40 Days of Self-Care

“Too much of a good thing is still too much.”

My life is full of good things. And I’m exhausted.

I need more time. I wrote about needing more time in my first essay for my new website.

I wrote about it messily because I didn’t have time to write the proper, thoughtful, well-written one I’d wanted to write and get published for a client in celebration of this June 21st anniversary. I didn’t have the time because I’m too busy editing The Me, Without for the copyediting department, and turning in food pieces for two different clients this week, and having an actual date night with my sweet boyfriend, and getting an MRI, and seeing my father and Poppa for Father’s Day, and handling a car for the first time in months (as I’ve been too unwell to drive for a while)… so many good things in not enough time.

My body can’t keep up.

And so now it’s 9:17pm and I decided to launch My Year of Addition / The Me, With with forty days devoted to self-care — just thirty minutes of it, every single day — because if I don’t, I fear I’ll continue to fall back into sad habits again.

What “self-care” will mean can change, though.

Rather than commit to one thing, I’ll let myself decide daily. First, I’ll consider the things from my Abstinence/Without I know I shouldn’t consider “self-care”: television, social media, shopping, etc. (the Challenges in the categories tab, up top there). I’ll ask myself what I need today to best care for myself. Then I’ll do it, for at least thirty minutes. Every day. For the next 40 days, from today through the end of July. I’ll update this post daily about what I did, adding any notes about the experience only if I feel like it.

Here I go.

40 Days of Self Care

June 21st:

Tonight, I decided to cut out of work early and dedicate the evening to resetting. This meant cooking food, going for a walk, and cleaning the apartment. That led to all of this, actually. It led to me now laying in bed and typing this post. As I vacuumed the kitchen — turning off the overhead light and letting the LED of the vacuum guide my way — I noticed how considering the action self-care made cleaning feel far different than when I clean for company, or when it’s a chore. My roommate’s out of town. I finally put away the suitcase that had been sitting on my closet floor since Saturday; bags of stuff waiting for proper storage for weeks. Tonight, I properly put things away, and wiped, and vacuumed, and got all ready for a productive morning. One that will need to be very productive, indeed. Yes.

June 22nd:

“I am a worthy investment.”

Why is that a hard statement to make, sometimes? Tonight, I lit a candle, set my bolster and such on the rug, and listened to the 26-meditation I had cut from Kari Samuels’ Soul of Wealth course. I’d bought it last year (80-minute audio, $37, worth every penny), and it’s been – by far – the most invigorating, empowering audio course I’ve bought and actually done not only once, but several times. In this cut, I repeat her statements that release doubts about self-worth, money sensitivity, and emotional roadblocks. Then, statements of love, energy, hope, and inspired intention. As I feel a little overwhelmed of late with this “too much…” idea, I need this time for infusion. It’s fortifying, empowering, and uplifting. It reminds me that I can choose the best version of the self I want to be, and believe the best in others.

June 23rd:

How luxurious, to realize that the next draft of The Me, Without is not due to Fiona (best editor name, ever!) on Monday, but Friday “at the latest!” So in celebration of not over-killing myself and turning it Monday anyway (along with the feature for a client I have yet to finish), I cut out of work early and stretched this thirty-minutes of self-care thing into an entire afternoon of reading for pleasure: first some Thoreau, then a novel, and then some Anne of GG: “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world.” Ah, Anne, how I’ve missed you!

June 24th:

I don’t have to push myself to vacuum or straighten the kitchen before bed. I had to push myself to mix some essential oils with vitamin e and give myself a stomach massage as I watched Cheers in bed before sleep tonight. What’s up with that? Cramping stomach pains and swollen joints and a young Ted Danson should be an easy 30-minute invitation to self-care. And it was, indeed, delightfully relaxing. But I had to push myself to get started.

Which I guess is the point of all of this.

June 25th:

As I was vacuuming the apartment (again) today, I thought of something Rebecca West, interior designer and the author of Happy Starts at Home, told me in the interview we took for The Me, Without in regard to building healthy habits:If you just take these tiny little action steps, then you can build this tiny little bit of momentum, and that builds the confidence; you’re making a choice, your choice is being successful, you’re not afraid to make another choice, and then that is the hamster wheel of joy that you can end up on, right? Each action leads to another very doable action.”

I loved that phrase — hamster wheel of joy! And that’s what these thirty-minute Challenges are instilling back into my life, already. Today, I technically checked things off a list that have been lingering on my to-do’s for too long: rescheduling a doctor appointment, ordering a supplement, organizing receipts, etc. But I also vacuumed, again. And sat and read, again. Instead of collapsing after my work day was through, I took the tiny extra time to run on my metaphorical wheel. And I feel the leaner and stronger for it.

