The last few weeks my body has been in many different forms of pain, I've been feeling stressed, and like there is never enough hours in the day to go to my new day job, run my shop, see my nieces, sleep, and get even the slightest bit of rest in my day. And don't even bring up the progress on my 52 Hike Challenge.
I'm not exactly sure if I should say fortunately, or unfortunately, here, but I started learning about the importance of self care, sometimes drastic self care, at a young age as a high school senior, going through my parents divorce alongside my mother. By then I was already about 2 years into my depression diagnosis, so I was dealing with my own set of issues, aside from my mother and every other person my age, prepping for college and other teenage drama. I was learning that, sadly, sometimes school work did have to take a backseat to a good nights sleep. Or a weeknight overnight with my best friend, away from my family, was in fact necessary. Heck, even as extreme as my mother calling us both in sick once or twice that year just so we could spend the day together, not worrying about the outside world. Sometimes these things are necessary for us to decompress and regroup, before returning to our every day activities and stressors.
Despite the challenges I faced as young woman, learning about the importance of taking care of myself so young is still one of the most valuable lessons my mother taught me. During college, I learned that I did need to have a single dorm so I could have my own space to decompress in my own ways. I had 2 jobs in college besides the one I was paid to do: get good grades, and take care of myself and my health so I would make it through. Sadly, that was about all I did because taking care of myself, managing my drastically declining mental health, and studying took all of my time. I managed to keep a job one weekend a month that gave me some spending money, at least, too. Self care in college looked different since I didn't have someone to come and rescue me like I did when I lived at home. I would spend time out at my grandparents farm a few minutes from campus, enjoying their company, listening to their stories, helping where needed, and simply taking in the silence. This is probably where I learned the value of silence and how much I love, if not crave, it.
After college, self care took another turn. It looked more like making taking care of my mental health a huge priority. I took time away from my job on various leaves to attend extended day treatment programs. I set a firm medication and bedtime, to the displeasure of my significant other. Sometimes I had to use a sick day at the office because I simply was unable to function. I made hard choices at the expense of other things in my life and relationships. I came to enjoy trips to the salon to have my haircut once or twice a year and cherished them as valuable time to enjoy someone taking care of me and taking in all of the beautiful aromas. And sometimes, self care meant checking myself into the mental health unit of the hospital.
Luckily, these drastic measures did not have to last forever! Through therapy, my own reading and research, and from important people in my life, I learned that self care needed to be part of my daily life. It was not a bandage you put on once you start bleeding. Real self care takes place every day to keep your stress levels low and manage your challenging emotions. I started learning about the value of deep breathing and actually feeling the movement of the breath in various places in my body. I came to teach myself to breathe into various discomforts in my body in combination with visualization and imagery. I would learn to treasure my morning coffee or time spent with people I cared about. (Because self care doesn't always have to be solitary!). Simply: I started taking pleasure and finding peace in the little things that life had to offer or that I could do for myself.
In a more complex way, I started exploring the Buddhist spirituality and it's connection to mindfulness, breathing, and various forms of meditation. Although it was a huge challenge for me to make it to weekly practice with the Sangha, it still managed to hold a place in my soul with its focus on peace and compassion.
Today, my self care practice really looks nothing like a practice compared to a conscious awareness. I love my morning coffee or cappuccino, or two. I use products in the shower that are good for the environment while still smelling fantastic! I painted my bedroom a dark eggplant so my space would be soothing to my migraines and be dark enough to help me sleep at night. I started hiking a year or so ago and relish my time outside, in the woods, and the silence and sounds of nature. I try hard to take care of my skin and make it a mini spa experience by using products that are safe, smell good, don't cause irritations, and are good for the planet. I fell in love with sparkling waters and replaced soda in my diet. (Do you have any idea how many awesome flavors are on the market right now!) And all the while, I stay in touch with my breath by simply putting a hand on my belly to feel the air moving throughout my body, and helping ground myself. It is my breath that gets me through the tough times and anxiety.
I am working on reintegrating daily meditation and breath work into my day, especially as my body screams at me with aches and pains. In my own world, to me, it is a way for my body to tell me to slow down, and give it some more conscious, intentional love. I go to the doctors and complementary care providers as required, take medications and supplements that are indicated, and try to stay grounded somehow. I must keep reminding myself that I have to be intentional with how I care for myself. Even more now, during COVID, self care must remain a huge priority for me. And when self care just isn't doing enough, that is when I have to look to my doctors and my care team about what else we can do. Because self care alone won't keep my mental health issues in check; I know I also have to trust my team of support professionals. And that's okay.
Self care isn't selfish; it's self aware.