Sunday, August 30, 2015

That whole self-care thing...

When I was in second grade, I had an accident.  You know the kind I mean. I can almost tell you the exact day it happened because we were dressed up as pilgrims and Indians (yes, they're Native Americans, but this was the early 80's) in preparation for Thanksgiving.  I was not overly thrilled with my outfit, but it was the best we could do. I had a faux patchwork skirt on and a yellow shirt, I think. I don't remember the color.  We were sitting in class, and I realized I really needed to go to the bathroom.  I raised my hand, but we had these dividers that were supposed to keep us from cheating off of each other's papers.  My teacher did not see me, and I was afraid of getting in trouble if I got up without permission or if I interrupted. Eventually, the inevitable happened. Naturally, I was quite embarrassed, my classmates had varying unpleasant responses, and I had to change into other clothes when my mother came.  My teacher later told me that, in case of that kind of emergency, it was okay for me to go without waiting to be acknowledged. Good to know.

Never would I ever have guessed that some 30 years later I could actually forget that I needed to go to the bathroom. It happens, though.  The urge comes to me, and I deliberate about how inconvenient it is and whether or not I really need to act on it. Much of the time, particularly if I am away from home or alone with my kids, I put it off.  What's funny is that it doesn't take very long to manage, and I know it cannot be good for my body for me to hold it for so long. At the moment, though, it just feels unnecessary and irritating.  It seems strange to put off such a basic function, but it is representative of a larger tendency many of us have to put off self-care.

When I mention self-care, most of my clients think of big, grandiose gestures: taking a week's vacation in some resort away from their children, having someone else do the housework for a month, quitting their jobs/relationships, losing 80 pounds, etc.  One former client of mine, however, brought it into perspective. She lived in an abusive situation with her family-of-origin.  She felt unable to work, and she did not have the means to live away from them.  When we got to discussing self-care, she brought the conversation back to basics: "I need to make sure I eat. I need to make sure I drink enough water. I need to take my medicine."  She did not have the resources to do much in the way of getting away from her situation, but she recognized what she could give herself within the situation. I really admired her insight and awareness.

Many of us tend to ignore self-care as inconvenient. We forget that it is a necessity. There are many analogies to the problem: cars need gas, flowers need water, babies need nutrition and love.... I think we suffer the delusion that trying to make ourselves work and complete tasks is the same as being productive.  I taught school for a couple of years, and the second year we had a snowstorm that kept us out for several days. To compensate, the school board decided to take away spring break that year. The kids came to school, but none of us were very productive.

Ironically, taking time for self-care actually improves productivity.  If we have the right nutrition, rest, and hydration -- not to mention exercise -- we are more able to do what we need to do and to do those things more efficiently. Anyone who has raised children is aware of the importance of young children taking naps. Life gets really ugly when they don't, and everyone is miserable.  Conversely, if they take naps, everyone catches a break, and all are better equipped to face the rest of the day after. Taking a break takes time away in the beginning but gives it back on the other side.

I have a pet theory that depression exists, in part, because we do not take care of ourselves and address our needs, so our minds and bodies shut down and narrow our vision until we can only focus on ourselves. Often, when we can start to address our own needs and listen to ourselves, the depression can lighten or disappear.

So, I suppose I need to be making bathroom visits more often. It's not convenient, but I sure can focus better when I have. Nothing is much longer than 60 minutes with a client when you really have to go. I wonder what little changes you could make in your life that might make a difference? Can you make sure you eat? Try to eat healthy foods more often? Drink more water? Go for a walk with a friend? Give yourself time to sleep? Journal? Listen to music? Do artwork?  Self-care does not have to be grand. It just needs to be. Giving to yourself not only helps you become healthier physically and mentally, but also shows you that you care about yourself, and that is a message we all need. Find something small to do for yourself, and then ice the cake by being proud of yourself for doing it. Who knows? It might become a habit.

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