Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘self care’

A year ago I imagined a better life for myself.

I didn’t really believe it could happen, but I did believe it was what I wanted. So it was worth going all out for, even though I thought my efforts might very well end in failure.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as intensely social as I have been during the last year. I’ve been to so many parties and so many events, so many dances and movies and shows and luncheons and bruncheons and dinners and coffees and teas and outings. I’ve had the same small talk conversations maybe hundreds of times, and I’ve gone deeper whenever I saw the chance. I’ve spent time with hundreds of people, many of whom I’d never previously met.

I thought, I will find my people. I will find my balance. I will figure out what gives me joy and what does not. I thought, I will practice setting boundaries until it gets a little bit easier. I will practice saying no until that gets a little bit easier.

I thought, I will find the people who believe me and are patient with me and love me as I am. I will find the people who see me. I will find the people who make me feel safe, and I will love them with everything I have.

I thought, I know these people exist because I’ve already met a bunch of them. And I want to spend more time with the ones I’ve already met. And I want to meet more of them. And so that is what I’ll do, even though I kind of hate humanity right now and all I really want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and watch Pride and Prejudice over and over again. (The A&E miniseries version, if you really need to ask.) And maybe also Star Trek: The Next Generation because I’d just started watching that and it seemed like a good idea.

I thought, do the things you know you should do and be as hopeful as you can, and then if it all ends in misery, you will totally have an excuse to do something drastic like become a hermit or move to a foreign country or write angsty beat poetry.

And now a year has gone by, and it turns out it did NOT all end in misery. It turns out all those things I knew I should do were actually great ideas. It turns out all that social time resulted in me starting and/or continuing some fabulous friendships and feeling connected and getting a lot of practice and becoming more and more clear on what is important to me.

And now I am very happy with my friends and my communities and my boyfriend.

And I am also really freaking tired.

Nala is also tired.

Nala is also tired.

I get invited to large events where I’ll know hardly anyone, and I think, do I really have to go? And then I think, hahahaha, no, I do not! And that is very exciting for me. I look at the week ahead, and I know I should schedule-fu things up. And then I think, hahahaha, no, I can take things easy this week. And, you know, maybe wait for people to invite me. And in the meantime do an Orphan Black rewatch, because when is that not a good idea?

My sprained toe has forced me to take a slower pace, but once I realized that didn’t mean I’d be sitting around in enforced isolation for two months, it’s actually been kind of nice. Well, minus the pain and frustration and cabin fever, anyway. The slower pace has been nice. The reduced volume of small talk has been nice. The permission to focus more on self-care has been nice.

I’m so glad I made all the efforts I made, and they have paid off in spades. Enough so that now I can give myself a little break.

And soon I’ll be going on vacation, and it feels like the perfect time. But, more about that next week!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I used to never say “Enough.”

I’d bend over backwards to avoid saying “Enough.” I didn’t know what would happen if I ever did, and I was afraid to find out. Coming from a background in which I was harshly punished for ever expressing inconvenient needs, the idea of saying “Enough” was nigh unthinkable.

Saying “Enough” would mean acknowledging something bad was happening. Something hurtful enough that such a response was warranted.

The first time I really said “Enough” started out small. It was almost accidental. I felt so hurt and so awful I could no longer pretend everything was okay. I gave a tiny weak “Enough.” I hoped it would give me a few weeks of breathing room and recovery time before I had to go back to pretending.

That’s not what ended up happening though. My tiny weak “Enough” got push-back, and I needed that recovery time so desperately, I actually held the line. No one was more surprised about this than me. And every time my “Enough” got pushed on, it got a little bigger. And a little bigger. And it was all so stressful I broke my tooth from clenching my jaw so hard.

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

The hardest part of saying “Enough” is that it forces things into the light. The light is revealing. And you might learn that things aren’t going to change, and yet the light shows that things are intolerable. And you see that all the effort you’ve put in, all the years of swallowing your feelings and smoothing things over and bucking up and keeping a stiff upper lip and hoping for the best and thinking this time things will be different, all of this is the mental equivalent of a dog chasing its tail.

Saying “Enough” is also saying “Please stop hurting me,” and sometimes the answer you will receive is “No.” And with the bullshit stripped away, you then have to respond to this situation.

