Part One: On the Importance of Self-Care

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know when to share something or if I should keep it to myself altogether.

Today is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, a perfect combination if you think about it, so it seemed like the best possible day to speak on vulnerable things. 

Last summer, sometime around my birthday, I started doodling on a notepad. I was deep in thought about how to take better care of myself – a mundane topic for some, but monumentally important to me. As someone who’s always struggled with a depressive side, it can take an extra effort to move through the day intentionally, to resist the urge to crawl into bed and introvert so hard that a sturdy wall builds between the rest of the world and me.

Years ago I talked about this depressive streak with my grandmother. She, too, lives with the same little curse. She said, “I guess I’m just turned this way,” and it was then that I realized depression isn’t a cold. You don’t catch it a couple of times a year. It’s always stirring under the surface. Sometimes you feel it coming on slow and steady like a hurricane, and sometimes it pops up like a tornado, fast and furious, and you aren’t prepared at all.

There I sat doodling, drawing circles and lines and names, trying to discern how best to care for my mind, my body, my home, my relationships. Without medication (I’ve been there) and counseling (I’ve done that) and draining the energy out of my husband and closest friends (thanks y’all), I tried to figure out what is absolutely necessary to give myself the best possible chance of success in most circumstances.

While there are times when medication, professional counseling, and reaching out for external help are crucial, I have learned that how I care for myself has the greatest impact on how I move through the world. It is the core from which all the other stuff flows. 

Therefore, it starts with me, and since I’m married and view marriage as a fortress that must be rooted and built up, my husband comes next. Then come the boys, and after that, my closest friendships and family members.

This flow of care is controversial, no doubt. I know many moms whose flow of care is arranged differently, and I don’t intend to tackle or speak to their reasons why. Each woman (and man, for that matter) is capable of arranging her own hierarchies as she sees fit. Also, some of you are single with kids, or married without kids, or in various other ages and stages of life. The hierarchy shifts as life does. Of course!

WHICH IS TO SAY the hierarchy of care is fluid. There are times when care shifts depending on need, but when relationships are in good health, those shifts don’t shatter the system. Simply having a newborn shifts the hierarchy of the house temporarily. Basically, if I need to put more energy into myself, my husband, a friend, etc., I do.

So what does it look like inside each of the circles? I doodled those too.

Me First

While this goes against what we teach our children (“Others First”), I’m curious to know if we’ve made a wrong turn somewhere, like we’ve given no room for caveats. How can we care for others when we are not well ourselves? I keep coming back to this question: If I am struggling to stay above water, how can I be a reliable life jacket for any one else?

So, if my goal is to be the best possible person, the healthiest and most helpful to those I love, I need to address all aspects of my well-being (spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and personal) with a list of specific questions.

First, the spiritual self.

This is the core of the core, the deepest heart space that needs the most attention. For me, it’s my relationship with God. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it’s an intentional one. When I feel the most disconnected from actual life, I can usually point back to a disconnection in my spiritual life.

Second, the emotional self.

If I let them, the burdens of the world will put me prostrate. Burdens I create for myself keep me comatose. Holding grudges, repeating mistakes, hanging on to shame – these emotional bags wear us down, so we must learn to recognize what’s poisoning the well and deal with them accordingly.

Next, the physical self.

Almost as important as my spiritual and emotional life is the attention I place on physical health. Yes, we live in a constant state of dying, but I’m not talking about physical fitness here. Body dysmorphia is my cross to carry in this world, so daily exercise isn’t about fitting into jeans or losing those last ten pounds. For me, tending to the body is the same as tending to the mind. Exercise is my best medicine, and there has been plenty of research to prove it can mentally benefit everyone. Additionally, physical care is about how we nourish our body and how we rest it. 

Then, the personal self.

