My friends and I seem to have entered a new phase. Once upon a time, our calendars overflowed with weddings. Then it was baby showers, and until recently, children’s graduations. Now our email and text exchanges are more likely to pertain to a parent’s health crisis. Usually coupled with news of challenges facing our young adult children.
We’re savvy enough to know that we need to take care of ourselves as we care for others, but busy and stressed enough that it’s really hard to actually do it.
My friend just texted me to say she was leaving town tomorrow to look in on her Mom, who’s had a setback in her recovery from surgery. True to form, she asked me how I was doing, and I replied that things are a bit better on several fronts.
She then asked, “So what are you doing for you?”
To which I replied, “What are YOU doing for you?”
I wasn’t trying to play the “gotcha” game (this isn’t politics, after all), but that’s kind of how it turned out:
“Crap. I knew you would turn that one back on me! You know I’m the worst at putting myself in the top 10, or 20, on any list!!! At best, I’m trying to learn to be a bit more compassionate for my own frailties. It’s a start.”
I’ve actually been thinking about this self care thing since my guardian angel, Jim, instructed me to list 5 things I would do for self care. That it’s taken me three weeks to think of five things tells you something.
My five are below. I’d love to hear what YOU do to take care of yourself as you care for others. We can all learn from each other — and maybe encourage one another to actually follow through on these things.
1. Work out with others.
I often say that I live with the future. When you’re around a 95-year-old you realize the importance of strength and balance. I walked but I knew that wasn’t enough. I admitted that I couldn’t motivate myself to do things like – ugh – sit-ups or pushups. I also thought it was unlikely I’d get my butt out the door to a gym class given my caregiving responsibilities. So, my big plan was to work out 4-6 times with a trainer and then miraculously carry on alone, having formed a virtuous habit. During my first workout, I was shocked at how poor my balance was – that and the fact I couldn’t do 10 sit-ups without holding on to my thighs to heft my upper body from its prone position.
That was four years ago. After a year or so, my neighbors who walked together twice a week for years expressed interest in trying it on for size. Now my driveway is a boot camp at least twice a week. Scheduling that time, and keeping it, is absolutely at the top of the list in terms of things I do for myself.
I figured my trainer, the amazing Kylee Neff, was an absolute liar when she told me I’d have more energy from working out. For about three months, I wanted to go to sleep early on the days we trained. But she’s right. Now if I can’t work out for a week, my energy and outlook isn’t as good. It’s as important to me as – gasp! – coffee once was. (Strangely, I also feel almost no need for caffeine.)
Working out with one or more friends also makes it hard to slack. After all, they show up in my driveway. But the group banter has the extra advantage of taking my mind off the momentary pain of whatever circuit Kylee has dreamed up for that day.
2. Comfort read.
You’ve heard of comfort eating? I comfort read. My literary diet changes completely when I’m under stress. When my mother was dying of cancer, I was soothed by re-reading The Wind and the Willows. I’m a big fan of Mr. Toad, with or without the Disney attraction. Though I still read heavier fare (for example, The Looming Towers), I am drawn to cheesy and breezy. I read things like Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches series (all two of them), J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), and the utterly ridiculous Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Apparently I find fairies, witches and vampires comforting.
3. Spend time with girlfriends.
My friends save me, over and over. Just knowing they are there is a huge source of support. Nothing against guys, and my husband is the Rock of Gibraltar, but there’s something about deep conversation with trusted female friends. It’s better than wine and chocolate. Recently, a friend and I agreed to set up a weekly time to meet. Her husband has Alzheimer’s and both of us have to coordinate social activities around caregiving tasks. It just works better to put something standing on the calendar. And, yes, it involves wine. Duh.
4. Stay connected with Facebook.
I actually surprised myself with this one. So much is written about Facebook as a time suck, or about how Facebook is no substitute for deeper, face-to-face connections. But caregiving is isolating, and Facebook helps me to feel there’s still a world out there.
I love the pictures of kids and the quick posts about the sweet or funny things kids say. I travel vicariously through some of my friends whose jobs or travel budgets seem to take them everywhere. I salivate over my foodie friends’ posts about the amazing seasonal recipes they’ve dreamed up. I read the links to articles that appeal to my interests and appreciate the fact they were shared. I catch up on a friend’s recovery from a brutal cycling accident. I feel for the people (and animals) in Eastern Washington when my friend in E-burg posts update on the terrible fires there. It may seem a little strange but I even love the beefcake pictures posted by my gay friends; it makes me happy to know someone’s romantic life is more exciting than mine! Pictures of weddings, funny bits from George Takei, updates from nonprofits I care about… I enjoy almost everything in my news feed. And of course, I can always block the political posts that get a bit annoying this time of year.
5. Find quiet time.
I’m not a true extrovert, although most people would assume I am. It’s hard for me to find an hour when I can be alone in the house, or at least alone before anyone else is awake. I crave and need moments when NO ONE WANTS OR NEEDS ANYTHING FROM ME. You may have figured out that I blog during these rare quiet moments. And when I say quiet, I mean just that. I feel so over stimulated that I need moments without music or TV. Silence is a balm.
So I’ll ask it again: what do YOU do to take care of yourself? This inquiring mind wants to know.