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Love Yourself and Take a Bubble Bath

My Personal Coming Clean Story

By E.L. MartinPublished 2 years ago 17 min read
Love Yourself and Take a Bubble Bath
Photo by Matthew Tkocz on Unsplash

Recently, I made a change in my lifestyle. My mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health was taxed to the maximum. Simply put, I was a heart attack waiting to happen. I didn't like myself. The lifestyle I was living wasn't what I had hoped for or wanted.

Still, I stuck to my people-pleasing nature and fear of letting others around me down. I kept chugging along like the "little engine that could" no matter how weary I grew. Quitting felt like acquiescing and giving up; it felt like failure. My "need" to fulfill others' expectations clearly wasn't helping me. They weren't me, and they weren't the ones suffering from my actions to please them. Other loving voices along the way were present if had I chosen to listen to them, but I lost them in the noise. If I had listened to them, maybe I wouldn't have wound up in that situation in the first place. Throughout this process, I learned something valuable about self-care, self-love, and loving others.

By Denis Chick on Unsplash

One voice I neglected was the voice of my mother-in-law. She didn't seem grounded in "reality", she never pursued the things she claimed she would, and she was frustratingly oblivious. In truth, she was all of the characteristics I disliked in myself and had difficulty accepting. I was outraged that a woman in her late fifties was allowed to remain so naïve and whimsical. Why was she protected? I wanted to be like her; kind, caring, thoughtful, and full of dreams, but those same characteristics were rejected in me. I was jealous.

When I had exhibited my creativity, spontaneity, kind-hearted, and generous nature as a child, they were shunned as being unrealistic. To quote one source, those same attributes would result in me "winding up dead in a ditch somewhere." My creativity was chastised instead of praised. The things that brought me joy were frowned upon. In short, I learned that my mother-in-law was someone I "shouldn't" be like.

I focused on my training to "not be like that" throughout adolescence. I subscribed to the education pathways that were pushed by family, educators, and peers. My family prided itself in science and mathematics, and despite their disdain for my creative nature, they found me intelligent and useful as long as I was steered in the "right" direction. If I couldn't be a doctor or engineer, law or government was the next best solution.

By Bill Oxford on Unsplash

I learned to keep secrets or share them with small communities in situations similar to myself. I didn't seek praise for my drawings, artwork, or writing, but simply hid them away for fear of condemnation. When others discovered my creations, I either panicked and criticized my own work or lied and told them it wasn't mine. I knew lying wasn't "right", but being how I was wasn't "right" either so I thought it was the lesser of two evils.

Some people noticed my skills and liked them. Those became my friends; the friends my family usually didn't like. In college, I was a bit freer and able to express myself more. I made more connections who didn't criticize my artwork and passions. Some even wondered why I wanted to work for the government or be a lawyer when I graduated. They didn't think it suited me. As I would find out, they were correct.

During college my husband-to-be proposed. One advisor was angered by this engagement, and felt my husband-to-be would cause the damnation of my otherwise fruitful career plans. From his perspective, he was partially right. When I underwent a brief law internship, I decided I was much happier working in my current part-time job as a "demo lady" at Sam's than pursuing the legal profession. My husband-to-be supported that decision whereas my professors were disappointed.

A photo from my time at Sam's Club as an Event Specialist.

After graduation, I kept my Sam's gig and started my first full-time position as a Case Manager for a psychological facility. I wanted to work at a human service centered field that was "more respectable" to my family than my position with Sam's. I thought it was a "healthy compromise." It seemed the gateway to negative self-thought and approval seeking didn't shut with the law internship decision after all.

When my mental health was harmed by the stresses of my new position, I wanted to continue working it. My family wasn't ashamed of it, and I told myself that I needed three years of experience as a Case Manager to get another "good job." My frustrated husband asked me why I would work three years at a job I disliked just to get another job of the same type I probably wouldn't like either, but I was adamant about it. When it started impacting our marriage, he gave me an ultimatum: choose the job I love that my family frowns upon and keep him or choose the job that was harming me and lose both. I made the right decision in keeping him and the job I loved, but others didn't see it that way.

My close friends, in-laws, and husband were completely supportive of my choice. They were proud of me and happy for me. I was happy; but my family wasn't. I saw the looks they gave me; disappointment and sorrow. I was an embarrassment to them. Their incessant job suggestions, helpful job search advice, and career tips only proved in action what their eyes already said. I felt inadequate and would soon get the "opportunity" I was hoping for to prove myself: a contractor for a government agency. If I could further "prove" myself, I would even be offered a government position, which my family held in high regard. Once again, I went into it all with gusto and achieved those goals at the price of myself and loved ones.

