See that picture?
That’s me when I’m not taking care of myself.
Or when I’ve been putting myself last on the list.
Of course, it’s not really me.
It’s Kathy Bates, playing the role of
Annie Wilkes in the 1990 movie Misery.
You remember Annie, don’t you?
She was that big-hearted gal who pulled a man from a car crash during a terrible winter blizzard—then took him home to care for his two broken legs until the roads cleared up enough to get him to a hospital.
She was just so nicey-nicey. All rosy-cheeked and apple-faced, spoon-feeding him barley soup and cleaning his bedpan . . .
And then suddenly she’s standing over him with a sledgehammer in her hands.
Which is why I need to be vigilant.
Because sister, I’ve got my own inner-Annie to deal with.
And if I’m ignoring my body’s signals, she shows up in all her greasy-hair glory.
Not that I’d actually break somebody’s ankles . . .
But if I’m trying to do it all by myself?
Or putting the needs of others before my own?
Or pretending that I’m just fine, fine, fine, when I’m actually seething with resentment under the surface?
Things can get scary.
Ever hear of an exploding doormat?
That used to be me before I did my own inner work.
Back when I was unconsciously repressing my true feelings, these explosions seemed to come out of nowhere.
My cheerful, happy demeanour would suddenly shape shift into Annie’s murderous stare and I’d snap over a seemingly trivial matter—shocking everyone around me including myself.
It was heartbreaking. I felt so alone afterward. So embarrassed and confused.
How could genuine feelings of love flare up into hot-tempered resentment?
After digging a little deeper, I realized I was still carrying around a lot of dysfunctional baggage from childhood.
(I can sum it up for you with an acronym I learned when I was five)
JOY stands for Jesus, Others, and You.
Apparently, my needs had to come dead last.
Which (spoiler alert) isn’t a recipe for joy at all.
In fact, the only thing this belief ever earned me was a blue ribbon in anxiety and passive-aggressive behaviour.
Thank goodness we humans can change our beliefs!
Instead of putting so much value on being NICE, I decided to focus on being honest.
Instead of working so hard to be perfect, I began to prioritize being authentic and whole.
And my life improved dramatically.
Then I learned about boundaries and started setting limits with my time and energy and WOW!
My life improved even more.
But it wasn't until 2014, that I finally struck “AHA” gold.
The catalyst? Jaya the Trust Coach, who told me about a nine-point personality system called the Ennegram.
She had a sneaking suspicion that I was a personality-type two. The helper.
Turns out she was right.
Which is marvellous if you’re a healthy two.
There’s nothing the world needs more than healthy helpers who give love and support from a clean place of authenticity.
But if you’re not quite there yet?
It’s like finding out you’ve got genital herpes.
Reading through typical two behaviour gave me a combined feeling of recognition and horror:
Twos deny they have needs, manipulating others to get these needs met so they don’t have to admit that they actually have (ahem) NEEDS.
Twos seek validation of their worth by sacrificing themselves for others.
Twos attend to the needs of others while ignoring their own.
Twos have a basic underlying fear that they’re not enough just as they are—that to warrant love and appreciation from others, they have to be super-extra fabulous with a sugary-sweet cherry on top.
Yep. I was a two, alright. I wasn’t exactly unhealthy-unhealthy, but I still had a belief that I wasn’t okay if I wasn’t in good relationship with others.
Which meant I was still taking on too much responsibility and overextending myself.
Jaya got straight to the root of the problem in just a couple of sessions.
The fear of selfishness vs. the imperative need for self-care.
Every time I think I’ve got this self-care thing handled, well, howdy-do! There it is again.
Which is why I keep Annie’s picture close at hand.
I’m trying to remind myself (in a very vivid way) to PAY ATTENTION to my own inner alarm system.
The call for self-care is urgent, ladies!
If your pant leg was on fire, would you ignore it?
No, you'd STOP, DROP, and ROLL, just like they taught you in school.
Because, when you’re trousers are on fire, it’s a code-red emergency!
And if you don’t get those flames out NOW, you’re not the only one who will suffer the consequences.
The whole fucking building's going to burn down.
Self-care doesn’t look so selfish now, does it?
The truth is, EVERYONE benefits when you take care of YOU.
Which is why that whole “STOP, DROP and ROLL” advice should be taken seriously.
When you hear the call to nurture yourself (maybe you're feel cranky? critical? overwhelmed? a little bit murdery?) PLEASE treat it as critical!
Here's what I do anytime I start feeling a bit Annie-social. Feel free to give it a try.
STOP and get present. Take a breath.
DROP down into the body. Pull your focus from your mind, away from all its stories. Tune in to your deeper self. Ask yourself:
What am I feeling? Is there anything that I’m trying to ignore?
What do I need (right now)?
What do I really want (right now)?
What’s the best use of my time?
Is some form of self-care more important than what I’m doing right now?
What boundaries do I need to have in place? Who do I need to communicate with in order to set these boundaries?
Am I stuck in an old pattern or belief that needs to be questioned?
Do I have a hidden agenda? Am I doing _________ to get approval? To avoid feeling guilty?
Does a new decision need to be made that would be healthier for me?
3. ROLL only when you feel centred and connected to yourself. Don’t take action if you’re still in victim-mode (“I have to” “I should”) Get CLEAR about your own needs and then your action will be more effective.
This is such a powerful practice, that I've considered renaming it STOP, DROP, and SOUL.
Tuning into myself—my real, essential self, is actually a very sacred thing. And thankfully, there's no ditch-digging involved! When I take the time to ask myself what I (really) need, the answers are usually very simple.
Time alone—no phone calls or text.
Rest. Sometimes this means a 20 minute nap. Sometimes it means looking up from my computer and looking at the trees. Many times, rest means resting from my own critical self.
A walk in park
Time to write
A healthy snack, usually a ripe avocado
Time with people who love me
This, my dear one, is my recipe for a happy, healthy, loving life. Real joy, I discovered, comes from knowing myself and being my own best friend. Happiness (for me) means being healthy and connected—mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
There’s a reason Annie Wilkes is stuck in a movie called MISERY.
I hope you never neglect yourself to the point where you start relating to her.
Take care of yourself, my duckling!
You are precious beyond belief.
Sending you so much love,
PS. Annie Wilkes represents the psychotic extreme. If you actually feel like her literally, then I urge you to get medical and psychological help right away! But if you're just an unhealthy helper (like I used to be), let's chat! I'd love to help you get free from the suffering you create through unconscious people-pleasing.