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Some people seem to be naturally good at self-care. When they are stressed, they go and get a manicure or go out with some friends. They take time for themselves. I am not one of those people. In fact, I come from a long line “suck it up” types. Not only do we do things like go to work sick (or pretend we aren’t sick until we are so sick that we can’t move), but we also ignore our mental wellbeing. Depression? Anxiety? Nope. Slap a smile on and go out and do stuff. The only problem is that doing that works about as well as ignoring a physical sickness. Sure, if it’s not bad, it’ll run it’s course, but ignore serious mental aliments and they can blossom into trips to the doctor or hospital just like a physical illness.

This is about making sure we don’t over stress the “muscle” of our mind, to be used with or without medication, as needed.

My mom was the first to clue in on the fact that ignoring her mental wellbeing wasn’t working. Her mind decided it had had enough, and trips to the doctor ensued. After that, she realized she needed a tool- like a thermometer- to help her measure and take care of her mental state. With much tweaking, she developed a simple but effective method. She took the idea that it takes three positive comments to overcome one negative comment and went from there.


These are her marbles. They set in a jar that represents herself. As life takes its toll, marbles find their way into bowl- usually three at a time to correspond to a negative event, but some events call for the large shooter marble which counts for more. It is not only a visual representation to remind her to take care of herself, but it also serves as permission; permission to take herself out to the movies (drop a marble or two back in), permission to just rest and read a book for a while (another marble back in), permission to not suck it up this time.

Also, it’s fun to say, “I’m losing my marbles!”

One of the great benefits to this system is for my dad, who is not an emotional person (we joke that he’s all head and my mom is all heart). While he may not understand my mom’s emotions, he does understand the jar. It’s like oil in a car. The oil gets low, the car doesn’t run smooth. Her jar gets low, things don’t run smooth, and he’ll ask, “I see your jar is low. What can I do help put some marbles back in it?”

Book Image

Have I mentioned that I’m obsessed with trees? Or that my mom is awesome? Either way, both are true. For my birthday, my mom got me a “marble jar”. A beautiful representation of me, and a way to make sure that I take care of myself. I decided to call it my Giving Tree (if you haven’t read Shel Silverstein’s book, you should go to the library right now and remedy that). When I slap a smile on and I’m “happy… but not really”, or I’m in danger of giving so much of myself that all that is left is a stump, I will give myself permission to take a walk in the woods, to have some tea and a quiet morning, to take care of myself.

My Tree

P.S. This system isn’t meant to be in lieu of medicine. When our bodies break, we often need medicine to heal as well as to take care of the injured part. The same is true of our minds. This is about making sure we don’t over stress the “muscle” of our mind, to be used with or without medication, as needed.