June 26th:

Yoga teaches us some things that can be hard to put together in one space. For example, we’re taught a sense of disconnection between the self and the body; I am not my body… I am not my mind. Understanding this idea, so many years ago now, felt freeing: if not the body often laden with pain, then I can more easily find compassion toward it and a greater sense of overall value in myself. But at the same time, with yoga, we’re also taught to live in, witness, and experience the sensations in our body. In this, I’m forced to connect with the same body that hurts me.

“Sometimes a little dis-connection is good,” said my teacher, last night. I went to a Hatha 1 class at Integral Yoga — the same wonderful school I’ve now been attending for almost ten years, when I found it during my last severe flare and started practicing meditation. I’d thought, last night, that my body was in a decent place. And that going to class would be a wonderful choice for my self-care Challenge. But sitting in the quiet room, invited to connect, it was like layers of skin shed too quickly, or armor fell off. I realized how much pain I was in; how much I had been holding. I couldn’t do things in those ninety minutes I had done in the same class one month ago — things I might be able to do next time; my body changes hourly, as I discussed with my teacher after. I discovered a few things that triggered symptoms — lessons I didn’t want.

I let tears fall when they needed to. I focused on my breath. And self-compassion. And I felt and feel so thankful for a school and teacher that truly provides a space for healing, growth, and a lifestyle of self-care.

June 27th:

I’m starting to realize that “self-care” doesn’t necessarily mean touchy-feely-wonderful; last night’s comfort mixed with pain and vulnerability is proof of that. And tonight — pain again burning my bones, muscles, head — I type from my bed and ask myself: What does self-care mean today? My body tells me: Self-care means ordering food to be delivered here! But I don’t like to spend money on food when I have food here! But we want roast chicken (ultimate comfort food) and we don’t have that! But I have a whole chicken in the freezer that I could muscle up to defrost and cook. But that would take a long time and it’s already 6pm and we’re too sick to cook! But I don’t like the waste of single-use delivery materials. But we’ve pretty much figured out how to recycle everything now! But… I’m in too much pain to cook!

Fellow writer-with-Lyme Esmé Wang wrote an entire article on this conundrum: When Delivery is Not a LuxuryShe calls such a roast chicken a “health cost”.

I call these Challenges for a reason. And I just ordered food.

June 28th:

My Mitra is sick. Tomorrow, home to Connecticut to find out what’s wrong. Tonight, self-care means shifting my schedule, packing, and doing a calming face mask. Rolling, resetting, relaxing.

June 29th:

Mitra is in the animal hospital. Self-care was writing this.

June 30th:

Mitra is still in the hospital. I’m not handling this well, emotionally. Today, self-care was leaving from visiting her and going directly to the Dinosaur BBQ next door to watch the last twenty minutes of the Portugal/Uruguay World Cup game and eat a bunch of delicious protein (not eating for twenty-four hours is definitely not self-care). Then, buying groceries so that I’d have food to continue eating.

I didn’t expect this self-care project to take this turn. But it’s been particularly helpful these last twenty-four hours. Because it just nudged me to go to a bar and spend money on food, pronto (I just gave all my money to a vet hospital). Then, to use more energy to get groceries. Then, to not use more energy to drive to another town to complete the to-do lists I’d drafted no one is forcing me to complete. This Challenge is helping keeping that – what is self care? – question present, when I need it more than ever.

July 1st:

I know, I said self-care couldn’t be something like watching television. But I’m beyond exhausted, and in elevated levels of pain. Mitra is still in the hospital. And she took a turn for the worse – she has pneumonia. I shifted spaces, too — am now at a second CT house. And so, I watched television, crashed, and cried.

July 2nd:

Best day ever! Mitra is back!

This entire puppy process, I’d tried to stay positive. But from her first signaled symptoms to every phone call with the doc, I’d expect the best and then be delivered bad news. This was the worst weekend ever. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so lost to waves of panic and sadness. And so, before I got this morning’s good news that she was stable and I could bring her home, I was deep in emotional triage. I’d gone to sleep early, awoken extra early to work, then gave myself plenty of time to take a shower, drink plenty of delicious coffee, groom, and get my head right. I power posed, Wonder Women’d, and talked to myself in the mirror. Literally. I had a book to turn in, two interviews to take, and a dog to visit. I needed to get. my. shit. together. Then, the phone call!

July 3rd.

