Self-care in crisis

It’s unbelievable to me how much life has changed just since last week, let alone March 1, and yet, this is the reality of our situation: Worldwide pandemic, numbers soaring, people hoarding toilet paper (still confused by that), working from home, kids out of school, every day life pretty much at a standstill.

Hey, anxiety! I see you!

On Monday, I asked everyone to think about ways we can take care of ourselves during this crisis. I’ve been thinking about that too. It’s slightly hilarious in a very non-funny kind of way that all of the usual things I do to take care of myself — monthly reflexology appointments, bi-monthly acupuncture appointments — have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I find that my self-care bandwidth has significantly shrunk. I mean, I still have a book going — taking the time to read every day is always on my list — although it’s somewhat hard to concentrate on the words. (Just finished my 13th book incidentally.) And I’m doing my best to stick to my morning routine of waking up with Eric, journaling and then getting ready for the day — dressed in my work clothes, with shoes on. Whether I head to the car or my reading retreat to get to work doesn’t matter. It helps me feel grounded.

As I was thinking about what to share today, I remembered a day last week when I was feeling really hopeless and out of sorts, and I went into my retreat, grabbed a stack of photos and some scrapbook pages and got to work. I didn’t have to think; I just slapped pictures on pages and got them into their respective books. (No embellishments, no writing.) Took less than an hour, but I felt so accomplished and so much better afterwards — because that was one less pile in my retreat, because now I only have Abby’s school photos to deal with and I am DONE, because soon I will be able to pack up the rest of my supplies and drop them off at the Goodwill and never have to think about it again.

(Wait, is Goodwill open?)

Maybe you don’t have scrapbooks to catch up on, but maybe you have a drawer that’s driving you nuts, or a kitchen counter you could scrub. I have heard many times of the meditative power of washing a sink filled with dishes. Seems like a weird self-care idea, I know, but we’re going for whatever makes us feel better and more sure of our surroundings.

On the physical activity end of things, Eric and I have started taking nightly walks after dinner. Every night he says, We can leave whenever, and I say, Nah, I don’t want to, and then I hear him zipping up his jacket so I get my shoes on. I really don’t want to, which is why I go — I need both the routine and the movement. With so many other routines out the window, it’s nice to have something to look forward to.

One more idea that I’m stealing from my dear friend Shannon: Movie marathon with the family. I like this one because it takes zero braincells on my part to watch a show in my living room. And I get to be with everyone I love while I don’t do anything! How is that not a win?

Um … that’s all I got. To review: Read, keep up routines, check off a chore, take a walk and watch a movie. And one of those I stole. OH WAIT! Play with kittens, that’s a good one, soft fur, purring and stress relief, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier.

All right, your turn. And if you don’t have the bandwidth for this either, that’s fine, update us on how you’re doing. I really, truly appreciate all of you who checked in this week.

On habits

As I was cleaning out my retreat, I found a list on the back of a sheet of paper titled “20 habits I want to cultivate.” I have a feeling I made this list circa 2018, but since I didn’t date it, who knows, really. And I am pretty sure this was an exercise suggested by someone or some site because: 20 habits? That seems like a lot. And I am generally not the type to err on the side of overachievement.

It was interesting to look back on, though, because I like hearing myself think and also because I’ve changed enough that A) I managed to succeed on some of these kind of on accident and 2) Some are no longer relevant. C) Would be: Some of these are themes that I aspire to but never quite seem to achieve.

The list:

  1. Yoga
  2. Exercise routine
  3. Meditation
  4. Nightly room pickup
  5. Nightly kitchen pickup
  6. Always have a book
  7. Write first at work, babysit pages second.
  8. Sleep thru the night
  9. Meal prep
  10. Reach for something other than a device
  11. Constantly declutter
  12. Take care of the house
  13. Always pack a lunch
  14. Eat for guts always
  15. Take care of myself
  17. Nightly lists of to dos
  18. Weekly lists of to dos
  19. Stay in touch with family and friends
  20. Outside time

I first noticed the tasks I always think I need to accomplish but never do because I don’t want to: The to do lists and the nightly cleaning. Boring. And I always feel a pang when I read that I want to stay in touch with family and friends because I’ve put that on a lot of lists and the fact of the matter is that I’m not very good at it; I get distracted and forget, I hate phone calls, I fail to follow up. My mother will vouch. I suck at communication.

