“Mowing” the lawn for the second time this year, I started thinking about my relationship to the it. I don’t care that it is filled with clover. I still get a thrill every time I look down and find a four-leaf one. I pick them to tuck away into that day’s journal entry. I wish for it to be “better,” filled with flowers and prettier or with beds of vegetables and more sustaining. Yet, I only kind of know how to do those things, and the thought of how much work it would take to do them overwhelms me.
As I mowed this time, I tried thinking about what I like about the yard and the yard work. I realized I like what comes after the work. I love being covered in sweat; my shins coated green with lawn clippings, sitting in my lawn chair with a cold beer or water. After the beer, a cool shower to rinse everything off. Getting out of the shower, toweling off just enough not to make a mess, then laying down to air dry. Laying there, feeling the moisture evaporate from my skin, I can concentrate on my breath and think about everything or nothing. The lightness of my room from the sun through the shades, the gentle breeze from the ceiling fan that runs constantly most of the year, almost always combine to lull me into the perfect afternoon nap.
One of the privileges of my life is that, on the weekends at least, I generally have the privilege of napping whenever I want. Napping is actually a pretty good barometer by which to read how my life is going. When I find myself napping too much, I know to check-in with myself because I’m likely a little depressed about something. If I am napping too little, I know to check-in with all my boundaries, because I am likely working or socializing too much. How I talk to myself about my napping tells me when I need to work on my self-compassion practice. (Okay, so yes, I always need to work on my self-compassion practice.) Right now, napping is self-care.
I started practicing self-care before it became a capitalist commodity. Not with naps or even self-compassion, I wasn’t that good at it yet. I started with therapy that was, in my mind, ONLY about finishing my dissertation. In fact, I am pretty sure that woman never saw someone change the subject faster than when she brought up any other part of my life. I wouldn’t have called the therapy self-care at that time, but absolutely was and it led to the second most important piece of self-care I learned. I started keeping what I called The Distaster Notebook. It was thick, black with a soft cover and tiny grid paper. It started life as the place where pre-stroke, I was keeping my comp notes and dissertation ideas. Post-stroke it took a darker, more practical turn. What to do when someone you love is refusing to sign voluntary commitment paperwork. What to do when you have to find a mental health/rehab bed in a fairly isolated, rural, area. By the time I faced the end of the worst times, I had the process down. Get the DH in a safe environment, notify our support systems, find therapy for myself.
Doesn’t sound like self care, but it was. It was because of that notebook that I figured out caregiving 101 essentials like dump out, not in, know what you can control and what you can’t, and that you can’t give if you are empty. If you are care-giving, or being cared for, you have to find someone outside the immediate situation for venting. Knowing what you can control and what you can’t helps you manage your expectations. If you are care-giving or facing any kind of trying time, you have to make sure you do whatever you can to keep your battery full.
Sure, sometimes replenishing yourself means spending money on a new serum or mask for your nightly skin routine. Sometimes it means making time for yoga class, or booking that massage. Too often, though, those are the only ways we talk about self-care. We’ve almost managed to talk it into an empty concept. Sometimes though, and I think they might be the best times, replenishing yourself means taking time to air-dry after a shower, or drinking your morning coffee in the dark and quiet before the day officially begins, or listening to your favorite, saddest, album and singing along (or not), or making time to meet with friends. Most of the time it is some combination of these things.
It gets tempting to call anything we want self-care. To think that self-care is whatever we think it should be in the moment. But, doing that doesn’t benefit us. It generally doesn’t replenish us or reveal what we need to work through whatever has been depleting us. Replenishing is the operative word here. Self-care can be so many things, but in reality its always finding those things and people that replenish us in some way.
Sometimes, when I meet new people and they hear my stories, the stroke, my marriage, the divorce they marvel at how much I have been through or how strong I am. Generally, I deflect their wonder by reminding them how my experience is “not that bad,” other people have been through worse; or, I say something about how its not that special, because if I can do something, any one can do it. What I don’t admit is that it was A LOT. I don’t always know how I got through it. Yes, I am strong, but I am not strong because I got through it. I am strong because I learned how to soften and care for myself, how to be resilient, as I got through it.
As we face the end of semesters, school years, and the space of summer, how will you find the things and people that replenish you?