Self Care – What does that mean to you?

I’m doing some research on Self-Care for a series of workshops and talks designed around helping people develop their own Self-Care Toolbox. I decided to ask some friends for their thoughts, feelings and opinions. This post is concerned with the first question I asked:

“What does ‘Self-Care’ mean to you?”

For many people it meant taking time for themselves. Self-Care was an amount of time with their own well-being as the priority. Slowing down the pace of their life in order to think and reassess – being mindful of their life, the world and their place in it. Stopping and checking in with themselves about what they needed, then if possible, supplying it. The first step was to stop and ask “what do I need?”

For many parents, that took considerable effort and planning so wasn’t something that felt it could be done often or regularly, or sometimes at all. Simply not putting yourself last, self preservation.

The concept of self-care was offered as looking after yourself so that you are in turn able to look after others. Or anything that made them feel healthier in mind and/or body – including just feeling happier. The main reason given for Self-Care was in order to de-stress (being happier often being part of that). Suggesting that Self-Care didn’t kick in until we were stressed enough to have to do something about it.

It made me wonder, is it possible to put an element of Self-Care in place to reduce or avoid stress? Of course life can thwack us unexpectedly around the head and stress can never be completely avoided, but can Self-Care come into daily life rather than being applied as an emotional sticking plaster?

Self-care often seemed to be focused on the foundations of well-being:

  • Washing
  • Dressing
  • Taking medications/vitamins
  • Eating nutritiously (if possible), sometimes, just eating.
  • Drinking water
  • Exercise/moving/fresh air

Self-care could be seen as something that felt mildly indulgent or even selfish sometimes.

I have to say, that made me a little sad. Self-Care should be seen as essential and necessary. Like breathing, water, food, taking care of ourselves is part of that package.

It’s also something that’s fluid and changing, sometimes it was taking the break that your body and mind needed, sometimes it was kicking yourself up the butt to get something finished or started.

“It isn’t being nice to yourself, it’s being kind, and in some cases that means practicing self discipline. It’s also different for each person.” Kate, 24, Cambridge.

Kate’s words said exactly what I wanted to, so I asked her permission to use them verbatim.

So Self-Care is different things for different people, and also different for the same person.

The common element is taking a moment to ask yourself what you need right now. What is essential to get done, what will help you de-stress and be happy. Also, what is possible. Life is busy and full and tough and we need to find ways of slipping Self-Care into the chinks available.

The first step in building a Self-Care toolkit is wanting to.

Have the intention.

Find a time when you’re alone – in the bathroom/shower in the morning? On the work commute? Waiting for the kettle to boil? – a minute, 30 seconds – and think something along the lines of, I want to be kind to myself today, how do I take care of myself today, what do I need today and what’s possible? Whatever words are best for you.

That’s the first tool for your toolkit. The tool of intention.

Try it, see what you think and let me know.

Next post is about how Self-Care is practised.

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Okay, 2017…

The attitude I like to maintain towards life being a struggle is one of hope, one of tenacity. Some would say stubborn refusal to rest. I’m not going to argue with that now.

I try not to use the word “fight” because I don’t enjoy conflict or confrontation. But sometimes it is.

It’s certainly work.
And it takes it out of you.

I keep going for as long as I can. I’ve spent my time in the dark realms of depression and I will do whatever I can to avoid being there again. That’s why I work so hard. For the most part I succeed.

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But sometimes you need to sound a retreat and leave the field.

It’s not defeat. It’s a tactical withdrawal.

Heal up, mend your armour, recruit new troops and when ready, you can return.

This year has finally brought me to my knees. Too much has happened, too much has been lost, too much has changed and my energy has run out.

Time to stop.

Time to give myself permission to stop.

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So, 2017. You haven’t won. We shall call it a draw.

I shall be back.

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

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Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.