Oh, and sleeping through the night? That seems like such a leap of faith / optimism that I cannot even fathom why I’d write it down in the first place. I’ve never been a good sleeper. Sleep is overrated.

But some items on this list, okay, I have actually managed to integrate into my routine. Maybe I don’t meditate consistently, but I do pull up the Tide meditation app when I need a little extra TLC. I’m better at taking care of myself (my doctor has declared me a Self Care Queen. Yeah, kinda proud). I’ve been awesome about always having a book going and I’m getting better at leaving my phone alone. I do always pack a lunch — and I have freezer meals I’ve made so when we get invited somewhere, I can eat too.

Maybe some of these things subconsciously inspired my three goal areas for 2020 (HERE HERE HERE). Or maybe the lesson is that I know what I need to do, it just boils down to whether or not I want to.

Thoughts, feelings, etc. welcome.

Bullet journaling when you’re not an artist

The whole point of (keeping a notebook) is to make it yours … and do it in your own way … That’s how you need to treat every notebook you’ve got! You need to be okay with whatever you put in there being complete garbage … This means that even if you don’t know how to draw, it’s okay for you to draw. Even if you don’t know how to doodle, it’s okay for you to doodle. Even if you don’t know how to write, you know what? You are totally okay to just go write something. And if you don’t like it, you can tear it up and throw it in your neighbor’s yard.” — Merlin Mann

I am not, shall we say, blessed with artistic ability. Well, I have a hard time picturing what I want something to look like and I have zero spacial skills, true story. (If I’m not wearing my glasses, the world is flat. I thought that’s how it was supposed to look until I was 39 and went to the eye doctor. Things just … stick out … like that in real life?! How weird.)

My girls ARE quite artistic. Abby made me a bullet journal for Christmas a couple of years ago, which was super fun and gorgeous. They spend a lot of time on their monthly spreads because they enjoy that kind of creative outlet.

I, on the other hand, get stressed out by the thought of drawing a stick figure, never mind some crazy two-page spread like you see on Instagram. Look, I am not kidding when I say I have a hard time visualizing anything but lines and words on a page. But hey, I mean, it’s my journal. It just has to work for me.

And if it doesn’t, well, I can rip out that page and toss it in the neighbor’s yard. (I don’t know why that is such a hilarious image, but it tickles me to no end.) It’s a notebook, for God’s sake, not the crown jewels.

I set up a few static pages at the beginning of my journal so I can track day-by-day what’s interesting to me: Calendar pages (one per month) to track appointments, birthdays and my period; a book log to keep track of days I read as well as the books I finish (titles only); anxiety days (out of curiosity because I think I’m getting better but am I really?); an exercise log (yoga, walk breaks, etc.); and the Great Reading Retreat Clean-out (I mark the days I work on decluttering and jot notes about what I’m doing). I also have a couple of pages that detail other areas I’m trying to be mindful about, such as a list of five questions I like to answer at the end of each week in the pages of my journal.

On the bulleted pages, I start with a monthly calendar in list form — who needs boxes? — and then it’s just a free-for-all of whatever I feel like writing. I journal in the mornings to ease into the day: Make my coffee, sit down and write. I can’t say I’m doing much more than sorting through what happened the day before and reminding myself of any must-dos, but the process is settling somehow, regardless of the nonsense I’m producing.

And trust me, it’s all nonsense. This is just for me, so I don’t get hung up on making it anything other than what I need it to be at that moment: A place to vent, to review the books I’ve read, to write down the gifts of the previous day, to work through what is happening / has happened / what I’d like to see happen.

I have my favorite brands of journals and pens, but we don’t need to go into all that. What brand of supplies you use isn’t nearly as important (or interesting) as what you want to do with your journal. You could have a 29-cent notebook and a pencil you found underneath a couch cushion and it would still do the trick.

I’m a little embarrassed to show pages because they are absolute crap but then again, that’s the point, right? That our journals do not have to be Instagram-worthy?