By Hunters Race on Unsplash

Many of my government coworkers shared a similar mindset to my family and professors. They talked about others similar to my mother-in-law and myself in a negative light. Sometimes it would be people they knew that were discussed, and sometimes it would be random people that we passed on the street that they targeted for negative conversation. Those who met my mother-in-law said many things about her; she was "controlled" by her husband. She was "not very bright, loud, and impractical." She had been a stay-at-home parent and had "no concept of the working world." She had been forced to remedial work due to her "lack of education" and choice to be a stay-at-home-parent when she "should have been working like everyone else." She "made things hard on herself" by not doing so, and they were glad they didn't end up like her. In other words, she was the perfect target for who to "not end up like." I was terrified and determined not to end up like her. Feeling I needed to suit their tastes in order to have a good job and not wind up in as tough of a situation as her, I became everything that harmed who I was in the first place.

When my mother-in-law brought up whimsical ideas she discovered, I strained it through my mental filter. I thought to myself, "She's not actually going to do them, so why bother?" or "She hates dealing with computers, so why does she think she can go into graphic design?" I hated that I was so harsh on her, but I treated her as such anyway. I felt like I had to resist whatever she was pushing because so many others were against it. If I allowed her "illogical" reasoning to reach me it would swallow me whole. Instead, I held onto my fear and anxiety and let it consume me.

My mother-in-law never made me feel guilty for who I was, but she did make me feel guilty for how I acted. The guilt I had were actions I personally felt bad about. She received my negativity with kindness, love, and understanding. Even when she couldn't understand my situation, she still listened as best as she could. She didn't take the opposite side or question my decisions. She tried to relate even when things weren't relatable to her personally. Her kindness made me feel worse about my actions toward her, my opinions of her, and my overall attitude.

I felt embarrassed when many of my conversations centered around toxic things like work at the job I hated or family drama I despised dealing with. I wanted to talk about happy things with her, but I also didn't want to talk about hopeful things. I foolishly changed her pointless "If I won the lottery" fantasies and travel schemes to more cumbersome "normal" topics. I was set in my pit of depression and I planted myself there.

By eberhard 🖐 grossgasteiger on Unsplash

When she brought up her workplace issues like her company insisting she work even when she was sick now that they were working from home, I was outraged and told her about how unethical it was. By the same token, when my son or I were ill and I needed to call off from work, I was also badgered and treated poorly for it. I decided to work, see if my husband could take time off for our son, or get a formal doctor's notice despite policy stating I didn't need one unless I missed three days of work. I didn't want to deal with the backlash either. I was a hypocrite with no room to talk.

By engin akyurt on Unsplash

My negativity proved that I was not in a good situation, and regardless of her rudimentary work, my mother-in-law was still hopeful for a better life and her own attitude had not changed. Her relationships with others were healthier, despite her kind heart being taken advantage of occasionally. By contrast, was my own bitterness helping anyone? Certainly not, and it was only wearing the parts of me I liked away. She was aware of her own situation, but striving to make things better. Here I was both ignoring mine and letting it destroy me and the others around me.

I was happy with my husband and my incredible son, but they were receiving whatever version of me that was left after I had distributed myself to everyone else. My husband poignantly told me I was getting even less of myself then they were and wondering why all parts of my health were declining?! I felt guilty and worn. I wasn't happy with what I was doing, where I was at, and how I was handling it. I was disappointed in myself. My wake-up call had arrived. No matter who or what I was striving to be, I was failing and something had to give.

I started asking myself what I truly wanted instead of listening to the noise of those around me. Who should I really be listening to based on how they live and what I want out of life? Are they happy? Were they qualified to be giving me advice based on their actions and attitudes on life? I found that many of them were just as miserable as I was, and decided I didn't want to be that way. Many of those voices didn't know life any better than my mother-in-law or myself; they just professed to. It was a lie they told themselves to make them feel better, and their lives and attitudes proved it. I decided to quit listening to the noise, and started focusing on the people that mattered.

By Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

My son is my most important person in my life. He gave me hope, dreams, and goals. He and my desire to be the type of parent I wanted to be were the things that really opened the gateway to my decision to change and those important realizations. I wanted to be involved with activities and events at daycare or school. I was always excited when schools nearby posted science fairs or book fairs on their notice boards. I fantasized about making and exploring new things with him. I wanted to watch his magical discoveries and be the strong, reliable, compassionate mother he needed. I desired more children and to be just as present in their lives as I wanted to be in his. A whole world of opportunities opened up in my heart and I was reminded of simpler wishes, desires, and dreams I had.

By Bethany Beck on Unsplash

Did my current lifestyle align with those goals? I wanted to be the one reliably taking care of my son both when he was sick and when he was healthy. I wanted to bake cookies with him around the holidays and have the same weeks off with him when he was in school. Had I been able to get those same weeks off in the past? I was allowed to be off on official government holidays and the leftovers no one else in my current office wanted. I told them I was willing to be last for now, but hoped they would return the favor when my child was older. Management verbally consented, but when opportunities arose to prove those words, they refused. They even noted my intention on having more children. My reward for being obedient, hard-working, and the type of employee and daughter that was desired was to become a workaholic with little quality time to spend with the child I loved. I realized I was bargaining for a future that wasn't going to happen if I continued to stay.