Mitra and I are together and exhausted. Tonight, what does self-care mean right now? led me to recognize a want for some pampering — a pedicure, a massage, something that would physically feel good. But I’m tentative to leave my dog for too long and not wanting to spend money until my finances are reassessed (yes, that’s how much such vet care costs). And so, I’m now soaking my feet in salt and lavender, with a cooling mask moisturizing my face, pup by my side. Pampered, indeed.

July 4th:

Mitra and I took a walk. Early, before it got too hot. I left the phone at home. Just a short stretch of country road. Nice and quiet. I didn’t see another car or human. I did see oaks and planes; a robin fly a worm up into a branch. Then, I came home to sip coffee and read a book. A morning of just me and my dog and my mind.

July 5th:

During My Year, Without / My Year of Abstinence (pick a name, Raposo), I spent ninety days not shopping, then sixty studying the concept of No Waste. They helped me pinch, trim, and learn how to prioritize need over want. I later learned how to better choose which clients I take on or let pass by. And, finally, eventually, after many setbacks… I started making more money.

Last week my dog got sick. My money is gone. But my dog’s tail is wagging again.

Today, we came home six days after having left. Once again reassessing my spending, I  then stood in the grocery store, putting things into my basket and then taking some out again; I do need chicken and almond milk, I don’t need chocolate popsicles and mangos. This gave me a touch more wiggle room in my wallet for a self-care choice en route home: I spent $20 on five pots of fresh herbs from the flower shop around the corner. No, I don’t need lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, chocolate mint, and purple sage. But last Year, I also learned what I truly love and value — time with nature is high on the list. I’m overtired, running on fumes, and in pain. Thirty-minutes of getting dirt under my nails as I re-potted into terracotta was a choice I’m satisfied to have made.

July 6th:

Tomorrow, I’m getting new photographs done for my new website and The Me, Without book jacket. I haven’t had photos done in… seven years? This week has been a bit busier than I’d expected, so I’m feeling underprepared. (However, I have full confidence in the amazing woman working with me, Hanna Agar.) Self-care tonight was giving myself time to cap preparations with some nerdy research; after all else was set, I got into bed and searched author photos, tips, the feminist perspective on the modern author photo, etc. Then I lay back – pained bones, burning eyes and all – and thought about what was most important to me. And I felt ready.

July 7th:

That frantic feeling of not being nearly ready for a big important thing that’s about to happen right now? I hate that feeling. So this morning, I got up extra early. I made coffee, showered, tidied the apartment, tended my dog, dressed, and left myself thirty minutes to sit and… sit. I listened to cello music. I cuddled Mitra. I drank my coffee. I breathed long and deep. I sat in the quiet of a Saturday morning. And I felt ready.

July 8th:

Today, my self-care Sunday was reading all fifty entries on Shondaland.com’s 50 Good Things That Have Happened in 2018 (So Far).

First, I skimmed. Then, I clicked one link, falling as transfixed by 2-year-old Parker Curry as she was by Michelle Obama‘s portrait in the National Portrait Gallery. I felt my body warm. I felt happier, and hopeful. I clicked another: Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to direct a film grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office, but she “can’t wait for more sisters to be here too.” I felt stronger, tougher.

I went back to the start, reading every link.

I saw Lena Waithe rock the Met Gala in a rainbow cape. I saw a Malian man scale a French building to save a four-year-old, and a raccoon scale a 20-story St. Paul building for the hell of it. I learned 575 women intend to run for the house, senate, or governor positions in November, and Shondaland optioned the rights to Jessica Pressler’s riveting The Cut story on Anna Delrey. And so much more.

What a fascinating world. I’m so inspired by it. And honored to be a part of it.

July 9th:

I watched Jay Papasan’s TED Talk, It’s All About Time–Connect Your Someday and Today. My brother recommended I watch and connect with Jay on it, for an obvious reason: “When you know what you are saying yes to, saying no to distractions becomes much easier. We don’t want to be sleepwalking past our core values,” the description begins. Jay then discusses, in the Talk and his book, how he coaches humans into exploring their One Thing – their ultimate goal in life – and then how to set goals in milestone steps backward, working toward it. I’m impressed with Jay’s presence. I share his belief in valuing time, choice, and (obviously) lightening our load so to live more fulfilled lives. I have some questions that will have me seeking out more of his work.

And watching helped me reassess this Year, With project, too. Because I’d already noted that My Year, Without worked because it helped me see through the fog, simplify my time, and refocus my priorities. Addition only works if the things I choose to add in contain those priorities. Time limits might help? So, for the rest of these forty days, these self-care Challenges are now limited to the thirty minutes that were once minimums and are now maximums. Speaking of which… time’s up.

