December 17, 2018

Redefining Self-Care

I need to be honest: I haven't really been taking care of myself lately.

I like to pretend that I'm good at "self-care" because I can easily come home after a long day and treat myself to a bubble bath, a good book, and a glass of wine. I have no problem carving out the time or feeling guilty for doing so. In fact, you could say that this self-care has become a nice little routine I've fallen into and quite enjoy.

A few weeks ago I picked up a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg. I found it incredibly eye-opening. It delved into how our brains work and just how frequently they rely on habit to get by. Basically - large portions of our day are entirely automated and we don't even notice. Moreover, it diagrammed out how we form habits and how over time, we unknowingly fall victim to them. I spent a few nights sunk deep in a hot bath, reading this book, sipping wine and suddenly I realized -- I'm a victim to myself. While relaxing bathes are self-care, they are not (and should not be) the only form of self-care that I participate in. In fact, if this is truly the only way I care for myself as a busy mom and wife (and it currently is), well -- I'm really failing in the self-care department.

With the help of the information in Duhigg's book, I think understand how I ended up in this mess:

Before Holland was born, I worked full-time but still had all the free-time in the world. I ate what I wanted to and seldom worked out. I never meditated or took any quiet time for reflection. But, I was in my twenties and my body was kind to me. And while I did have stressors at work or home, I never felt overwhelmed by any of it really. All of that changed when I became a mother.

After Holland was born, life was chaotic for six months. It was a hard six months of learning as I went and just barely getting by. I was sleep-deprived and overweight. I stressed about milk production and ate anything the internet told me to eat to boost said milk production. By the time Holland was six months old, I felt fat, frumpy, and quite honestly, very low emotionally. I barely recognized myself in photos so one day, I woke up and set out to create new habits and routines. Amazingly, I did! Maybe it was sheer luck and the fact that Holland started sleeping at night -- but I found a new inner strength and motivation that I didn't know I possessed. Not only did I lose all the baby-weight, but I lost an extra 10 pounds! I also got physically stronger than I had ever been before. I could lift weights. Run a mile without stopping (perhaps not impressive for some, but for me this was a miracle). I slept better at night. I focused better at work. I was eating healthier throughout the day. I was ticking all the boxes.

And then in May 2017 I was in a car accident. It was not a "major" accident by most standards, but my SUV was totaled and I injured my low-back. I was in and out of PT for months with no one being able to clearly articulate why I was in pain. I stopped working out. I stopped eating right. I stopped taking time for myself in any other form than "resting" or "relaxing".

When I felt stressed or was in pain, I relaxed in hot baths because they would soothe my back. I'd often throw in a glass of wine for good measure. Maybe a good book too. And for that little bit, I'd forget about my aching back. I'd forget about the stack of things at the office I needed to do. I'd forget about stressors in my marriage, my family, my life... I'd just... relax.  I'd forget it all and in that moment, I felt like I was truly taking care of myself.

My low back injury was followed by a broken tailbone in the summer of 2017. And then broken ribs in the spring of 2018. With each of these injuries, I retreated further into my newfound habit for self-care... relaxation. Soon, each time I'd feel stress creeping in, I'd find myself longing for a quiet hot bath, a good book, and a glass of wine. Of course, I didn't always get to indulge in those things but in my mind, those became the only things that could possibly unwind me. The only way to take care of myself. I now see that I developed a poor self-care habit.

The other day I came across a graphic that said: "Take time for yourself: Mind, Body & Spirit."
It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I'm bad at self-care. 

I never prioritize time for myself outside of a hot bath. You know, holistic self-care at least. Once I take a hot bath and drink a glass of wine, I mentally check off the "to-do box" for self-care and shift my focus to other obligations.

But... what about my mind? My body? My spirit?

I've been neglecting these because those forms of self-care aren't well, as self-indulgent as I'd like for my self-care to be. Those forms of self-care take more effort than simply blocking off 45-minutes alone for a hot bath. Those forms of self-care come with aching muscles, uncomfortable self-reflection and yes -- less baths and wine.

So I'm trying to redefine self-care. I want to do something for myself every single day.
That means carving out time to go to the gym. Consistently.
Or choosing the healthy snack over the chocolate one more often than not.
That means waking up early to meditate or journal even when the snooze button seems most appealing.
That means challenging myself to learn something new and quite possibly, hard.
That means risking failure but choosing consistency.
That means drinking plenty of water during the day and chamomile tea before bed.
And yes -- that can also mean hot baths and wine albeit, not with the frequency either currently occurs.

I think that true self-care isn't solely about seeking out the things you desire. It is about consistently making time for the things that you need regardless of whether you want them or not. Our needs and our desires are not always aligned. In fact, the Power of Habit made it clear that sometimes we cannot even see our own needs because our desires are driven so much by habit.

But I want to break those habits -- I want to redefine self-care.
Even though I really don't want to, I'm starting now.
And really, that's half the battle. So on to the second-half.

October 18, 2018

Year 31

Today, I turn 32.

My 31st year was full of highs and lows. Quite frankly, there were probably a few more lows than I would have liked. As of late though, I feel like the tide is finally turning in my favor.