Conversely, my late father-in-law owned his own business. It was tough and risky. My mother-in-law stayed at home with their children then worked as a caregiver to the elderly after their children were older. They were never financially wealthy or considered successful. They made enough to get by and struggled, but the love they had for each other and their children was something that couldn't be questioned. I wanted love like that in my life. When I met their son, I was brought into their family as an additional daughter. That kindness and treatment blew my mind and pulled at my heart. What I saw in their family was another reason why I married their son, who represented all those same accepting and loving values.

By Nick Fewings on Unsplash

My mother-in-law raised a wonderfully strong and kind son who had been my greatest supporter in life, but had I been the wife I wanted to be to him? When I was working at Sam's, our relationship was prosperous. Since I had started working for the government, he claimed it had changed me for the worse.

He was right. Who I was and what I was expected to be weren't the same person, so I buried my true self in favor of who others' wanted me to be. It was like he wasn't even married to the same person. I wasn't giving him my full attention and time. He was getting leftovers of me, and it wasn't fair to him. He urged me many times to leave and do something else that I would be happier at regardless of the income and insurance, but for six years I stayed.

When I was off on maternity leave, those were some of both our hardest and best times. We were a team again, relying on one another and caring for our little one. It was reminiscent of the past. He mentioned it felt like a dream compared to the reality we had been dealing with for six years. Six years he lived through the highs and lows of my bizarre new personality. Did I want to be the type of wife who neglected her husband for the sake of money, pride, status, and insurance? No, but that was who I had been. Once again, I wasn't being who I wanted to be and I was the reason.

I neglected and rebelled against the very values that his family showed. I contradicted the reasons why I married him. I hurt his heart and changed some of his kindness toward me by ignoring him. Here were people who loved and accepted my quirks and made me happy, and instead I pointed my finger at them and said, "You're wrong!" I didn't literally, but it would have been better if I had instead of the emotional turmoil I subjected them all to instead.

Yet, my mother-in-law always wrote kind words about me in cards, always tried to cheer me up or listen to me, and not an unkind word about me was spoken from her lips when I completely deserved it. My husband endured all of it patiently hoping that one day he would get his wife back. My son made silly faces at me to try and get me to smile on days where I couldn't hold myself back from crying. These were the supports and voices I didn't listen to instead of the ones who were never satisfied with me.

It took me far longer than I wish it had to listen to them. These were the individuals who knew me and cared. These same people stood by me when our income dropped by half. These same people are the ones who welcome me with open arms. I learned to enjoy hugs when I never liked them before. My in-laws always insisted on hugs. It used to aggravate me, but this year I suppose I needed them and appreciated them more. I needed to truly change things; my job, my attitude, my lifestyle, my health, everything except my closest friends and the loving family I do have.

By Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I started communicating with my husband more about things other than work and our son. We still wanted similar things, and he was excited that I was showing interest in things I hadn't in years. I started writing, baking, and trying out artwork again and remembered the joy it brought. I planned my employment exit for a month after my official government five year date (I spent one year as a contractor) after talking over other options with my supervisor. I realized things weren't going to change for me while I was there no matter how many eloquent words were spoken. My birthday was the same week I was leaving my ill-suited job behind, and my mother-in-law came over.

She gave me a vitamin c & rosehip oil bath set for my birthday. I hadn't taken a bubble bath since my husband and I's honeymoon. When she had bought me rainbow bath bombs in the past, I thanked her and distributed them to my seven year old cousins later. The thought of taking a relaxing bath didn't cross my mind at the time. My mental filter kicked in. I was too busy and bath bombs were "silly."

As far as scents go, I'm not a floral person. I prefer fruity and sweet or minty, but this year I thanked my mother-in-law with a hug and a chuckle. I scheduled an appointment with the bathtub for the following week. I was going to give this a chance. I picked up the bath toys that remained in the bathtub and put them in the pocketed shower curtain. I wasn't sure that bathing in our small tub usually reserved for my son while looking at his toys would help me relax, but I did feel very mom-like. I grabbed the bubble bath, soap rose petals, and selected the red hued bath bomb. As I poured in the bubble bath, the flowery fragrance wasn't as potent as I had anticipated. It had a soft, subtle scent instead. I added the red bath bomb to the mix, and it was a surprisingly pretty shade. I added the matching soap petals and smiled. I was surprised that my skin was feeling more nourished than usual and I felt reinvigorated. Somehow, coming clean was feeling luxurious, energetic, and promising. Things were looking up.

By Tushar Jain on Unsplash

I sent my mother-in-law an unprompted appreciative thank you message. Before, I avoided most unnecessary communications. When she responded, she told me she thought I could use a bubble bath to relax and was glad to hear from me. I was getting pretty dark there for a while. I needed a change and she figured a bubble bath would do me some good. It seemed it did after all. Others that don't matter may think I'm washed up, but loved ones around me realize I'm coming clean, and personally, I know I'll be taking more bubble baths in the future.

By Feeh Costa on Unsplash


About the Creator

E.L. Martin

Powered by Nature, Humanity, Humor, Food, Lifestyle, Fiction, and Culture; Oh, and a questionable amount of coffee.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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  • Ava Saintabout a year ago

    Great job

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