July 10th – 11th:

I’ve sort of “failed” in dedicated self-care these two days. But it’s because — to continue the thought above, there — I did a pretty solid job of learning that most of the time, self-care means slowing down. It means being present. It means just stopping the rush of things that overflow, reassessing priorities, and then enjoying some quiet for a while. As tech designer and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case put it, I had to dismantle some of the “panic architecture” overwhelming me. (It’s a phrase I heard in her TED Talk, and I interview her in my book – one of my favorite conversations.)

In the overwhelm of Mitra stress, physical pain, shifting spaces, and work delay, I didn’t need to add self-care into my routine. I needed to have dinner with my sister. Then, spend time with my roommate. Then, my boyfriend. Between these, I shifted spaces again, got some work done, and didn’t stress about all the things I didn’t get done. I felt self-cared for.

July 12th:

Tonight is about resetting with guidance from numerology and (the lovely Intuitive Counselor and Happiness coach) Kari Samuels’ Astrology and Numerology report for July. I’ve only just started dipping my toe into the delight that is numerology. I don’t understand how or why things line up. But, like tarot cards or psychology or books of faith, numerology helps me consider my present situation from an angle I’ve not yet considered. And more than other mediums, numerology often hits the nail on the head.

Case in point, tonight. July 12th, Kari has detailed in her report things already unfolding: chaos exists within a triplet of eclipses, and number coordinations between the moon and hermit of the tarot. It’s an active month of facing and letting go of some long-held beliefs: “You’re shedding your skin right now…this is so liberating!” “You are going within so that you can bring your light into the world.” “It’s like a riptide—don’t fight the current…” Nearing the end, I readied myself to take notes on her three-part suggestions of to-dos. Only to find I’m already doing them: slow down, call on your guides for help, and invest in healing.

It’s been an unexpectedly chaotic month. But as I’d texted my dear friend only moments before:

I’m okay. Floating. Just trying to stay in one moment at a time. Some days, working from bed in morning so I’m not crippled in bed in afternoon. Other days, decent. CT solitude, good. CT driving and business, not good — you know. But I’m okay. One chunk of focus at a time.

This stuff doesn’t just happen. Presence, focus, and calm are not gifts or blessings. When I first started watching these kinds of videos and tapping into this kind of meditative / self-exploratory work, it didn’t come “naturally.” Last night, my boyfriend compared my emotional intelligence to how a mantis shrimp can see more colors than any other kind of animal; but such emotional savviness can be learned (to an extent) too. A few days ago, my sister pointed out that people in my (ill) position are often so intelligent because we have the solitude for it; I gently corrected that opinion, as in my experience adversity from illness may be an instigator for some, but I’ve not known it to be a throughline (see Emile Townes collection A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering for more on that).

I clarify because the point is important to me: emotional grounding, intelligence, communications, self-understanding, self-compassion, compassion for others take work. We have to do the work. Saying that it ‘comes naturally’ to someone – or that it’s a ‘gift’ – or that it’s easier for those in positions of suffering and solitude – dismisses the effort exerted. It excuses others from the idea that they can change, too. And it diminishes the satisfaction that comes from the long-game of real reward: the conversations with sisters and boyfriends that feel true and honest and safe, though they’re not always sweet and kind; the gentle assertion of thoughts; the glorious thrill of opening to other ideas and contemplating being wrong; the trust of love; the realization that you’re more in tune with others and yourself than you ever have been before… the want to work to hold onto that, because life is hard and we suffer and it can all fall apart in an instant.

It’s worth it. But it takes work.

July 13th:

I showered. I know this seems like normal care and not particular self-care. But when you have very limited energy because of chronic illness – what some refer to as spoons – taking a shower requires huge energy. Today, a friend I haven’t seen in years offered to come up to my apartment for a visit. I looked a wreck. So I showered.

For two lovely hours, we caught up on work, mutual friends, our collective past, our political thoughts and intellectual struggles, and more. He articulated his having made an effort to reach out after reading one of my essays on losing friends to illness; I responded with my want to make a better effort to both better keep friends and protect my body.

Best night ever. Showering was worth it.

July 14th:

I struggled at my desk all day. And so, in preparation for a Saturday date-night with my (chef-who-works-weekends-) boyfriend, I stopped working a half an hour earlier than I needed to. The time would have been put to productive use, storywise. But instead, in those thirty minutes, I slowly prepared. I was still frustrated and frazzled, as delayed subway and my own overwhelmed ineptitude had me fifteen minutes late. But I wasn’t frustrated, frazzled, or late because I left late. So that was better.