We’re all given talents and gifts, passions and interests, and it can take a lifetime of sorting through those things to make the most of them. Whether they transpire as full-on careers, lifelong hobbies, or bouts of effort over periods of time, our personal work is important. I was lucky to discern my love and talent for writing early on, but it’s not always been clear what I’m supposed to do with it. When it comes to my whole health, though, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how necessary personal work is.

Finally, the relational self.

We aren’t meant to move through life alone, which can be a challenging truth for hardcore introverts. Connecting with people isn’t what’s key; it’s how we connect with them that matters. Am I doing my part? Am I being used? Who or what am I neglecting? Living in conflict crowds the mind, and frankly, life is too short to let contention grow.

When one or more of these areas is out of balance, I’m not my best self and that leaves the door open for other areas of my life to suffer. It seems like common sense now, but it’s taken me years to recognize my poor attitude or season of depression was related to one or more of these areas being ignored. Never has my life been unmanageable, but many difficult seasons could’ve been better handled had I tended to my own well-being with intention. This may be old news to you, but for me, it’s been a two-by-four to the head.

I don’t think there’s ever a time when all of these questions are answered affirmatively. We are never 100 percent, are we? Yet, if working heartily on these areas of self-care with diligence, then we’re setting ourselves up to be better partners, parents, and friends.

Next up: caring for my spouse, my children, and those I love most.

Medal No. 16

For the first time in my long-distance running experience, I thought the race would be cancelled. The weather forecast ranged from a 70-90 percent chance of thunderstorms every hour for ten hours straight. There was no way around it. The race would go on rain or shine, but thunder and lightning would close it down. By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I was certain that I’d show up to the start line already drenched, maybe get a chance to start the race, only to have us pulled off the course for safety.

When I woke at 6:30, the sky was light gray, evidence that the storm hadn’t arrived yet. If it could only hold off a few hours, I thought. I readied myself and drove to the event with a few sprinkles on the windshield. Just hold off, I continued to pray. Just wait.

We started promptly at 7:30 a.m. The air was so damp that the humidity had to be 100 percent, but with the temperature at only 70 degrees, it wasn’t bothersome. As each mile passed, I counted the mileage that remained and felt grateful that the storms hadn’t arrived.

By mile six, a light drizzle began. No problem, I thought. I’m almost half way done. By mile eight, the drizzle turned into a gentle rain. Still, no thunder, no lightning. At mile ten, the rain got and stayed heavier, but with only three miles to go, I didn’t care. I was going to finish no matter what.

There were steep hills and a steady rain, and I’d only accomplished ONE long run (10 miles) while training, but I crossed the finish line in 2:22, in keeping with my usual pace (give or take). Once again, muscle memory and mental strength endured.

I spent the rest of Sunday in bed watching Masterpiece Theater episodes (Victoria) that had collected on my DVR. Occasionally, as I enjoyed pizza and homemade cookies, I’d glance over at my medal collection and feel grateful that I started running ten years ago. I am not stick-thin, and depending on the day, one might be surprised that I’m a runner at all. But I don’t run for anyone else. I run for me, for those medals, to combat the dysmorphia and to clear my head and to bring balance to my life.

Since summer in the South is unbearable, I’ll stick to the treadmill and lifting at the gym during the hottest months. Now I’m on the lookout for a couple of fall and winter races so I can keep adding to the collection. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day. 

Favorite Thing: Gaiam Yoga Mat

In early December, I purchased my very first yoga mat. This was after doing a year of yoga on the bedroom or living room carpet watching Yoga with Adriene videos. Not once did I think I needed a mat because 1) why spend the money when 2) the carpet is soft enough.

And then I signed up for a Yoga for Advent class at church and actually needed a mat so I wouldn’t be on the linoleum floor.

With Kohl’s cash and coupons in hand, I perused the modest exercise section of the store and found this beautiful gem:

The original retail price was $35, which is what you’d pay on the Gaiam website. While that isn’t the price I paid in Kohls, I would have no problem paying full price for this mat.