I wish I could tell you that this first experience with “Enough” taught me how to do it again, but it didn’t. It was just a beginning.

But it did teach me that “Enough” was a possibility.

Anyway, I faffed around for a couple of years, still not able to say “Enough” even when it needed to be said, which was unfortunate on many levels. And little by little I improved, and little by little my courage for speaking up for myself grew. And at the same time I did my best to change my life so I wouldn’t have to say “Enough” so often in the first place.

Last month I had to say “Enough” twice. What I’ve learned is, while it is important to be able to say “Enough” when you need to, if you reach that point, things have already gone a little bit off the rails. So twice in one month is not ideal. For one thing, it is pretty exhausting. For another, it means I was making some less-than-ideal choices, which is never fun to have to acknowledge.

But I can also tell that my choices overall have improved, because one person responded to my “Enough” with a genuine and heartfelt apology and respect for the boundaries I’d requested. This hardly ever happens, in my experience at least, and it is the best possible outcome to a not-so-great situation.

I used to never say “Enough.” But I’m really glad I learned how.

Read Full Post »

That’s great you have a support system, Amy, but how did you get here?

I’m going to write about how I built up my support system in the last three or so years, but I need to begin with a caveat: Your mileage will vary. A lot of factors can affect building a support system: personality traits, geographic location, age, whether or not you have kids, financial/work situation, etc. What I’m going to talk about is what worked for me.

Begin with what you’ve got. I didn’t begin completely from scratch. When I realized things were really bad, and I’d need a support system to weather the storm, I sat down and took stock of what I had. The answer was: Nala, a loose sprinkling of local acquaintances from the last ten or so years, the writing community, game night, one non-local friend I had opened up with, two local friends I thought I could bear to open up with, a couple of professionals. This is what I had to build from. It wasn’t great, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Friendship.

Friendship.

Find your professional supports, if possible. These are the people who form part of support systems professionally. Often you will pay them, Sometimes you will not. These are your therapists, body workers, teachers, coaches, ministers/priests, trainers, sponsors if you’re doing AA-related stuff, doctors, hospice workers, etc.

The great thing about these people is that providing a certain type of support is their job (be it paid or volunteer). This simplifies the relationship in some ways. The downside is that not all professionals are created equal, and it can be a fair amount of work to find the ones that work the best for you.

Up your self care and communication skills. This way you’ll have a much better idea of what you need. And then you can ask clearly for what you need, which gives you a lot better chance of receiving it.

Okay, now we’re going to move to the life mountain metaphor, which I love and first talked about here. Summary: Each of us stands on the peak of our own mountain. Our closest friends are on the top of the mountain with us, then our friends, then our kind of friends, with our acquaintances at the bottom. Got it?

More is better on the mountain. Why is this true? Well, when you’re building a support system, you ideally want a lot of layers and fail-safes built in. After all, you want your support system to hold some load. You want more people because: 1. you can spread the load out over more people, 2. if life happens to some of your key support people, you have other options, and 3. when change happens (as it inevitably will), you can potentially move some of the people who are lower down the mountain up.

But it should be a good more, not a desperate more. If people are repeatedly treating you badly or if you just don’t get along well with them, they probably shouldn’t be on your mountain at all, or else be at the very bottom.

It takes time. And when I say time, I mean both time to spend with these people who populate your mountain, and a longer timeframe to develop these relationships with strong foundations of mutual respect and trust. You can’t build a support system overnight.

(Exception: If you participate in an intense experience that is specifically organized to bond people, then you can become very close very fast. I tend to be slightly suspicious of this though because you’re away from your regular life and often a lot of possibly important information and context is omitted. Not that I don’t think this can’t work, but I’d use caution.)

Learn to be okay with rejection. Learn to walk away. Not all people you invite to various tiers of your mountain will want to be there. Usually these people won’t reject you outright; they’re more likely to be vague and/or very busy and/or noncommittal. Let them go. Some people will want to be there, and it will turn out they’re really not good for you. Let them go too. Sometimes you will want certain people to be higher up on your mountain, but no matter what you try, they never rise above a certain tier. Let them stay where they are. Find different people to bring higher. (Which, yes, takes even more time.) Do whatever you need to do to learn to be okay with all of this.

