By the time David died of pancreatic cancer in 2016, I was exhausted. Over the last few years, I have learned to prioritize myself first, without shame or guilt.

  • I was exhausted from asking David for time to take a break for my own self-care and being told, “but I’m the one with cancer”
  • I was exhausted from holding in my grief, fear, anger and tears so I wouldn’t scare him, instead of sharing the weight of it, which left us both profoundly alone
  • I was exhausted from sleeping only two to four hours a night because every time I woke, I remembered that I would never feel his arms around me again, that he was dead and gone

In addition, my inability to focus, sudden memory loss and tapped out energy made me feel incompetent, unlike my usual self. I was unable to network and serve my clients or follow through to reach my goals. I felt broken and others treated me that way too.

Life is short. I didn’t want the life I had before David died back. After being with him for almost twenty-five years, I needed to design a future I had not anticipated without him. Everything shifted when I realized that losing David couldn’t break me. Circumstances by themselves can’t break people, unless we allow it.

I knew that to get back to myself, I had to press through my boundaries and expand my capacity for joy again. It was complicated because opening to joy also invited in a wave of grief, shame and guilt that Dave was no longer here to share my life. The feelings made no logical sense but emotions can’t be reasoned with.

Self-care was the key to coming back home to myself and reclaiming my ability to thrive without regrets again. I began scheduling self-care into my calendar every week because exhausted people try to keep going and going. They don’t know any better.

These are some of the practices I added into my schedule:

  • Journaling grounded my feelings and experiences on paper so I could follow the threads of my thoughts and feelings
  • Singing tapped my heart and moved the grief through my body so it didn’t get stuck
  • Engaging in movement like LiveFemme!, walking and dancing shifted my mood proactively
  • Connecting with nature reminded me that I was part of the universe
  •  Saying “Yes” to invitations from family and friend to have fun without feeling any obligation to reciprocate in-kind

Exhausted people are depleted of energy. They can’t think, plan or act well. Self-care is anything which makes a person feel good, complimentary to pricy. Self-care expands our capacity to make better decisions and take more effective action. Networks thrive when everyone does. Exhausted people tend to sacrifice themselves for others, rather than having everybody win, including financially.

If you have been feeling burnt out or exhausted, increasing the self-care practices in your calendar consistently will improve your vitality, business and lifestyle.

Increase your self-care today. I have a complimentary PDF called “10 Stress-free Ways to Prioritize Your Self-care” which I would be glad to email you if you want some ideas. Which self-care practice will you choose to add first?


  • Alison BW Pena

    Bad Widow Consultant and Speaker

    Alison Pena aka Bad Widow lives in NYC with her boyfriend, Wayne. She met and married David Beynon Pena, an incredible artist, in October 1996 and was widowed in September 2016. She is a consultant, speaker and author. For fun, Alison loves hanging with friends and family, music, travel, Maine, doing open mics, writing, exploring and learning new stuff. Alison started to offer resources about how to reclaim resilience and resourcefulness after a loss or transition, including work, relationships, health, money and love. She supports clients to 1) re-engage with life fully, 2) reinvent yourself and 3) rebuild networks after loss or transition.