I think I’d always wanted to be independent. I’d always wanted to pack up my bags, escape home, flee to a lovely metropolis-adjacent suburban environment – no, seriously, emphasis on the suburb part, not the metropolis part – and live happily ever after out of the reach of my Mom’s long, long arms.

I knew that if I remained in Indiana, she’d always be a drive away… and drive, she would. If I called and asked her for money, she’d snark me into oblivion, but if I said I needed groceries, she’d drive right over. Weird, right?

I grew up in a community full of entrepreneurs, so it made sense to me to attempt to run my own business once the urge hit. And, as I found myself pregnant with Mini-me fresh into my senior year of undergrad, the urge hit quickly. College, infant, and now the need for employment and health care? Which one of these things is going to be most malleable here, schedule-wise? Time to become self-employed.

I was meticulous in my planning. Scheduled as many of my classes online as possible, adjusted my services and prices in my web design and development business so that I could have a more malleable schedule and make better wages for it, and was careful to be very appreciative of my friends who offered to babysit for me when I had a class that required my physical presence. Whew, thank goodness for the digital era. Otherwise, a crying baby would’ve interrupted a very productive Music Theory IV class.

The baby was always well fed, the bills were always paid, and I was on honor roll. My life was otherwise quite pleasant. I worked hard, laughed hard, played hard, enjoyed sorority life, and raised a beautiful little girl. The only thing I was missing, was taking care of myself.

No, I’m not just talking about being overweight. I mean, I’m talking about emotionally, I’m talking physically, I’m talking mentally. There were whole days when I didn’t and, because of how tightly I was scheduled, couldn’t leave the house. There were times when I’d planned feeding myself so badly that I had practically nothing in the fridge. There was even an entire weekend that I’d spent living off of a gallon of ice cream, because I had homework assignments, work assignments, and a baby to feed and change and care for.

On the outside, everyone thought I was managing it all so well. On the inside, I was struggling.

These were habits I took into my mid-twenties, as well. And it wasn’t until I was fully solidified in my twenty-somethingness that I learned better, that I need to care for myself just as well as I cared for my child and my clients and my homework, otherwise I’d be negatively affecting my ability to care for them at all.

I realized that, no, it’s not okay to spend days inside the house without leaving to get some fresh air, go for a walk, or enjoy the company of others. Humans are meant to socialize with others – to intentionally deny myself the company of friends and loved ones is to intentionally suffocate myself in the stale air and clicks of computer keys.

I realized that after about 16 or so hours without sleep, I start acting… and feeling… and programming like a drunk person. And then I looked it up and realized that’s actually scientifically proven. Not my brightest moment, waking up and realizing I’d had a “T” key stuck to my forehead, and then looking up and realizing I’d ruined a day’s worth of code because I fell asleep face first in it.

I also had to learn how to inexpensively eat healthier. My body couldn’t run optimally without all the nutrients I’m supposed to have. It most certainly wasn’t running optimally when I was surviving an entire weekend solely on Blue Bell Cookies and Cream. (Side note: I still can’t believe I ate a gallon in a weekend.)

I also had to learn to plan. Planning my meals in the same way that I planned out client projects meant that I always had food, and knew when it was time to buy more. Without planning, I’d run into weekends when I had to survive on Blue Bell, or – even worse – giant bags of Doritos from the gas station across the street from my house. Whew, was it bad.

I used to believe that simply because I couldn’t pay myself the way my clients paid me, I thought it justified putting myself last. When, in all actuality, I needed to learn that caring for myself was something that needed to be included in the cost of the services I provided. If I wanted to give top notch, quality service, I needed to be in top notch, tip top shape. I can’t do that on a steady diet of Doritos and no sleep.

So many people think of “starting out” tips in terms of finances, “firsts,” and the like, but in my mind, learning about living healthily on your own as a young adult is just as valuable and meaningful as those tips for that first job, that first car, and that first apartment. While memorable, you’ll never live with those as long as you live with your first efforts to live healthily.

*I don’t want to hear squat about my double nalia, thanks! : )

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Disclosure: Compensation was provided by State Farm via Mode Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of State Farm.