Real Self-Care is Not an Anthropologie Ad
We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” ― Jane Austen
I am tried. My bones and muscles feel depleted despite breathing long deep breaths with intention, while gazing at a lit candle on my desk. It was a long week, a couple of long weeks, of my brain working overtime to get a huge project at work closed before the end of the year. It was juggling thousands of tiny details, answering a thousands questions, reviewing hundreds of legal documents, all on top of my normal workload. It was tasks I can do but are not my natural inclination. It was using every ounce of my mental capacity till my brain turned to jello and I literally forgot how to print a document (not kidding, that was embarrassing when I had to ask for help).
It was exhausting—mentally and physically.
I did what I could over the last few weeks to take extra care of myself like getting enough sleep, eating lots of fresh veggies and drinking lots of water and hot peppermint tea. I also moved my body daily in ways that sustain me rather than drain me (I have a habit of exhausting myself with exercise), like short yoga practices, working out on my elliptical, walks outside to breathe fresh air.
I made sure I sat on my meditation cushion every morning, even if only for 10 minutes. I tried to remove internal expectations too. I didn’t write a blog post last weekend. The house is a mess with baskets of unfolded laundry and floors that need vacuuming. I have yet to ship holiday gifts that are now going to be new year gifts. Creatively, I put a pause on revisions I am working on and instead focused on a photo a day—small and doable, yet something to keep me connected to my heart.
Regardless of these measures, the last few weeks has left me, sitting at my desk on a grey morning in late December, staring into space, feeling vacant and unable to muster my normal engagement with my writing or other creative work. I am crispy and burnt out like an old charred piece of wood on the edge of a fire pit.
So how I do recover and get my mojo back so I can show up to myself and my loved ones? How do cultivate the holiday spirit of love, connection and joy? How do I regain my creative impulses and muster the courage to show up at the page, behind the camera or at the sketch pad?
A part of me wants to tell you I get all spiritual and giving. That I make green smoothies, light candles, bliss out in mediation or like Mary Poppins, I snap my fingers and boom, all is well and my life and house looks like an ad for Anthropologie.
But the reality is this:
First, I go to my bed. I need to take a nap, be still, be alone. The older I get the more introverted I feel. I don’t like it but interacting with people with no down time deplete me like nothing else. I need balance. Yesterday, I left work early, came home and hid under the covers for a few hours. The stillness and quiet was divine.
Second, I go to the couch. I need to watch some mindless TV. Chill out, zone out, rest. I admit it, TV is hard wired into my self-care. Growing up, watching TV was one my main self-soothing techniques. I have read that watching TV allows the limbic part of the brain to rest. I needed that space out. Last night we binge watched four episodes of Six Feet Under and it was awesome to lose myself in the story.
Third, I go to my journal. I need to write, let my mind regroup and wander. I need to vent, to hear what is going on in me, to name what I am feeling. Showing up and writing in my journal is one thing I have been doing most days the last few weeks. Writing in my journal is my soul balm, I don’t know where I would be without it.
Fourth, like I mentioned above, I need to move my body in a sustainable way. Ideally get outside on my bike or go hiking but working out on the elliptical or yoga does the trick too. Sustainable is the key for me, exercise easily becomes another should and I have a history of ignoring what my body is telling me and pushing myself beyond my limits. Last night I worked out on the elliptical and watched an episode of Pretty Little Liars (super bad TV but makes working out interesting and I get the added benefit of zoning out).
Fifth, I need to connect with kindreds who have huge hearts, don't want to fix me and can just witness me (and make me laugh). This one is a new one and admittedly I am not very good at reaching out. I am more of lone feral cat ilk but I am learning. Last night I spent time with Jay sharing how hard last week was. Today, I don’t know what I am going to do.
Sixth, go back to bed to read a book and know that tomorrow is another day and I will wake up feeling differently. Yup, I learned this one from Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind when I stayed up all night reading it 7th grade. Tomorrow is another day. And this morning, I do feel better. I can do more than sit, stare and scroll through my Facebook feed. I do feel that yummy stir of creative inspiration that makes me feel vital and alive. Makes me feel hopeful—do I dare say joyful.
My list of self-care when life has rolled over and flatten me out is not glamorous but it’s real. Sometimes I only make it to my bed and the couch and back to bed—that’s a win in my book. The reality is despite our efforts to take care of ourselves, some days and weeks, just knock the hell out of us. And that’s okay, we have the tools to rest, recover and get back up.
So let’s keep this in mind, real self-care is not an Anthropologie ad, it is what we know works for us, we can trust our inner wisdom about how to take care of yourself.