Find hubs and communities. This does speed up the meeting process a bit. Hubs are people who seem to know “everyone” and enjoy connecting people. They are often hard to get close to themselves, but they are gold to know. Communities tend to have regularly recurring events, which makes forming friendships easier. And communities often provide a form of support in and of themselves.

“Friend” everyone you meet. Especially local people. I’m a big believer in weak ties. You never know which ones might turn into actual friends. You can use Facebook to communicate with them and potentially develop the friendship. And you will receive a lot more invitations this way, and you can meet more potential friends at these events. (Yes, this is all also great for dating.)

Say yes. The more you participate, the more friends you’ll meet, the more populated your mountain will become. Say yes when you can. Say yes even if it’s a little outside your comfort zone. (Say no too, of course, for self care.)

Learn to stay in touch. A little can go a long way. The random text message. A short IM chat. A tweet, Facebook comment, or even a like. An invitation to a party or event. A bit of extra effort made for friends you like who are visiting from out-of-town, if possible. Or even (cough) a blog, so people feel they have some idea what’s going on with you.

You have to be the one to reach out first. Yeah, I know, this is totally unfair, but also the most effective. People are busy and used to their own routines. You have to be the one to show interest, to extend that first invitation, to check in. Once the friendship is more established, this will balance out to a more equal distribution of effort (not always, but often). When it doesn’t balance out, what tends to happen is that as you fill your mountain with other people who do balance the effort, the friends who don’t will naturally move further down the mountain.

When I started, it was really hard for me to issue that first invitation. Now it seems like a completely normal thing to do. Practice pays off. It also gets easier to…

Find the “excuse” to hang out. Yes, it should be something you’d like to do, but you have to have something you’re inviting a potential new friend to do. Usually this will revolve around either participating in a common interest or talking about that interest. If it’s going to be primarily talking, it also commonly revolves around food and/or drink. I have friends that started as writing friends, theater friends, dancing friends, board game friends, movie friends, foodie friends (which can simply mean that you both love pie), etc. Over time, this might expand to encompass all kinds of subjects and activities (and might even eventually not have anything to do with how you first bonded), but at the beginning, you just need that first excuse.

For example, one of my closest friends and I met at game night. So we had board games in common. One game night he mentioned Japanese curry was one of his favorite foods. I had never had Japanese curry. He mentioned it one or two more times, and then I asked him if he’d like to go to curry with me so I could try it. And that was that: the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Open up trial and error. At some point in the friendship, in order to move a friend up the mountain, you have to open up to them. This can be terrifying, and it’s not all in your head. It is an actual risk, and you must take it. And sometimes it will end badly. Sometimes you will realize you cannot discuss a certain subject with a certain person. Sometimes you will realize you cannot discuss anything sensitive with a certain person. Sometimes people will judge you harshly. Sometimes people will give you really obviously bad advice, very sincerely. Sometimes people will be unkind. Some of these people should not be allowed to progress to the top of the mountain.

With practice, much of this can be weeded out ahead of time. But you can never know for sure until you’ve done it. It gets a bit easier when you have other friends you trust. But when you’re starting out, well, it’s like jumping from a plane.

Recently when I did this, here is what I said: “So…we’re about to either become better friends or have an awkward moment. You game?”

He was game. We are now much better friends.

Learn what kind of support you can successfully ask for from different friends. Friends have different strengths and weaknesses. Ideally when asking for support you can play to their strengths. Some friends are great for when you’re in tears. Some friends give great romantic advice, others give great career advice. Some friends are perfect for giving you a distraction. Some friends excel at connecting you to other people. Some friends are great listeners. Some friends get you out of the house. Some friends are great for logistical issues. Some friends make great soup when you’re sick. Asking people for what they’re good at giving makes both of you happy and brings you closer together.

For example, I am horrible at being asked for rides. There are a few exceptions, but really, I’m often just no good at this. And I’m not great at non-emergency last-minute practical favors either. But I’m good in an emergency, and I’m good at listening, and I’m okay at distracting.

Finally, know this is not easy. It takes lots of time and effort. There may be setbacks, sometimes major ones. There may be discouraging days. There may be times when you need large chunks of alone time. There is nothing wrong with you if it feels like an uphill climb.

