Practicing Self-Care

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I didn’t plan to start the new year in crisis mode. By nature, crisis is mostly a surprise, otherwise it wouldn’t be called a ‘time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger.’ It is the immediacy that catches us off guard in these kinds of situations. In my experience, it usually starts with a phone call.  This time, it was that my father-in-law was in the ER. Those drop-everything-and-get-here phone calls never get any easier because the adrenaline kicks in and the heartrate rises. However, I have learned that instead of running out of the house in two seconds, I need to to force myself stop, think, and pack a just-in-case bag.  Book for sitting in waiting rooms…check.  Toothbrush in case I have to stay for days…check.  A bottle of water and a snack in case there is no food nearby…check.  Brush so I don’t look like I slept in a chair…check.  Change of clothes so I don’t smell…check.

In the midst of being in crisis, the sense of urgency overrides taking care of basic needs like sleep and food. We tend to ignore everything but the person in crisis, and to some degree, that is as it should be.  But the amount of time you can go in that kind of state is limited.  There will come a point where you will crash and burn if you do not learn to practice self-care and to recognize signs of over stressing yourself.

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I didn’t really learn about self-care until after my cancer.  I have always been one to look out for everyone else. Never ask for help. I can handle it…whatever it is.  My kids.  My husband. My family. My friends. When I had cancer it took 7 people to do all that I had been doing.  That was an eye-opener for me. That, in combination with all my medical needs, helped me to see that if I survived, something had to change. I started with exercise, which is something I had always avoided. Too busy.  Too tired.  I revived my love of hiking, despite the fact that it takes TIME to hike.  I started Jazzercizing, because I have always loved to dance. I found that when I gave myself an hour a day, others in my life got a better version of me.  In that hour, I released stress.  My mind calmed because my body was working.  And though, at first I struggled to make myself go, I found that soon I craved it…not as a means to a bathing suit…but as a way to feel better.  I also gave myself the gift of time in the woods, with birds who do not toil, and flowers that do not spin.  When I hike, my worries float away on the breeze and the rivers sing over me. I return to my life uplifted and renewed.

After years of yo-yo dieting, I finally changed my food for good.  It was a slow process with much wrestling.  Lost 70lbs, gained 35.  Lost.  Gained.  Up, down, up and down. But last year, I made a drastic change in the way I think about food.  Like when an alcoholic finally sees the light, I recognized that much of my life was controlled by food which was killing me.  By removing those foods, I found energy, and health.  I found a clear mind, and reversed my diabetes.  I have lost 60 lbs. since last January, and I am on track to get the last 25 off this year. I can tell you that even though I knew food could affect how you feel, I had no idea how MUCH it affected it.  I am a new person, with new confidence and new vision.  These are longer term ways to care for myself that took slow and steady change.  However, there are other ways to practice self-care that are more immediate.

In our current crisis with Bill’s dad, I had been at the hospital pretty much for 4 straight days before I took stock of my own health. There wasn’t really a choice up to that point.  It was time to be there with him, meet with doctors, feed him, talk to family, share updates etc… I was not alone in this crisis, but it takes a toll nonetheless.  At some point that I cannot pinpoint, I paused and took stock. I recognized signs of stress building up.  Formerly, I would have dismissed the signs as exhaustion, which is easy to do because exhaustion is part of crisis. I would have thought there was nothing I could do about it, and pushed through, continuing to wear myself down.

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Now, however, I recognize signs because I self-assess.  My body starts to ache in my core. My heart feels like it is beating harder.  I get irritable.  I have less patience with people. I cannot focus long enough to read.  I FEEL the stress.  It is my sign that I have been disregarding myself. It is a sign that I need to pull back…ask for help…take care of me. What does that look like?  Packing my lunch to go to the hospital instead of eating unknown foods.  Parking the farthest away from the hospital so I can get some walking in.  Taking a hot soaking bath when I go home for a break.  Having a cup of sleepy time tea before bed.  Getting to bed early when I can. Going to morning Jazzercise class before the hospital.  Calling a friend to come and pray with me.  Asking my sons to take a shift at the bedside. Standing beside my car for a moment to gaze up at the stars. All pretty simple things.  All doable in the current situation.

Is the stress over?  Nope.  This is going to be an ongoing issue, even once he is home.  It is likely to be more of a marathon than a sprint, which is why self-care is so very important.  I have numerous friends who have started the new year in crisis.  Hospitals, funeral homes, doctor’s offices, mental wards, lawyers offices, surgery centers…all of them stressful places.  All of them places where you can pause and take stock to determine if you are practicing self-care.

P.S. Bill’s dad is getting better and we expect him to be released from the hospital as soon as his pneumonia has cleared, in the next day or two.  Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes.

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