This particular mat, I just learned, is called the Serenity Reversible Yoga Mat and I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better name. As soon as I roll it out, I feel calm, eager to stretch, ready to slow down. Yoga has become a mainstay in my exercise routine and the addition of a yoga mat upped my game.

Honestly, I didn’t realize the grip feature was important, but it is! So much better than carpet! No slipping and sliding, which are counter-productive to proper yoga practice.

Additionally, the extra cushion does a make a difference, particularly as I try new positions and poses, as I attempt new practices that I finally feel confident enough to try.

That mat is reversible, but the chevron pattern isn’t as serene as the peacock feather.

Three things I love:
1. The grip of the mat was a feature I didn’t realize I needed, and not just in comparison to the carpet. As I’ve examined other mats in other stores, I’m glad I bought the Gaiam 5mm mat, as the grip bubbles and cushion depth are high quality.
2. The graphic print is a pleaser. This could be a petty perk, but I enjoy seeing the colorful feather every time I roll out the mat. Every single time.
3. Bringing out the mat readies my mind for the practice. It’s a feeling I didn’t have when I practiced on the carpet, when I’d pull up a video and begin. Now, when I place my bare feet on the mat, with the video set up in front of me, my body is signaled.  I’m in a specific zone. The air is different, and since yoga is a practice I value for not only for my physical health but also for my mental health, the air needs to be different.

 

My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols

First, the food. I finally went to the allergist to figure out why I cannot get a grip on food. For a long time, specifically since 2009, I’ve been trying to discern which foods rip my stomach apart and which ones don’t. After reading The G-Free Diet, I was sure that gluten was the culprit. I cut out all wheat products the week before Thanksgiving in 2009 and saw a significant improvement in my digestion. I thought I’d figured it out, but over time it’s proven ineffective and I’ve spent a lot of time complaining to Chuck about why I consistently don’t feel well.

Sick of hearing it, he told me last month, “I’m done listening to your complaining. Go to the allergist.” Lovingly, of course.

So I did. She pricked my skin with more than 150 environmental and food allergens. Measured against my body’s reaction to histamine, seventeen different foods showed a reaction. SEVENTEEN. Continue reading “My Do Not Eat List and the Tennessee Vols”

I pulled oil.

Since I’m already doing a cleanse this week, I decided to go full hippie and try oil pulling. (I’m building a slack line in the backyard this afternoon, right after I get back from the hookah bar.)

I don’t know what’s gotten into me.

Actually, that’s a lie. I know exactly what the problem is. I’ve not once worried about age or aging until a few months ago when my face broke out like a teenager, my metabolism bottomed out, and my gynecologist dropped the word  perimenopause in a routine exam.

I’ll pause here for dramatic affect.

Even in my early twenties, I wasn’t a bit worried about my thirties. Nor was I scarcely worried about my forties. I’m healthy (mostly) and make good food and exercise choices (mostly), so what did I have to be worried about?

Then I was blind-sided with acne and fatigue and perimenopause.

I hate that word now, but let’s keep moving forward.

I’m on Day 3 of a week-long cleanse and felt adventurous last night while watching Mr. Selfridge. I was sitting all cozy in my new bed and thought, “Why not now?” So I took a small scoop of coconut oil and put it in my mouth.

Oil pulling

It tasted like nothing. The texture was… not great. Once the little hard bits that felt like mucus broke down, the swishing was much better. I didn’t make it to twenty minutes, nor did I make it to ten. I’ll be honest and tell you I swished the oil for about five minutes and then I was bored. My cheeks started to hurt and it felt like the oil was dissipating, like maybe it was seeping down my throat.  Was I digesting coconut oil? Was it slowly creeping down my esophagus? 

That’s when the gag reflex kicked in and I decided oil pulling wasn’t for me.

The cleanse, for the record, isn’t for me either, but I’m continuing with it for three more days (or so) just to see what happens. It’s not entirely inconvenient, but it’s not my favorite way to spend time. It’s helpful that we don’t have many places to go this week, if you catch my drift.

Yay health.