Work as Self-care; and Being There

Last week I was reminded that sometimes, it is necessary to skip self-care and just work like the devil. I had stuff to do that couldn’t wait. I was also in a productive mode. And so I spent a couple of evenings working late, working hard, but feeling pretty good about it. This is markedly different from the years I spent doggedly working each and every night after a full day in the office. During that time, no matter how much progress I made, it never seemed to be enough.

When I took those two nights working, the lack of exercise was on my mind, as much as the lack of just giving myself breathing space for a while. I kept reminding myself that I was only going to do this for two nights and I stuck to that. The next night I rested and began to return to what amounts to routine for me. (My routines are amorphous, chaotic things. Kind of like blobs of imprecise activities.) I felt it was critical that I got back to my regular activities quickly, since they still hadn’t quite settled after being away over the holidays.

The nice thing about these two evenings, especially the second, was the downright sense of flow on a coding project. It was fun, creative, and dangerous – just like painting. I like it when that happens. Rarely am I able to get in to that state of mind and work. Too many distractions, too many tasks that pop up that require immediate attention. So it was good.

Sometimes the work itself is self-care, especially if it meets a need and releases stress.


Household chores can also be self-care. I think it is easy to forget that. It seems easy to get into the habit of defining self-care as exercise, meditation, nutrition, time for self, and perhaps other activities. Having a clean, orderly space, clean clothes, car properly maintained, trash put out, all the daily chores that allow us to be properly functional. All of this is self-care, or what some call “adulting.”

Self-care is being there. It is being where you are at and taking care of your needs. Taking care of yourself. Which may also include taking care of your relationship(s).  (I think I will that for a separate post.)  Self-care is nothing more than recognizing what you need to be ____________ and then doing the work. That blank is hard to fill meaningfully. It’s too easy to put “successful” there but that has its own implications for what self-care is, as does “happy.” I’m thinking that each of us need to fill in that blank with the word that makes most sense for the current moment of time, and that will help us determine what self-care really means to achieve that. I don’t think anything goes away, it just gets weighted differently.


Sometimes in caregiving there are moments of despair. Some minor thing goes wrong and cascades into a major, or near major, other thing. When this happens, generally the two people involved have to find a solution together. Say for example when there is a fall and the person you’re caring for can’t get back up on their own or with somewhat “typical” assistance, like a hand up. It can take time, creativity, and very serious effort if the caregiver simply just can’t pick their charge up off the floor. A situation like this when it is not quickly resolved can result in panic for one or both.

When this happens, there is nothing to do but stay calm and do the work. The work being the solving of the problem at hand with as much calmness and patience as can be mustered. The less drama can you be bring to an event like this, the easier it is to cope. Far easier to cope, for both of you.


I think the one thing that overlaps these three sections, besides “work” is “being there.” Whether you think about it as mindfulness or being in the moment, just being there is key. Being there for yourself, your partner, your family, your work (which is not necessarily the same thing as your “job”), whatever it is, it is a question of being present. I’ve said before, I spent too much time when I was young thinking about the future instead of being there. No time now to dwell on that,  or anything else in the past, there are things to do now, even if it is just sitting and breathing.



A commitment to the now

Kind of a year in review,  kind of a love letter to this who inspired me and continue to do so, kind of a last post on self-care (for the year at least).

I had coffee with a colleague yesterday. This, but itself, is not notable. Some kind of coffee meeting happens just about each week. What was notable was that in the process of the hour-long conversation my attention wandered only once, and then only briefly. When my attention was diverted, I was able to redirect back without effort. For most of my life, I would half-listen as a habit, my mind racing ahead in the conversation. If the subject of the conversation was a problem, I’d be working on the solution. Whatever, I was thinking, I wasn’t fully present.

ADHD is a trip, but I never tried to treat it because it never seemed a problem.  I could flitter about and still be functionally aware of what was going on around me and engage as if I had been paying close attention. In fact,  I have leveraged what I consider a personality type into an ability to change topics, levels of detail, and abstraction, almost effortlessly. I found, or created, a career based essentially on shifting priorities and a multiplicity of masters and tasks. But I’m older and it becomes more difficult. The distractions more often lead to lead to greater focus and withdrawal from the present.

The same uninterrupted flow of conversation happened last evening for about two hours.