Okay, fine:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Writing rules

I was up at 2 a.m. the other night, rehashing the day’s events (wow, boring), when it occurred to me that if I lived my life by the rules I follow in my writing, I would be much better off (that’s how I broke the negative thought spiral, incidentally, coming up with this list). Observe:

Rule 1: Never marry anything you write. When I write, I know that I am going to have to cut all kinds of words and sentences. Really good words and sentences! Words and sentences that are the most brilliant words and sentences I’ve ever produced! It doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t work for any reason, then it has to go.

I don’t find that hard, actually. Because I really don’t marry anything I write — it’s all expendable. But in my life, I act like every thought I’ve ever had, every expectation, every belief is set in stone. And when something comes along to challenge it, I completely fall apart. Retrenching is next to impossible. I will not retrench! I will die on this hill! Even if this hill is small and stupid!

HA HA HA. Idiotic.

Rule 2: Let the words do what they want. I don’t really know how to explain this one except to say the words are anarchists and I let them do whatever it is they need to do on the page. I don’t have to think about it. I just type. When I try to control what the words do, that’s when I run into trouble. If I let them do their own thing, it’s easy.

In real life, I try to control: Everything. I don’t let the day unfold; I power through it. This is something I’ve been actively working on since my birthday, so I can report that I’m getting better about loosening my grip. I don’t always remember that I’m letting the day do whatever it wants, but that’s the goal.

Rule 3: You can rearrange later. Sometimes when the words do whatever they want, they’re out of order. I read through what I’ve written and am like, oooooh, wait, THIS should be HERE and THAT should be THERE. It takes mere seconds to cut and paste, but the finished product is better for it.

But what happens in real life? I have a hard time rearranging my expectations when things change. And I will fight that change with every fiber of my being because THAT IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO GO. It’s exhausting, really.

Rule 4: Utilize your resources. You know what’s a great writing resource? I use it when words don’t want to repeat but I can’t quite think of an alternative. I use it when I’m looking for ideas. I use it when I’m curious about their word of the day. I’ve got it bookmarked.

Over here in my real life, I am terrible about utilizing my resources. I act like I have to do everything by myself. I’m getting better about asking for help, but it’s still hard. (Asking for help as a form of self care? Man, there’s a post that needs to be written, obvs by someone smarter than me.) I skip breaks, I forget to introvert, I get cranky and wonder why everything is so hard.

Oh, TW, you are hilarious. Also amusing, comical and uproarious. (Sorry, making myself laugh over here.)

Rule 5: Sometimes, you just gotta get those words out the door. In the newspaper business, deadline means a story is done. Even when it’s not. You hit send knowing your words are imperfect, that it’s not your best work and that people are going to actually read this crap. It’s sort of liberating.

As is the theme here, in my life I tend to strive for perfection. Which is kind of funny because I’m also one of those people who gets frustrated and decide that half-assed is good enough, damnit, because I am over this crap. Huh, maybe that goes hand in hand: I try to be perfect, I fail, and then I quit. So it never gets out the door at all.

I think the only thing I can do after writing that particular rule is to just stop and hit publish. BOOM. (I’m telling you: Liberating.)




Self-care: Changing my definition

What I thought of as my self care routine was the equivalent of considering that picking someone up in your car, not saying a word, and then driving them around the block and dropping them off 10 minutes later is the most romantic date you’ve ever been on. You’d never do that to someone else, so why would you do that to yourself?

— Kyle Nicolaides (HERE)

So. Self-care. I’ve had an epiphany. Um, over the course of like three months or something because I’m an idiot and it takes time for me to sort through whatever it is the universe is trying to tell me. And also because “health” is one of my grand plans this year and self-care is certainly a part of that whole ordeal.

I found the above quote when I was researching bullet journals — I was setting up my 2020 January-June journal and thinking about what sort of habits I wanted to track. That quote struck me as being sort of funny — in a sad kind of way because wow, relatable — and then I forgot about it.

Until Abby and I were at Friday Lunch one (when else?) Friday and I had a lightbulb moment. Abby was talking about the guilt she feels when she rests / practices self-care. How she can’t turn off her brain. And I was like, Oh, well, why don’t you just journal about what makes you happy and then cross stuff off that list? and she was all, Do you think I haven’t tried that yet? Because I have and it doesn’t work.