It certainly felt like an uphill climb to me. And I’m sure there will continue to be bumps and obstacles. All I can tell you is what I told myself: Yeah, maybe you’ve failed. Maybe you’ll fail again. But keep trying anyway. Take a break if you need to, but never completely give up.

This is how I got to where I am right now.

Read Full Post »

I remember wishing for a support system.

I don’t remember exactly when this was. It couldn’t have been high school because I didn’t aspire to anything as lofty as a support system in those years. So it must have been college, when my mom was dying. I needed a support system while she was sick, and I knew I’d need one just as much after she died. I remember writing lists, plotting out how I could create this support system that I so desperately needed.

I failed. I couldn’t find a support group. I couldn’t figure out the mental health services on campus. I found very few peers with whom I could speak openly. My mom had two wonderful volunteers who came to visit her while she was sick and then helped us organize the memorial after she was gone. But then they went back to their regular lives. I desperately wanted my relationship with the rest of my family to be close, but it was not close, and I could not force it to become close, however much I tried.

I didn’t get what I needed.

I tried a few more times later on to create this support system I’d been so convinced was a good idea. Each time I failed. Each time I became less convinced it was even possible. I never completely gave up, but my efforts became more and more half-hearted as time went by.

It occurs to me now, writing this, that when you’re chronically not getting what you need–when, in other words, you are starving–then you’re in no position to set strong boundaries. You’re in no position to set many boundaries at all.

I’ve been thinking about support systems again because the last couple weeks have been on the rocky side, and in the breaks between bumps, I’ve been watching how I handle it.

When I think of the Me of ten years ago, or even three years ago, I don’t recognize myself.

Part of the difference is that I’m now an expert in Amy care. And the rest of the difference? It’s that support system I always wanted. I have it now, and I don’t hesitate to use it. Within a few hours of my first awareness that I wasn’t exactly a happy camper about some things that were going on, I was on the phone with one of my best friends. And every step of the way through the following days, I’ve felt supported, in several different ways, by a wide variety of people and communities (and little dogs).

Granted, these have been relatively little bumps I’ve been experiencing. But I know if they had been bigger, those same people and communities would have been there for me.

I am getting what I need.

Here, then, is a message to Past Me: Your idea about support systems is as good as you think it is. I’m so sorry you don’t already have one, and I know it’s really hard to put one together, but hang in there and keep trying. You’ll eventually figure it out.

You’ll eventually get what you need.

And here is a message to those of you who are part of my support system now:

Thank you for feeding my heart.

Photo Credit: sullen_snowflakes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sullen_snowflakes via Compfight cc

Read Full Post »

What does it mean to respect yourself?

That is a question one of my friends asked on my last post, and I’ve been thinking about possible answers ever since. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a good idea of what respecting myself feels like, but as it turns out, putting that feeling into words is not without its challenges.

So I took myself off to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines respect as an act of giving particular attention. When we act with respect, we act with consideration. It’s also defined as high or special regard, i.e. esteem. So when we are talking about respecting ourselves, no surprise, we are talking about self-esteem and self-consideration.

It’s hard to talk about self-respect sometimes because we live in a culture in which confidence is sometimes equated with arrogance and self-consideration is sometimes equated with selfishness. And of course, arrogance and selfishness are attitudes that many of us strive to avoid, to the point that we can end up overcompensating. Which is why Matthew McConaughey’s point that it’s easier to respect others when we’re already respecting ourselves is so critical.

I think of self-respect as fostering a relationship with ourselves. Just as we put in a lot of time and effort building our relationships and friendships with other people, so we can put in time and effort into our relationship with ourselves. Getting to know ourselves, and getting to know how to take care of ourselves and what we need to function well are fundamental acts of self-respect.

20150228_161240 (1)

I can’t talk about self-respect without bringing up boundaries. Setting and keeping healthy boundaries is also an act of self-respect. Some people do this so automatically they don’t even have to think about it. And some of us have to practice and do this a lot more explicitly.

