Around the middle of our years in graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology—steeped in self-reflection, therapy, and the rehashing of our personal stories—my girlfriends and I were learning all about the importance of self-care. As we came face to face with our woundings and unpacked our personal tragedies, our need for kindness, spaciousness, and rest was emphasized.
What many of us had come to realize is that we didn’t operate with the word “no” very often. We said a whole lot of yes—to bosses and boyfriends, to parents, peers, and professors. We, like many of you, rarely thought of ourselves before committing or consenting to pretty much anything.
Our metaphorical plates were too full, and our stories were revealing that we were offering a lot of care to others without receiving the care we needed. In helping professions such as the ones we were studying to enter, one simply cannot pour out so much care and support without receiving some, as well.
So, to remember the lessons in self-care that we wanted to put into practice, we did what any typical group of four female, late twenty-somethings would do. We made t-shirts for ourselves. Because what really hammers a message home better than wearing it on your shirt?
This is a true story. We actually ironed letters on to the front left breast of the t-shirt—one short acronym, personalized to each of us. The letters on my shirt read, “PMF”—Put Mallory First.
Now, almost four years later, I still sometimes wear my PMF shirt. My husband asks what the letters stand for nearly every time I wear it, and I sheepishly say, “Put Mallory First,” because somehow it’s hard and awkward to admit that we can be our priority sometimes. I am not promoting selfishness through my own personal PMF campaign, but self-awareness—to help others, we have to know how to help ourselves.
So, in my quest to PMF, I have learned that while there will be times when I’ll need to ask forgiveness from you, there are also times I need to forgive myself—for allowing me to treat me as an afterthought. It is not good or kind or honorable to leave ourselves in the dust while we scurry around trying to please everyone else. We are better than that. We deserve more. We need to live out the Golden Rule; and sometimes we need a so-called “golden proviso”—do unto you as you would do unto others.
During my first year of working as a Teaching Assistant at a graduate school, I must have forgotten to include the word “boundaries” in my vocabulary. I just didn’t have them; PMF was ancient history. Whenever a student needed to meet with me, I would make it work. Need me to come in on my day off? You can only make it to a 6:30am meeting? 9 students need to meet with me consecutively, without pause? NO PROBLEM!
Except it was a problem. I grew exhausted, burned out, and painfully overwhelmed. I wasn’t eating well, exercising, or sleeping enough. This, of course, propelled me to carry opinions and speak words over my appearance that were just plain cruel. My time was no longer my own, and I turned against my own body. I lived in fear of disappointing others or missing out on opportunities, so I kept saying yes and doing anything I could to accommodate the demands and schedules of others.
I have to forgive me—for the ways I disregarded my own needs in order to meet the needs of others.
Sweet self, I am sorry for the unkind words I’ve spoken to you, for the ways I did not tend to you, and for the consistency with which I acted as if everyone else were more important.
These days, I practice grace towards myself—in my work, in the way I talk to myself, and in the beliefs I hold about my body. I try to say “no” sometimes, to avoid over-committing, even though the fear of disappointing others is hard to face. I pay attention to how I am feeling, physically and emotionally, and I try to grant myself the same kindness, respect, and offerings of chocolate that I would to a treasured friend.
And when I forget about PMF—when the pressures of pleasing others or succeeding in my work grow louder than my own self’s cry for some care—then I try to pause. I listen to myself as a person in the room who is just as important as anyone else, and I extend and receive my own forgiveness.
Forgive me, Mallory; you deserve to be put first sometimes, too.
Mallory ‘Larsen’ Redmond received her master’s degree in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Recently married to her husband, Darren, she is enjoying this new season of life as a wife and writer. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.