Hold. The. Phone. That sounds vaguely familiar … because I’ve also read the articles and made the journal entries and I am also terrible at it.

Ah, it’s so humiliating to find yourself giving pseudo-advice to your kid and then getting called on the bullshit that it is.

What I think of as self-care is really the bare minimum a person has to do to maintain any semblance of health. Because there’s always something else that is more important, or I don’t have time, or I feel guilty about taking the time when there’s so much else I should be doing.

The lightbulb: I think of self-care as special treats. And if something is a treat, that means it’s not necessary. It’s frivolous. It’s stupid. It’s easy to toss aside.

But in reality — and a shout out to Oxford Dictionary — self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

And then it occurred to me that taking care of myself is already routine, in that I have to, like, shower and brush my teeth and stuff. I just don’t think of those things as “self-care.” Could those things help me protect my well-being and happiness? Maybe even give me a buffer on the anxiety front?

Hmm. I have to wash my hair — but I can use a lavender bar and an organic conditioner.

I have to shower — but I can use the pumice stone Mom gave me for Christmas (hi, Mom!) on my heels.

I have to wash my face — but I can use a nice bar of soap and moisturize afterwards.

Which made me wonder: What else could I do to make what’s already routine into something more restorative? What could I add to my routine?

Meditation as self-care? Music? Reading? Eating for my guts? Exercise and family time and allowing myself to be bored? Being honest with myself and saying “no” to those things I don’t actually like but feel like I have to do?

I’ve been looking at this all wrong, in other words. I practice self-care every day — I’m just not mindful about it. I have to take that extra whole minute to apply moisturizer before I go to bed. I have to get up from my desk and leave the office for a real lunch break. I have to open a book instead of an app on my phone. I have to tell myself that nothing else is more important in that moment. The chores of life can wait their turn. And that this is nothing to feel guilty about. You can’t save anyone else if you don’t put on your own lifejacket first and all that.

I’ve got the theory down! Um, just keep your fingers crossed for me on the actual practice, which is the part I always fail.

New year’s grand plan no. 3: Health

I’m blessed with relatively good health, sensitive stomach and anxiety issues aside. Genetics mean I don’t have to worry about things like high blood pressure or diabetes or bad cholesterol or obesity. My doctor told me once that I could pick up a bad habit and still be okay. (“You could start smoking!”) Too bad I’m not interested in vices beyond coffee and books.

But that doesn’t mean I’m healthy. I’m worry because I’m 6-feet tall — and how many tall older women do you see? I know exactly one. (Not me.) I’m thin-ish but not in shape — I get winded walking up steps. My water intake is whatever is in my coffee. I have a job that consists of sitting in a cubical at a computer. About the only thing I really have going for me is my diet, and that’s just because I have so many food sensitivities, I can’t eat anything that’s super bad. Sugar makes me feel gross, but that is my weakness, and I eat a lot of (fair trade, slave free, minimally packaged) chocolate. And am rather fond of one (dairy and sugar free but packaged) chocolate coconut “ice cream” bar. I worry a lot. And when I get stressed, which is often, I self-destruct.

So I added “health” to my list of grand plans in 2020 as well. Not as fun as reading books, but to be fair, it’s also not as overwhelming as trying to clean out my reading retreat. This one is more about mindfulness:

  • Remembering to drink actual water. Not counting coffee as flavored water.
  • Remembering to take breaks.
  • Remembering to shop and eat for my gut.
  • Remembering to breathe and meditate.
  • Remembering to turn off my phone and do something constructive with my time.
  • Remembering to get out my yoga mat.
  • Remembering my body needs exercise.
  • Remembering my body needs rest.
  • Remembering that I have ways to deal with negative emotions and spirals and that it’s best to acknowledge and work through than numb and ignore.
  • Remembering to make self-care appointments (massage, acupuncture, reflexology).
  • Remembering that self-care is not special occasion stuff, but an everyday need.