It is harder to maintain self-respect (or learn it in the first place) if you spend a lot of time in an environment in which you are not receiving external respect. When you’re with people who don’t value your opinion, your comfort, or your emotional or even physical boundaries, it becomes easy to internalize these attitudes of disrespect. And of course, it’s in these people’s best interests that you do so, as it is perpetuates the dysfunctional system. This is one of the reasons why mindfully choosing the people with whom we spend time and develop intimacy is so important.

What does self-respect mean to me personally? I’ve made a little list.

  • Taking care of my physical needs, such as doing my best to get enough sleep, eat good food when I’m hungry, rest and recover when I’m sick, etc.
  • Taking care of my emotional needs, such as having people in my life with whom I don’t have to pretend when I’m having a hard time, reaching out for support, doing self-care, fostering supportive connections with others, doing activities that make me happy, taking alone time when necessary, etc.
  • Taking care of my mental needs, like engaging in projects that I find challenging and interesting, trying new things, learning, asking questions, having an artistic outlet, etc.
  • Prioritizing my time and energy for people and activities that are generally positive to my well-being.
  • Setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries, and surrounding myself by people who support this.
  • Protecting myself from the disrespectful behavior of others.
  • Taking ultimate responsibility for my decisions, which also means not being too easily swayed by others’ opinions.
  • Embracing who I am and where I come from.
  • Being kind to myself and relaxing my perfectionism as much as possible; recognizing my own humanity and fallibility.
  • Being my own best friend.

What does self-respect mean to you?

Read Full Post »

I read this essay by the movie reviewer Film Crit Hulk (it’s interesting, but it is also super, super long, so fair warning), and I thought, oh, I should blog about despair. Because it seems to be going around lately. I know a lot of people who have been having a rough time personally, and then there’s been the whole GamerGate thing, and the global warming impending apocalypse thing, and the posting nude pictures of actresses thing, and a bunch of other things. And, well, it’s not a huge stretch to think that some people are experiencing despair right now.

Despair is a difficult experience to live through. It comes with its own built-in gravity well, in that once you find yourself in that despair place, it is not always obvious how to move forward or through it. So there you sit, in this incredibly painful state, feeling like really important things are broken and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And then I read my friend Damien’s post about Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, and you might remember I adore Brene Brown and think the work she’s done is really important. And reading through the list of strategies she talks about, I think they are somewhat applicable to dealing with despair as well as living a wholehearted life. So that’s one resource that’s out there.

But really I want to talk about what I do when facing despair, because that’s what I know. As usual, take what seems useful and discard the rest.

  1. Self care, self care, self care. If you are feeling despair, then you are going to need to self care the shit out of yourself. Beyond the basics (eat, hydrate, sleep, exercise/move), this includes giving yourself alone time or people time depending on what you need. For me, I often want lots of time with Nala. This also includes allowing yourself to be distracted or take a break from the despair. I don’t care how a big a problem it is or how big a realization you’ve had; being in full-on despair mode 24/7 is simply not healthy. Dealing with it is great, but not at the cost of complete burn-out. Finally, this covers allowing yourself to disengage and set boundaries as needed.
  2. Focus on the present moment. Sometimes despair involves things that happened in the past or things we’re afraid will happen in the future. And those things are important and provoke strong feelings and need to be grappled with. But to pull myself out of the despair, paying attention to right now right this second instead can be helpful.
  3. Baby steps. Despair requires patience, because maybe you’re beginning to feel better and then something happens and you fall right back down the well. But if I can think of even one tiny positive thing I can do to help my situation or take care of myself or reframe, then I am better off than I was before.
  4. Vent. Or cry. Or both. Sometimes I just need to let it out, and if I have a safe space in which to express myself, it can be extremely helpful. This one requires judgment because it totally backfires if the space turns out not to be safe after all. But you can do it alone or in writing (or with a pet) too.
  5. Try to stand apart from your emotional reality. Or in other words, try to call yourself on your black and white thinking. Despair can be overwhelming, and it can feel really, really big. For example, if you have been experiencing a lot of really bad behavior from other people, it can begin to feel like all people are awful, or all people are going to betray you, or whatever universal your brain has decided to come up with. But while your experience of that feeling is real, that doesn’t mean it necessarily reflects the external reality. So to pull out of it, you can think of one person who has treated you well. Maybe you can even text them or message them or call them or whatever it is you do to communicate. Or you can just think of a nice thing they did or said that one time. Then think of another person. Then another. Look at data if you need to: pull up a nice text or a nice email someone sent you.
  6. Don’t give up on yourself. Even if you really feel like it. You can give up on everything and everybody else, especially if you’re having a nice venting session, but hold onto that self-esteem like you’re in space and it’s your oxygen tank. YOU WILL NEED IT. GUARANTEED.
  7. Find a reason to hope. It can be a dumb reason, like the fact that ice cream exists or Nala is consistently adorable. That’s okay.
  8. Remember: everything changes. I don’t know if anyone else finds this idea comforting, but it has been my fall-back in hard times for at least ten years, maybe longer. If none of the above works, or if it’s not possible at the moment, and you’re wrapped up in the stifling blanket of despair, knowing it won’t go on forever and ever because that’s not how the world works gives you something to hold onto.
A reason to hope.

