories I carry with me. Quiet. These tiny moments I can turn to when I feel afraid or defeated and be reminded that I've made progress. I found ways to recognize and appreciate my own self-worth.

The moments where I chose to be brave and go alone on a trip to the movies, out to dinner the day that I allowed myself to cry on a walk in the woods because I realized I didn't love my job anymore and I needed to make a change. When I remembered to put on my lip balm so that my lips won't be made red and raw from the wind, and now when I'm trying something new with the intention of just being open and present to see where it takes me.

No destination. Just a step. Maybe that's what self-care really is. Recognizing the steps big and small. You take towards something you want to do, not just what you need to. Or maybe it's reminding yourself to not be so tense when you're sharing something about yourself that makes you feel vulnerable.

That's a step. Or maybe it's just scheduling a dinner with friends where you can ask each other tough questions over tapas another step. Either way, they're all something to celebrate.

The Interview

Tonyehn: Well, thank you for sharing your story. I just have to say that as you were speaking, 

I thought imposter syndrome check. Anxiety check, childhood trauma check, right? These are all things that we all experience, even though they feel like a singular siloed experience. So I was thinking about your journey into self-care and I was wondering how you define self-care now.

Because you mentioned you love food, isn't that's self care as well? 

Mandy: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me it's something I'm very much still defining , you know, I love food and I, I usually turn to food as a form of comfort. I, I feel energized when I get the opportunity to cook something or to try a new recipe or to experiment with new flavors.

Um, but I usually get more joy outta feeding other people than I do myself. So I think it's one of those things that I, I'm still learning about myself. What do I consider to be an active indulgence versus something that's an active service? 

Tonyehn: Also, when I was listening to you, I couldn't help but think about stoic philosophy.

I've been reading about stoicism recently, which is kind of funny because one of their main components is that you ignore the things you can't change. You focus on those things that you can change, and you put a certain amount of energy into those things where you can make middling changes. So where would you say you focus most of your energy now?

Like what is the one place where you feel like actually create change? 

Mandy: That's a great question. I think that I've come to a place of acceptance with a lot of things, especially when I find that there's limitations around what I can actually influence. So I try and I'll say the word, try to focus on the things that I can influence, which right now I'm paying a lot more attention to my time and how I'm expending it, and I'm trying to align it more with the things that I value, which is not something I've done before.

I think that it's really easy when you go from a routine of school and then college and then into the workforce. You develop your whole life around the timelines of others, and rarely do you get the time to think about what do I wanna spend my time on? And while, yes, I have, you know, a day job and responsibilities just like us all, you know, I think about that free time and how I spend it.

And then I try to think about ways that. Give more to it, to the things that actually bring me joy rather than, you know, wasting another weekend, you know, not thinking in front of the TV or something like that. 

Tonyehn: Another thing they talk about is internalizing goals. So as opposed to thinking like you said. I'm getting this degree so that I can get a great job. You're internalizing the goal, meaning I'm doing this because I wanna do the best at this that I can. Right. So I would assume it's the same thing with the singing lessons. And how does that feel when you're thinking more about what pleasure brings you as opposed to. Is anyone listening? How do I sound? 

Mandy: Yeah. It's such a big mindset shift for me because I'm, I find myself to be very oriented around external validation. So I always, even growing up looked for gold stars from other people. I wanted people to really feel proud of me or to like what I was doing or to recognize whatever it is that I was putting out there.

Um, so thinking about these two different journeys that I described in my story, The act of taking singing lessons just for pleasure and then going back to school for a degree that I don't need, but really am excited to do. I think for me it's just a shift in recognizing that there is so much value in just appreciating the things that make you feel good and being able to spend time and energy on those things is something that I think we undervalue, we, we usually save those things for last, whereas I think now I'm at a place in my life where I wanna put some of those first, or at least move them higher up on the list. 

Tonyehn: Well, that's probably. Why we end up with imposter syndrome because we're waiting for someone else to validate us.

Really no one is because they're all waiting to be validated as well, really. So in essence, we have to learn to thank ourselves and give ourselves praise. I know that was a lesson that was really hard for me to learn. I did this exercise where one of the questions was, how often do you thank yourself and what do you thank yourself for?

And I just started sobbing because I realized that I don't thank myself for anything or ever give myself a pat on the back. So that's something I say to my kids all the time, like, reach over and pat yourself on the back. So I'm gonna ask you now if you'll just pat yourself on the back because I think you're really making a difference and it shows in your face.

Mandy: Thank you. And I, you know, there's something that I read. Being your own best parent or being your own mother, in that you, you try to find ways to nurture yourself. And that's not something that I've ever thought about before. Um, but you know, I found myself a couple of years ago feeling really depressed and not in a good place with my mental health.

And I started to take some steps towards taking care of myself and that felt. Like a really big thing. Um, you know, I started going to a therapist. I started pursuing voice lessons. I started to look for more creative outlets for some of my energy, and suddenly I started to feel better. But that was work that I had never made space for before because it's just not something that we think about. 

Tonyehn: Well, I think that you're ahead of the game. I have two children, one going to college next year, and one who's still in high school, and I always say to myself, I'll start when they leave, but then I realize if I don't do it now, , what lessons am I teaching my children?

So I've started to take the time to say, well, can you please just go away, , I wanna sit here alone for a while in silence. Or I'm giving myself a spa day and like you said, Should I spend that money spending half a day at the spa? Probably not. But will I feel better afterwards? And am I teaching my children the lesson that they deserve to be treated well as well?

So now let me ask, what do you think you're worth? 

Mandy: Oh, , that's such a hard question. You know, even, you know, writing the story and thinking about what I was gonna talk about today, it raised that question of, what does my self-worth look like? And I think for me, I don't have an answer to that question yet. And I feel like I'm still very much a work in progress.

Um, I think I at least have gotten to the point where I could recognize I have self-worth, but I don't know how I would define it for myself just yet. 

Tonyehn: Well, self-care is a journey. I can't say. I know what my worth is, but I do think about what I deserve, and so maybe that can be the first step in figuring out what exactly your self worth is.

Mandy: Thank you for that. 

Tonyehn: You're welcome. 

You're also a member of the theater group, new Vintage Ensemble, as well as a volunteer and frequent performer in the Scranton Fringe Festival. How does your artistic life of acting, writing, and producing feed into your celebration of self-care? 

Mandy: Ooh, that's a great question.

Um, I think those are probably the areas where I started to first explore self-care, to be honest. Um, I started doing theater in high school to find some confidence and to try to find a connection. Um, and we all know how challenging your teenage years are with being able to do both of those things. And it ended up being one of the greatest loves of my life with performing and.

Getting involved with organizations like the Scranton Fringe Festival and the new vintage ensemble have given me additional outlets to explore my creativity and., it feels like a very safe and supportive space for creation. And again, that's not a space that I usually make for myself. Um, so I feel like having access to these things has only made it possible for me to make this a form of self-care as for what I wanna do with it or where I wanna go with it.

Um, I'm still figuring that out. I. For my creative writing degree, two foundational classes this semester. So one is in creative non-fiction, which is very similar in the to the style in which I told my story. And the other is playwriting. And I hope to be able to have works that I can explore at the end of it, um, in both genres.

So we'll see where it takes me. 

Tonyehn: Well, we'll certainly look forward to your first play. 

Mandy: Thank you,


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Thank you for listening!

This podcast is made possible by the combined efforts of the Northeast Counties Medical Society (NEPAMS), Scranton Fringe, and Park Multimedia. 

To learn more about NEPAMS and the work they do in the community, click below.

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