You know how when you fly, and the flight attendant stands at the front of the plane and does the little song and dance about how to fasten your seat belt, where the exits are, and what to do if the plane suddenly plummets in a ball of flames? Yeah, I know, no one ever pays attention to the poor flight attendant, who studied hard in flight attendant school to master those erratic arm movements and mad pointing skills, but there is one instruction that has always stood out to me:
"Place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping small children or others who may need your assistance."
It seems selfish at first. What? Give myself life-saving oxygen over my helpless child? Allow him to gasp for air while I am sucking on that sweet O2? How could I?
It's obvious, of course, because you can't help others if you are debilitated. Or dead. You have to be strong and at your best if you are going to be there for others. It makes sense when you are sitting in row 14 seat A looking up at that little closed hatch ready to grab that face mask and pull it over your face the instant it drops. You are ready.
So how come in regular life, when there is not a smartly coiffed flight attendant directing our actions, are we so willing to ignore ourselves while helping everyone around us? Why do we disregard our own needs while making sure the other people in our lives are taken care of? Why are we so busy slapping oxygen masks on everyone else while we slowly suffocate?
I did this for years, especially after my son was born. My own needs came last. And it was killing me.
I have learned, no, I am in the process of learning, to put that oxygen mask on myself first and breathe deeply before helping those around me. To put myself first. Initially, it felt selfish to focus on my own needs - to say No to people, to claim my own space, to ignore the judgments of others. But it gets easier, and after breathing that sweet oxygen for a while, it becomes much easier to help those around you while taking care of yourself.