A reason to hope.

Hang in there, my friends. Or, as Theodora Goss said:

Read Full Post »

I thought I’d write today about self care, since I’m in the middle of a move, and moving is on that list of highly stressful life stuff, which means self care is something that I’ve been making extra effort to pay attention to right now. And it’s actually working; my stress levels are on the high side but not crazy high, and I have been having cheerful and happy times in spite of the move, and without that weird frantic edge that signals the presence of overwhelm.

So here are some self care things I’ve been doing:

1. I talk about the move. Whenever I want (within reason). This is huge because it means I’m getting emotional support during a high stress time. I’m getting to vent, I’m getting feedback about what’s going on, I’m getting comfort when I need comfort and celebratory time to help me remain positive about all the good things this move is going to bring. And it’s such a relief to have people know what’s going on with me.

2. I ask for help. This past weekend, my friends came over and helped me pack my entire place. In mere hours they completed a job that would have taken me days and days and reduced me to an incoherent, exhausted, and injured person. One of my best friends came with me to see the place I ultimately decided to rent to give me a second opinion. Other friends have been giving me information about the neighborhood and reaching out to give me doses of moral support. Feeling so supported and cared for definitely reduces the stress I’m feeling.

3. I fight the impulse to be frugal. When I know something is going to be expensive (like, say, moving), my first impulse is to do whatever it takes to save as much money as possible. This attitude puts a lot of additional stress on me, to put it mildly. And it’s so much easier to be frugal when you’re not in the middle of a mini-crisis. So I’ve been allowing myself to hire the movers who are slightly pricier than I feel completely happy with, and to pay for extra body work so I don’t fall apart physically, and to spend money to make problems less huge.

4. I make sure I have time for classic self care. Did I have a Gilmore Girls marathon, complete with frozen pizza and strange pie, a few nights ago? You bet I did, and I appreciated the energizing alone time. I’ve also been prioritizing sleep, walks and snuggle time with Nala, and hot tub time.

One of the pillars of my self care routine.

One of the pillars of my self care routine.

5. I take advantage of focus but rein in bigger ambitions. Things are going so well, I think to myself, perhaps I could up my daily word count, or query more agents, or do some more semi-stressful social things. And then I realize that no, instead I can appreciate that things are going well and keep the pace I set myself, while resisting the temptation to push myself too hard. I don’t have to do all the things right now. I can focus on my five top priorities and let the rest go. (For those curious, those are moving, novel, Nala, personal growth/care, and friends.)

6. I give myself a reward. When the move is completely over, I get to go to Seattle for a week. Thanks to frequent flyer miles and wonderful friends, I have an amazing trip to look forward to. So whenever I think, “Ugh, I hate moving,” I can then counter with, “But then I’m going to Seattle!” And then I can add on, “Plus my friends are fabulous! And I love the novel I’m writing!” Which makes it really hard to spiral into serious negativity. So maybe this one isn’t so much about giving myself a reward and more about feeling gratitude.

Of course, none of this would be as effective without this last one:

7. I clean up my life in the hopes that one crisis/setback won’t set off a chain reaction. I spend time with people who are good to me. I set and hold boundaries. I cultivate good things so it is easy to find gratitude.

Here’s to leveling up with my self care.

 

Read Full Post »