This past year my marriage has faced challenges but withstood them and is beginning to blossom in such a beautiful, albeit unexpected way. I went through (but overcame) a bit of a depressive slump and have two wholly unplanned but meaningful tattoos as a result. I've been increasingly concerned about the state of the world but I've stepped up to the plate instead of retreating in fear.

But before I can officially put this year in my rear-view mirror, I must revisit my 40 by 40 list of things I hoped to accomplish this decade. Here's a brief rundown of what I've marked off my list in Year 31:

Wear (and Rock) Red Lipstick (Level 1)

Honestly, I've always been more of a Chapstick kind of gal. But when one of my best friends got married in France and I found a striking red dress and fascinator for the rehearsal dinner, I decided that I simply could not avoid my self-assigned red lipstick challenge any longer. I received so many compliments on my dress and fascinator but I was most surprised that people noticed (and loved) the lipstick. It went over so well that afterwords, I branched out and decided to occasionally wear lipstick to work and once, I even sported this bright red shade again just to get drinks with friends at a local wine bar. I mean, I don't even know who I am anymore! Who am I and what have I done with my Chapstick loving self? Just kidding -- there are currently at least three tubes of Chaptstick within my immediate reach so I haven't strayed too far from my roots. But I can appreciate the art of red lipstick now and even more, I think I may actually like it.

Participate in a Podcast (Level 2)

So I can't tell you which podcast I participated in nor can I tell you what we discussed, but I swear it happened. This year, I got to be an anonymous guest on a very popular website's new(ish) podcast. Let's say that this website is a sort of specialized advice column. I had written in with a question and much to my surprise, the webmaster asked if I would be interested in discussing my letter (and the issues in it) on the website's podcast. I was a little hesitant (mainly because like a lot of people, I'm not really a fan of my own voice) but Adam was super encouraging. He kept reminding me of this item on my 40 by 40 list and saying that there was no time like the present. Quite frankly, when I wrote this item on my list I was not envisioning participating in a podcast that had such a wide audience but I did it! I ended up really enjoying the experience itself and really enjoying the feedback I received on my question (both on the podcast and in the comments and feedback posted on the website following the release of my episode).  All in all, I'm very happy that I listened to Adam's encouragement and marked this one off my list when I did.

Stay the Night in a, Chateau (Level 4)

As I've mentioned, one of my dearest friends got married in France in May of this year. The trip was amazing save for the fact that I feel within hours of landing, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke four ribs (ouch!). One of the coolest things about the trip was the venue my friend chose to host the festivities and guests. We got to stay in this amazing Chateau (that's literally French for "castle" y'all). According to Wikipedia, a "castle" is typically agreed to be a private, fortified residence of a lord or noble. The castle we stayed in was the the Chateau de Jalesnes and it dates back to 1610.  The Chateau's first occupant was the Marquis de Jalesnes -- Charles de Jalesnes. A "Marquis" is a nobleman who ranks above a count but below a duke. The Chateau had stately guest rooms, intricate gardens, heavy iron gates, and even an abandoned moat. So as far as I'm concerned, the Chateau de Jalesnes counts as a castle and I'm marking this one off my list.


And while I can't mark them off just yet, I've made strides towards accomplishing the following this year:

Write/Send letters to 3 mentors who have impacted my life (Level 2)

I wrote a letter this year to a dear mentor at my old law firm who has truly led an inspiring life dedicated to public service and progressive values. He is an older gentleman who has seen some of the worst things humanity has to offer and yet, he always looks for the bright side. In my letter, I recalled once taking Holland with me to the office while I chatted with some old co-workers. This man came came upon us and found Holland scribbling away with pens and highlighters at a friend's desk. He got on her level and spoke to her gently. When he got ready to depart, Holland gave him the piece of paper she had been coloring. My friend joked, "You may want to hang onto that, it could be worth something one day." This gentleman, without missing a beat responded sincerely, "It already is." That simple statement is an embodiment of everything he is and everything I strive to one day be. I am grateful that he has been a part of my life.

Visit three countries in Europe (Level 4)

It is very clear by now that we went to France this year. That's one European country down -- two (and hopefully more) to come!

Read Three Classics I Haven't Read Before (Level 1)

I had high aspirations of getting through at least three classics this year. I started off strong -- finishing (and loving) both Jane Eyre and Catcher in the Rye by the end of April. I took some time off to focus on work and preparing for our France trip. Sometime in July I started For Whom the Bell Tolls and strugggggggleeedddd my way through each page for months. Literally months. Every time I picked the book up I would just have this overwhelming sense of dread. I couldn't connect to the characters or to the writing. I found myself wanting to skip paragraphs then entire pages. It was, quite frankly, a disaster. A few weeks ago I finally admitted defeat and checked it back into the library half read. Shortly thereafter, I quickly powered my way through Eat, Pray, Love. But I don't think that Eat, Pray, Love qualifies as a "classic" so my quest for another classic will have to continue into Year 32.

So that's been Year 31. Bring on Year 32 baby!
Happy Birthday to me.