Self-Care First

So, in March I had to take a break from calling my representatives and even reading the news. I got overwhelmed, and then of course I felt disappointed in myself. I had to shrug that off pretty quickly, though, because I really do know better. Specifically, there are three things I know. First, I know that it's okay to take breaks from resisting this not-at-all-normal political situation we are in, because it's going to be a long haul and resting is the only way I'll make it. Second, I know that if I want a sustainable healthy outcome, I need to engage in whatever I'm doing in sustainable, healthy ways. And third, I know that my strongest contributions emerge from a foundation of diligent and compassionate self-care. Right now my self-care mostly looks like pieces of thick paper holding many layers of color:

Self-care often seems counter-intuitive when there is so much "other stuff" to be done, and when the need for that other stuff seems so urgent. But no real change can be made without both a clear vision and a belief that change is possible. Both vision and belief have a positive, expansive energy, and grow naturally from emotional states like gratitude, pleasure, and appreciation. If I'm not in one of these states on a regular basis, I start losing my sense of possibility, and then I literally can't see clearly, even if the answer is right under my nose.

Silly example, but a true story: More than once, I've failed to find my keys on a shelf, bench, or table, truly in plain sight, simply because I was convinced that I had left them in a purse or backpack. I also spiral myself into an anxiety whirlpool when this happens. My partner Isaac, always calm in a crisis, and of course under no such delusion about keys being exclusively lost in bags, finds them every time.

So connecting to possibility is key (terrible pun, I know, but stay with me). Shifting our emotional state really does help the mind to see clearly and form ideas that move it closer to its stated goal, whether that goal is finding lost objects, running a marathon, or unrestricted abortion rights. And maintaining a base level of gratitude, appreciation, and pleasure is what allows us to keep reconnecting with that possibility, and to therefore continue forming visions in our imagination.

I know this with more certainty than I used to because I've been watching myself slip out of hopeful states again and again for weeks now, and it's not random. There is a pattern to it. The main thing is my anger. I get angry much more often than usual since Jan 20, and I can see that what I do with my anger makes an enormous difference, and that I need a stronger-than-before self-care practice to manage it. If I get angry, sit at my desk all day, blame myself for my part in letting this all happen, and imagine apocalyptic future scenarios, then I waste a lot of precious time. I don't do much at all, in fact. Not my own work, not advocacy for others, not political calls.

On the other hand, if I get angry, go out and pull some weeds in the garden, paint in my makeshift art studio, and remind myself of the incredible life that I am living right now, then I will reliably finish my own to-do list, call members of Congress, and research community organizations to support. When I respond by stepping up my self-care, I compassionately manage my emotional state and remember that change is possible.

Taking amazing care of yourself, though, especially if you're a woman, can feel very wrong. Otfen, when I move to step up my ways of caring for myself with time, treats, or nourishing activities, alarms go off in my head that scream variations of "Stop being selfish - you have plenty to eat and you're safe, so put your head down and do some work" or "You don't need anything, help someone else." For a long time I believed these voices. It's true that I live an enviable existence compared to most people in the world. It's true that work is valuable, and that helping others is rewarding and healing in itself. However, listening closely to these voices, I hear the same pattern that is responsible for even the most extreme oppression and control of women and various other groups of people around the globe. The common message is that my needs, desires, and wishes are invalid or unimportant. By extension, I am unimportant. The only thing that is important, rather, is that I work or that I serve others. That's not an uplifting, life-giving message. It's not humane. If you really take it at face value, it's thinly-veiled slavery.

What I am working on this month is releasing this pattern in me, putting aside the quantifiable elements of my civil identify such as wealth, status, education, and access to resources in order to quiet that voice that tells me I am unimportant unless I work or serve others. If I want to get at the pattern itself, I need to ignore these more superficial aspects, at least temporarily, and give my inner echo chamber a new script proclaiming my needs, desires, and wishes of maximum importance.

Only you know what your optimal self-care activities are and how much of them you need and when. Here are some guidelines for recommitting to honor your own desires, whatever they are:

1. Self-care is not a to-do list. It must bring you delight, calm, pleasure or other feelings of expansion, even if it's just 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea. Really. Enjoy that cup of tea!

2. Your self-care is YOURS. No comparing with other people's self-care. Read vampire novels, eat a bowl of raspberries, run 10 miles, or meditate. Whatever brings you feelings of joy, gratitude, and pleasure, dedicate some consistent time to that thing.

3. Acknowledge and accept any dissenting voices in your head. Welcome them and then kindly ask them to take a seat in the corner, or lie down under a shady tree in your mind, while you go about your delightful business.

Since starting my life coaching business in January, one of my primary focus areas has been sustainable self-care and work/life balance. If this area is something you feel motivated to shift right now, please contact me for a totally free, no-commitment phone consultation. Fill out the short form in the right hand column and I'll be in touch within 24 hours. I would love to connect with you.