It’s a lot to keep track of, at least now in the beginning. Why, yes, I do have pages devoted to this in my journal, how’d you know? My hope is that eventually, this will all be a part of my routine — I dearly love routines. I’m slowly figuring out the parts of my regular routine that can be cues for healthy habits, like: Hey, I just finished editing this story, time for a drink of actual water! Hey, it’s lunch, let’s take a walk around the block! Huh, just brushed my teeth, time to floss!

Here’s what’s motivating me: Every year during my year-end journaling sprees, I go back over previous years’ entries. I always see that health is a goal — and have to confront the fact that I’ve taken zero steps towards restarting my yoga and walk break routines, that I’m still making bad choices when I’m stressed and that I make no real effort to rest beyond taking naps on weekends. That I’m dehydrated as hell.

And I don’t know, having lost so many loved ones last year, I’m thinking that what I have is a gift and I’m squandering it on stupid stuff that I don’t even care about, aka my phone.

I want to be a tall, cool old lady. I want to be an old lady, period. I want to review my 2020 journal in December and know that this year, I took actual, tangible steps towards being healthy.

So that’s my focus this year: Read more books, clean out the spaces that I’ve been ignoring in my house and get healthy. (In addition to my 47th birthday goal of learning how to retrench faster when Plan A goes awry, of course.)

I’m excited. And I’m never excited.

A day of rest

Three days into the new year, I decided to take a day off from work. There were a few reasons for this: I have some vacation and personal time I need to burn before my work anniversary comes around in February and everything resets (and I am a firm believer in using your vacation days); the girls are both off from school so Mama Fun Time; and I had scheduled a massage for 10:30 a.m.

And also: I’m tired.

Pearl for blog jan 4

Pearl is GREAT about resting.

I’m kind of terrible at resting. I’m also kind of terrible about self-care — I do the bare minimum you’d give, like, a goldfish, to keep myself going. And that’s one of my goals for the new year, to up my level of care to at least what I give Bean and Goose. 😉 (That’s another story for another time. I have a series of “New year’s grand plans” posts coming up.) It’s occurred to me that you can’t get by on goldfish-level care of yourself and not expect to be run down.

ANYWAY. I succeeded! And I’m terribly proud of that because, again, goldfish. I slept in until 8 a.m. and then I had my coffee and journal time. I took a long, hot shower. I remembered to breathe. I went in for my massage — this woman is a genius — and came out feeling like a new person.

Then I hit my favorite Friday Lunch spot and ordered my usual salad and Americano. Um, and a side of chips, because I was in the mood and they come on a plate, not in a bag. I had plans of having lunch with the girls, but they both have lives so that didn’t work out. Abby was able to meet me for some of the time; the rest of it I spent journaling about my massage (why was my anxiety triggered by driving to a massage, of all things? Why did my body resist a particular stretch she was performing? What does all this have to do with stagnation and flow?) and reading.

Tangent: When Abby came in, I asked if she had any quarters because the guy who checks the meters in our town is ON IT and there’s a 98-percent chance you will get a ticket if you leave your car unattended. And I had scrounged up all the spare change I could find in the car but came up a bit short. A lady I’d never seen before was all like, I have a quarter! and instead of being like, No, no, that’s okay, as is the Trisha Way, I accepted it and thanked her, and then fed my meter. People are kind, so why is my first instinct always to decline? Maybe if we let each other help out, we’d be less divided.

I spent two hours at the coffee shop, and it was lovely — I never have time to just hang out because I’m always worried about what’s next. Well, what was next was a nap with kittens and my weighted blanket. Which was also lovely.

After my nap = more writing. Then I sort of got dinner going, except Eric came home and I was all, This day has been exhausting with naps and massages and lunch out, and he was like, I’ll cook, and I was all, BLESS YOU. So I just kept writing. The girls were both home for dinner and everyone sat at the table and talked — that’s pretty rare and it was appreciated.

And then I read. And then I washed my hair. And then I read some more. And then I went to bed. I woke up Saturday morning at 6 a.m., ready to go.

Huh. That’s what you get for resting, I suppose.

Lessons from my day of rest: It is possible. I always think of it as holing up at home and doing nothing, but this showed me that it’s more just doing whatever you need to fill up the reservoir. And maybe that self-care doesn’t have to be / shouldn’t be a special event for that to happen. How can I translate this to a random Sunday? It’s interesting to think about, anyway.