The Oxygen Mask

In one of my working mom groups, a common piece of advice is to "Put on your own oxygen mask first." Of course it's a reference to the airline emergency procedure speech we all hear before a flight takes off: "In the event of an emergency, please put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others." In other words, you've got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.

Everyday life isn't an in-flight emergency. But when you've got a caregiver mindset and you're responsible for others, whether that's a small child, an ill parent, a fledgling startup, or a spouse going through a hard time, it's too easy to push aside your own self-care.

Last week, I found out just how dumb it is to delay putting on your oxygen mask.

About a year ago, I noticed that my allergies and asthma were acting a little worse, that I was wheezing and coughing more, that breathing didn't feel as easy. But being so busy renovating a house, running my company, and parenting, I put off going to the doctor for a long time. So long that last spring, I wound up in urgent care, hooked up to a breathing machine. I wrote off the episode as my "mild" asthma acting up because of construction dust.

Again, I let months go by until I scheduled a followup appointment with my doctor. After one conversation with her and a visit to my pharmacy, last week I got a new asthma medication. The first night, I took the tiny pill and went to sleep. When I woke up, I sat up in bed and took the deepest breath I had in over a year. I hadn't felt my lungs expand that much without exploding into a coughing fit in forever. I kept taking deep breath after deep breath. I felt like a new person.

I finally reached for my oxygen mask after gasping for breath for months. Months! Months of letting myself operate in an impaired state for stupid reasons—denial, busy-ness, and putting everything else in front of myself.

Being able to take a deep breath makes me a better person, more capable of helping others and getting things done. So does getting a full night's sleep, eating clean, cutting caffeine, and getting exercise. So does paying attention to my moods, and how my body feels, and doing something about it instead of ignoring it by occupying myself with whatever thing outside of myself that's keeping me busy-busy.

On a daily basis, I'm not succeeding at all of this, or even most of it. But from here on in, I'm going to try to remember how profound it felt to finally put on my oxygen mask. And every once in awhile, I'm going to ask myself the following questions. Join me, won't you?

What's going on with you that you've been putting off, ignoring, and that needs your attention? What deep breath are you denying yourself for dumb reasons? What would a couple of hours of investing in your own self-care yield? Do it now.

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