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Living by the Rules


I remember as if it were yesterday.  It was a hot day in June. I was tending to my newborn.  My son was in the front yard with his friends.  As he went out to play, I said, "You stay in the yard now."   

 I heard the bells of the ice cream truck.  My 3-year old son entered the house, "Mommy, may I have an ice cream cone?"    Attending to his sister of 3 weeks, I simply replied, "No," and he returned to play with his friends... or so I thought.  

It could not have been more than 3 minutes when I looked outside, checking to be sure that all was well.  My son was gone! His friends pointed down the street and said, "He followed the ice cream truck."

Grabbing my infant, I jumped in the car and went looking for her brother.  When I found him, I pulled the car over, got out of the car, yelled at my son, smacked his butt, and firmly placed him in the car. 

I demanded that he never again walk away from the house. I had been so scared.  My son?  He was confused and started crying.  I hugged him so tight that he could hardly breathe.  I thought that I had lost him. Then I promised myself that I would never again leave my 3-year old outside unsupervised.  Limits.

Parents are our first teachers about limits.  Limits, we are told, are for our own good - our safety, our health; and for the good of society - our values, our relationships.  As children, we called these limits "rules." For example -
1.    Do not touch a hot stove.  Cross the street only at corners and only when the light is green.
2.    Do not open the door to strangers. Brush your teeth.  Eat your vegetables.  
3.    Do not be rude. When you ask for something, say "Please." When you receive something, say "Thank you."
4.    Do not take what belongs to others.  Respect your elders.  
5.    Do not run in the house.  Do your homework.  Say your prayers.

Children test their boundaries - to see just how much they can "get away with."  There are consequences for "testing" the limits - perhaps "the look" mother gives from far across a room, a verbal warning, a tongue lashing a pluck on the hand, banishment to a corner, a spanking, "grounding.“ The rules are imposed.  

Experiences, others and our own, become our teachers about limits. They are for our own good - our safety, our health;  and for the good of society - our values, our relationships.  The rules are self-imposed. Although the likely consequences of non-compliance are known, we still "test" them.  

Those of us living with a mental illness or emotional disorder, it seems, have extra rules---rules of self-care. Knowing and respecting our limits can be life saving.  Yet, like the toddler and the adolescent, we desire to be like "everybody else". We test the limits to see just how much we can get away with.  For example:
1.             Always take your medication.
2.             Get at least 8 hours sleep ... rest... every night.
3.             Resist the carbohydrate cravings. Your brain and emotions will thank you.
4.             Say "no" to activities, no matter how honorable, which may overwhelm you and lead to breach of rule #2.
5.             Exercise.  Keep a fitness routine to build and sustain physical, mental and emotional well-being. 

I struggle to honor my limits.  Thus, my immune system is “whacked,” and my mind is mushy.  I muddle through time-sensitive tasks.  It is not that I don't know the rules; some days I simply lack energy to think about or act upon rules. Can I blame the "winter blues?"  

Learning, making and living by rules … it is all a process.  I am making a shift. To become more empowering in my rule-making, I choose self-love as the bedrock of all rules.

Comment; share your strategies for living by the "rules of self-care.”

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