Last week, as I checked into my Emirates flight to India, my husband asked the lady behind the counter, “How much would it cost to upgrade my wife’s ticket to business class?” Even though it was less than $2,000, I screamed. And, not with joy. I was overwhelmed! I don’t believe in frivolous spending — on myself. My immigrant mentality kicked in. I kept resisting and arguing that this was excessive.
“This is our hard-earned money. How can you waste it like this,” I asked.
“Waste?” My husband looked at me, “You need to rest and recover before you reach India. You have been in pain for a week, and there is no time in India to recuperate.” Yes, my autoimmune and inflammation kicked in before my travels. I am part of the sandwiched generation that is constantly juggling multi-generation care. After visiting my dad, in-laws, and best friend for a week, I went to southern India. There I am doing an internship at an Ayurvedic hospital in the day (6 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., six days a week) and will be working at my day job at night since I couldn’t get time off from work. Meaning, for the next few weeks, I will be surviving on a few hours of sleep every night.
My husband didn’t listen to me and got the upgrade. I had tears in my eyes.
“No one has ever done something like this for me.” I said, crying.
“You have to let people do things for you instead of you always taking care of them,” he said in a matter-of-fact way.
Now that I think about it, somehow I believed that I didn’t deserve the gesture. It was too much money to spend on me.
But I am a working woman and have been earning since I was 22! How did that mindset come about? Here I thought that my purchase of Lululemon leggings and sportswear were a testimony to me taking care of myself. Aah, the stories we tell ourselves.
My entire life, I have loved pampering others. What do people love? What are their preferences? What do they enjoy? What’s their favorite flavor? What foods bring a smile to their face? What are their hobbies? I love planning small details and big surprises.
The weekend after I got done with exams in Ayurveda school, my husband and I — both avid hikers — decided to travel to Pennsylvania to enjoy the nature trails and the fall colors. The weather was surreal for the end of October and the colors were vibrant shades of orange and yellow. We have patronized an Indian Chinese restaurant that makes the best hakka noodles outside of Tangra in Kolkata, India. The plan was to hike and then grab some good ‘ol desi Chinese before driving back to New York.
Even before we left NYC, I turned to my husband, “Babe, you love the Sichuan lamb there. You should definitely order it.” Then I talked about how we should get a few of our friends and family to this place. Apparently, I rattled names of dishes that each one of them would enjoy. My husband interrupted me.
“Can you for once just think about what you want instead of what others would enjoy?”
He was right; these exams were intense. I don’t think I have been this stressed since I defended my master’s thesis at Columbia University. I did well on the exam, too. But instead of celebrating my hard work or success, I was thinking about others out of habit. Even as a kid, I rarely asked for anything. There was a big joke in the family that my brother was always broke, and I would save up my pocket money to buy gifts for those I cared about.
As I sat in the plane, and the business class seat turned into a bed, I whispered so much gratitude to my husband. I don’t eat on long distance flights, but the menu options looked so tantalizing, I broke my own rule. The flight attendant asked if she should add a mattress to my seat. I told her I wasn’t sure what that meant. Literally. Newsflash: They pad your seat with a light mattress, so it feels like a real bed. I slept so deeply. The vertical sleeping arrangement in economy, which I usually travel, doesn’t let me relax. When I woke up, there was space to do meditation, stretches, and some breath work.
The money spent on upgrading my ticket was worth every penny. I had boarded the flight with aches, exhaustion and pain, and deplaned well rested. I wrote two essays on the flight and edited a third one. I would have never made this investment on my own. Why did I hesitate and get all emotional when my husband offered the upgrade? Why did I feel guilt burning every cell in my body? Where was my Joan o -Arc attitude stemming from? We all must look within and ask ourselves the deeper question: What is the motivation for this martyr-like behavior? Partly cultural, partly conditioning, partly DNA, and partly own choice? I don’t take care of others to win accolades.
After all, why do we all work so hard and earn a paycheck? If we are unwell or need extra TLC, why does the mind rebel? We “save” for a future we don’t know if we have and sacrifice today where we are suffering. I’m not disregarding the importance of saving. But if we nourish ourselves in the now, can you see the long-term benefit?
I hope as this year comes to an end, those of you who have the same let’s-take-care-of-others syndrome as me, please start to shift your perspective. You cannot place yourself at the bottom of the totem pole and continue caring for others. Let’s remind each other: Not sustainable. Because one day the frustrations will catch up and set our sanity ablaze. More than anything, can you truly love others if your love for self is less than optimal?
“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary” ~ Mandy Hale