July 15th:

What is going on with me this month?

I gave myself extra time this morning to shower, do work, eat breakfast, and pack for a trip home for a family get-together. I even prepared extra time for collecting medical records and Mitra’s medicine in prep for her doggie doctor visit, too. But, no: I couldn’t find the vital medical record I needed to make my appointment (and the money being shelled out for my out-of-network doc) worth it. I chose to miss the first train I was to take. I was not happy about it. Boyfriend helped me tear up the room. Still, no disk of x-ray results amongst the files. I jump into an Uber and spend the entire ride unsure if I’ll make the next train – the ETA says I will now be very late for my grandparents’ 70th-anniversary lunch, then I won’t, then I will again. I promise to tip the Uber drive if I make the train.

I am stressing, seriously. Seriously, seriously stressing.

I look at my texts: mom, brother, and boyfriend tell me not to stress. But they don’t understand what it’s like to not being able to drive yourself around because your body keeps hurting more and more, and so you have to spend money on cabs and trains and ask people to drive you everywhere.

Don’t stress. Sure. 

And then, I decide to choose to listen.

Because: Why choose to stress when the world is not collapsing?

Yes, it sucks feel pain every day. And for that pain to keep limiting mobility and ability. And for those limitations to force spending more money on cabs, trains, delivery food, Amazon prime, and even messengering a new Macbook chord to my apartment when I forget mine in CT three days later so that I don’t have to muscle onto a subway and into the Apple store. (At least I’ve figured out how to pay to recycle all delivery packaging.)

But that doesn’t mean I have to give the day over to it.

can choose not to stress it. So I do – I choose not to stress over it. This will be my self-care.

I choose to tip the Uber driver, even if I miss the train. And to spend the thirty minutes I’ll wait reading my paper and drinking my coffee – That will be my self-care. If I make the train? Same thing, either way. Choosing this will be my self-care.

Everything shifts. I keep a positive calm during the beautifully chauffeured car ride. Then, in the quiet, empty train car with Mitra on my lap. Then, 80% when I open an email to see that the Uber cost $33. Then fully during the ride with my brother and the day with family and friends, happy though exhausted and in pain.

And the next day, because of that choice, I am able to calmly tackle navigating a medical system so to find the nice man that can email me a release form I can digitally sign so he can fax my doctor a report within twenty-four hours. And then, a day later, a second man who actually does fax it in five minutes while I am at the doctor, and find out no records had been sent.

Good people are out there. I will work really hard to be one of them.

July 16th:

I am so, so tired. Everything hurts. I let mom cook for me. And clean the dishes. I lay and drink tea and watch Gilmore Girls on her couch. It’s not self-care. It’s mom-care. But it counts.

July 17th:

Today, I lost a client. Then, heard my (wonderful) doctor say, “I wish there was more I could do for you.” Then, after pushing myself to work more, a phone call from a publicist turned into concern over a story I particularly loved that the interviewee was unhappy with. Then, I got home to find out a part of my living room ceiling was all over the couch and floor. (The cat was miraculously alive, unscathed, and blase about it.) Mom helped me cleaned plaster from every crack for two hours. I cleaned for two more.

At midnight, I spent thirty minutes watching YouTube videos about this month’s numerology forecast and writing down pro and con lists of today’s events. Specifically, turning the con’s into pros: Losing the client means I can open space for a new one. My doctor can’t do more for me – but he does so much already, and he cares. The altercation with the unhappy chef is a lesson in humility. The collapsed ceiling gave me more time with my mom and gratitude for the safety of those around me.

And when I thought back on the last few days, everything looked a bit rosier.

July 18th:

Hypnotherapy with Iris Higgins today. She really is remarkable.

Conclusions my subconscious told me quite clearly:

  1. Have the conversation I’m afraid to have.
  2. Force myself to have entirely off days, in nature. Do it, or else I’ll cripple even further. Even if that means drugging myself up so that I can lay under a tree for a day with nothing but headphones and, a book, sunglasses, and water.
  3. Allow myself to go off of social media for a bit (I’ve felt self-pressure to be more active being of this project, the book, etc. But even if I just go off for a week, that’s okay. I need the time.)
  4. When it comes to “what do I need to look for?” People. Good people. In regard to the client I lost, or endings and forced changes of focus that have been bursting lately, I should look for good people to fill the space. Instead of thinking of the client, I should think of the editor. Or who I want to work or spend time with. The people. Not the publication.

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