Self Care - what it is and why I hate it, and why I need to do it anyway
A while back, I mentioned self care and the fact that I hate it.
What is it? Well, wikipedia defines it as: personal health maintenance. It is any activity of an individual, family or community, with the intention of improving or restoring health, or treating or preventing disease.
Sounds OK, right? What could be bad about that?
Well, for me, self care means being proactive about taking care of myself. It means planning ahead, asking for help, eating right, going to bed at a decent hour, making a workable exercise plan and sticking to it....yeah, not my favourite things. Also, kind of hard.
But the more people I have depending on me, the more important it is. The more demanding, time consuming and esoteric their care, the more important it is as a carer to practise self care. When we are talking longer term needs, self care is pretty much non-negotiable. I have a hubby who really loves having me around, I have kids whose care is an all day (and sometimes all night) affair, especially seeing as we homeschool. In the next week or so I will have a newborn who will be rather attached to my chest. And then there is Miss Kaylee whose daily care is so esoteric only one other person on the planet can do it, whose medical and therapy needs are so vast and complex only I really know everything and whose needs will be life long. I need to take care of myself because me breaking, is simply not an option. I think this is why I am writing this series, I'm writing it to myself.
Over the next while I am going to expand on different areas of self care (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual) with some practical tips of how to manage it (finding and accepting help, support networks, the internet and self care, creative outlets). For now, I want to spring board into this with ten general ideas of how to make self care do-able, sustainable and a little less of a chore.
(1) Forget about martyrdom. If your kids were cold, would you take the wood and build a cross and nail yourself to it? No, you'd build a fire! Hurting yourself through neglect does not help your children, it hurts them and makes you less effective. We have friends and family who will not sleep or eat for days at a time when they hear something distressing is going on in our lives. They think they are showing us love and I do appreciate the fact they care about us so much. But the truth is, we just don't tell them about the bad stuff any more because them hurting does not help us - it just hurts us more. It also deprives us of support because they are physically run down and cannot be practical help when we need it. I have seen so many mothers needlessly run themselves into the ground and end up exhausted, with damaged health, frustrated and angry that they are so under appreciated. If they took the time to take care of themselves, they would be able to serve their family more effectively and joyfully. Perhaps the most vivid lesson in this came to me when Kaylee was about 4 or 5 days old. I had not slept since before she was born, my legs were so swollen I could hardly walk and I was on the brink of physical, mental and emotional breakdown. I walked into her room to find them preparing to give her a spinal tap - a painful and distressing procedure. I almost physically collapsed. I had to leave the room while it was done. I have to forgive myself every day for not being there with her. If you do not take care of yourself, one day your kids may need you and you will not be there.
(2) Make a realistic plan. When it was just me, I could just cruise without a plan. I chose to go for a run most mornings, but could go any time of day if I missed it. The only limitations to my meal times and content was opening times of the cafeteria and my budget. If I pulled an all nighter, I could crash after class....or occasionally in class. If I got sick, I could lay in bed feeling sorry for myself until I felt better. Nowdays, things need to be a little better planned. If I am going to drink enough water, I need to plan ahead and have a bottle of water and glass in a spot that I walk past often. If I am going to have good food and enough of it, I need to make sure it is in the fridge and easy to prepare. If I am going to get to bed at a decent hour, I need to start on that particular plan at breakfast time! I also need to keep it realistic. I would love to be training to run a 10k - but at 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant with our current schedule it just isn't realistic and any plans along those lines would be doomed to failure right now.
(3) Start small and attach it to routine. This is the key to keeping it realistic. Sometimes I get all churned up about self care and create a beautifully elaborate self-care plan, which promptly falls over after about a week. The concept of routine is not original, Flylady relies on it and it's effectiveness is why her ideas are so popular. Think of one small thing that will help you take care of yourself: drinking more, getting more exercise, eating better. Plan how to take care of that need: create a spot to keep a bottle or jug with a glass (somewhere high traffic, like on your kitchen bench next to the fridge or on your desk), bookmark a couple of ten minute work outs on youtube, get the ingredients for some healthy smoothies. Then plan a time: grab a drink every time you walk into the kitchen, pick a work out time directly after or before something that you already do (med time, nap time, meal time etc.), make a smoothie every breakfast or lunch time or as afternoon tea before you start dinner (added benefit of making you less hungry at meal times!). Once you and your family get used to the habit, it is much easier to maintain.
(4) Little bits often. I used to get frustrated with trying to exercise because I couldn't find the time for the hour long run or pilates work out I wanted to do. Time to myself was a joke, I could never get an hour, afternoon or a day, let alone a weekend to myself. But I can carve out five minutes here and there. I can take fifteen minutes to have a shower on my own after the kids are in bed or read for ten minutes before I turn out my light. I can take ten minutes with my dumbells or to do some stretches each morning before I get the kids up, after I put the little ones down for a nap and just before I start dinner (30 minutes exercise!). When I started to appreciate and savour these moments rather than griping that I don't get more, I really started to feel the full benefit of them. It was easier to be consistent and I was less prone to feel conflicted about taking time for myself.
(5) Learn to say no to say yes.
(6) Remember who you are accountable to. Every one will have an opinion on how you run your life. The less conventional your life, the more freedom people feel to comment on how you should run it. Anyone who has a child with a disability can testify to having outrageously inappropriate unsolicited advice slung their way. Larger family? People stop you on the street to tell you how to run things. Homeschool? Yeah, fah-get-about-it. Every problem you or your child faces will be attributed to that choice by well meaning family, friends, strangers and even random medical professionals. I am not suggesting you spurn all advice or insight, but you do need to have a compass point. I am accountable to God, my hubby and my kids. We are running a marathon not a sprint and my family recognise this. If they come across me having a cuppa when there are dishes in the sink, they will not disparage me as lazy and self-indulgent - they know how hard I work. We as a family do not hold being on top of the laundry as the penultimate achievement in mothering. If I was to try and live up to the standards of everyone who feels the need to speak judgement into our lives, I would quickly burn out.
Smoothies are delicious plus my kids love them so I have the added joy (and accountability) of making them happy. If it is quick, easy, accessible and enjoyable, it is much more likely to happen.
(8) Get back on the wagon. However well planned, your self-care at some point WILL fall apart. Life happens, unforseens crop up, things stop working. The mistake often made is to give up entirely. Perhaps your plans need a little tweaking, perhaps you just need to start again - but you need to get back on the wagon.
(9) Accept help and delegate. This is hard and distinguishing real help from the kind of help that actually generates more work can be difficult. This really needs a whole post of its own. But allowing my kids to take responsibility around the home, trusting my husband to feed Kaylee and allowing a trusted friend to watch my kids are three important, and surprisingly difficult, things for me to do. The control freak in me struggles awfully with it. But when I do it, everyone is happier.
(10) Just Do It. Seriously, there comes a point where you have to stop thinking about it, planning it and complaining about it - pull up your big girl panties - and just do it. Done is better than perfect when it comes to self care.
Are you listening, me?