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How full is your tank? Lessons in Self Care

For most of my adult life I’ve played gas station roulette with amazing accuracy. I can drive for days with that amber gas light blazing on my dash before pulling in, at the very last moment, with nothing but vapor to get me there, just as pump prices fall. Late last year as I questioned patterns in my life, I asked myself (in my very best Dr. Phil voice) “How’s that working for ya’?”

Truth is, that glowing amber light makes me nervous. What if I get caught in traffic? What if I have to take a detour? What if I run out of gas on the bridge?! What if. What if. What if.

So I asked myself, what was the payoff for this little game of gas-stress I play? What’s it feeding? What hurts here? The answer was revealing, but not surprising. On the flip side of that anxiety lay a deeply seeded poverty consciousness.

Never Enough

“Can I afford that $20 right now?” “Can I go another day without having to spend it?” “That $20 could help to cover (fill in current emergency here).” “Am I going to be ok?!”

It’s the long term effect of living on the edge of disaster. You become accustomed to doing without. You deny yourself what you need, never mind what you want.

For a time, I left that thinking behind. I had a good job that I loved. I had a house. Then another. Then my own business l, which I sold to shift my life and career in a new direction. Then life blossomed, I had someone in my life, and along with that an instant family. That’s when I got sick, and that, changed everything.

Some things take longer to recover from than others. Mine was a long recovery. It drained my finances and, suddenly, I was back to paycheck to paycheck living again.

It’s surprising how little it takes to make you feel like you have no value. A job with no future. Cyclical layoffs from ‘at least I have this’ jobs. A bad job interview. Followed by another. A good interview, then another. A job offer that goes south. Even this little corner of creativity, felt empty and void of success for me. The thing I loved doing most felt like an utter waste of time because money has not followed the extraordinary amount of time and effort poured into it.

Ghosting. Gossip. Betrayal. Blame. Shame. The stress of never having or BEING enough. The hallmarks of modern life and all the makings of poor mental health. Too much stress = chemical imbalance. 

When the brain encounters a threat (whether actual or perceived), it releases a rush of cortisol and norepinephrine. These chemicals give us a natural boost in reflex time, perception and speed. They can also cause our hearts to beat faster in order to get more blood and oxygen circulating through our bodies; it puts us in “survival mode.”

One little shift from survive, to THRIVE

It happens slowly, but it happens, you begin put yourself last on the list. You hear yourself saying things like “oh no, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” But you’re really not fine, at all. You’re barely getting by.

Looking at that empty tank I began to see it as a metaphor for my life. How depleted I felt, constantly running on empty. So I asked myself “what if, instead of running on the bottom half of the tank, I filled up and ran my life on the TOP HALF of the tank?”

What if, I never saw that yellow light ever again? What if, I always saw that I had more than enough? What if, I put what I need first? Instead of living my life half empty, I shifted to living on the top half of my tank. Attending to self care and moving away from loss and lack. One tank of gas changed my life.

Living on the Top of the Tank

It stated by literally filling up my gas tank, every single payday, and not worrying about whether or not I could afford it. I made it a policy not to allow myself to have less than a half a tank of gas. Then I began shifting all those little things that cost nothing but contribute greatly to my overall well being.

I adjusted my sleep schedule, ensuring I’m allowing myself adequate rest. I started back to daily meditations and evening yoga. Meal planning became less about survival and more about nutrition, fresh, live food and joy. I made sure our weekly plan was within budget, and that became one less piece of the anxiety puzzle.

So when the pandemic hit and we both found ourselves, once again, both of us, jobless. Instead of a catastrophe I began to see this as an opportunity. I moved deeper into self care, addressing outstanding health issues, flexing creative muscles, learning new career skills and adding as much family fun and outdoor time as we could muster. And naps. The first three weeks was basically about naps.

Now, months later, I am beginning to feel more like the person I once was. Confident. Centered. Able to leap tall buildings with a good running start… maybe… I’ll give it a good go!

If you’ve never lived with less than $20 to your name you have no idea of the way that feeling of not having enough erodes your personal worth. The panic that fills you every time even the smallest thing goes wrong. How you can be plunged into darkness when an unexpected expense drains you, once again.

But you are not your bank account, my friend. You have value, no matter what your credit score reads.

If you’re reading this now and you’re nodding, remember — you matter. Just as you are. If you’re empty, fill up your tank.

If you don’t, who will? Be good to yourself. 

Cori Horton

Cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer and recipe blogger. A Cordon Bleu-trained Chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and has been sharing all things delicious - right here - since 2010.

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