The work of the last year in mindfulness, of being present in the moment, of just being present, is starting to pay off. It’s starting to become habit. I’ve gotten through life, despite not fully engaged all the time. That’s no longer good enough. For a whole host of reasons, it’s not good enough. I recognized that last winter. Finally.  Fortunately, I had some role models and friends to provide inspiration and guidance.

This is the thing about mindfulness – it brings you into the now. If you take a moment to meditate and count your breaths, you can’t help but be in the now. Each breath is its own moment and if you are focusing on it, there is only now.

I write this stuff in the event it might save someone a few wasted years and learn these lessons earlier than I have.

Last month I was at a day-long convening on early childhood. At the lunch break, the man sitting next to me says, “This is really random, but I think you and my wife had the same surgeon.” Conversation ensued. Yes, his wife and I did have the same neurosurgeon. She had a different type of brain tumor than I. He had found this blog when she was diagnosed in his search for questions. He told me it helpful to see evidence of surviving and thriving, especially from someone who had been through the same facility that was treating his wife. Such connections are powerful. I’ve seen it before in sharing my experience here and on a forum for acoustic neuromas (tumors similar to or related to mine).

In sharing the story of my tumor, surgery, and recovery, it is not for me about the past. It is instead about my journey now. About the choices leading to here and leading away from here, about healing and recovery. Healing and recovery are not quite the same things, I think.  A quick Google search reveals frequent debate and discussion of the meanings and their differences. Basically, healing is the process of repair. Recovery is the process of regaining what was lost – function, strength, stamina. The challenge with both is this.

The body has its own calendar and it takes however long it takes.

If one is recovering from something like major surgery or illness, the tendency is to look towards the future because the now is often unpleasant. But the work of recovery requires focusing on the now. Seven years ago, I was forced to live in the now more than I had been used to since every single thing was so much effort. Everything was harder than it had ever been, including thinking. I had to stop myself from daydreaming too much about getting better, or how things used to be. It was hard to not think about things I couldn’t do until a friend suggested that I focus on all the things I could do, and not the relatively few that I couldn’t. Such a simple suggestion redirected my focus.  It’s a bit of a shame I hadn’t realized how much living in the now would have been better way to go back then, but I was anxious to try and get back to my old life, not realizing it wasn’t optimal.

In The Last Jedi, we are given this line towards the end, “We‘re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”  While I have rarely been ready to give up on life (save for a few momentary lapses into despair)  loving life was rarely a feeling of any real duration. That’s different now. Every day, I love my life. It’s not perfect by a far cry, but I do love it, and I embrace its chaos and occasional sadness. Life is good.

Life is good. Hope is still an action, and we can still have the ability to overcome the darkness.

Self-Care as a Capitalist Plot

“The next morning, I had an epiphany—this whole self-care push is just another capitalist boondoggle. We won’t take care of you. In fact, we will continue to push you until you are a broken body and we won’t change a thing about our working conditions, and then we will claim that it was on you to take care of yourself, to practice self-care. After that, we’ll take away your health care too, so that you can just go away and die.”

from Why I Can’t Have Coffee with You: Saying No to the Patriarchy ( )

 This resonated.  I’m not yet convinced I agree fully, but I sure do see the point. Its not like there is any evidence that employers would treat people this way. Oh wait,  I guess perhaps there is. Apparently delivery drivers for Amazon don’t have time have time to go the bathroom, let alone eat.  And I don’t think this is limited to Amazon as on a recent  trip to DC, one morning I observed a commercial van driver empty a bottle of urine into the street. Nor was it the first time.  It’s amazing what one can see when paying attention to the world around you. 

Unfortunately, the truth is that the push for self-care is not just a capitalist boondoggle,  but a recognition that the world,  the universe,  does not care for your well-being. Your god does, whatever your faith, I think, but as far as the world,  not so much.  You are just an unrealized nutrient collection for other lifeforms.

That’s pretty depressing I know.  Really though, it is simply to the make the point that self-care is your responsibility. Unless, of course,  you are Peter Pan,  in that case there will always be Wendy to take care of you. Most of us don’t have a Wendy.  If we are lucky,  we have a partner that watches (and perhaps, washes) our back.  So,  self-care it is, or trusting to luck and the good graces of a hungry world full of things that want to n eat us. 

For me, engaging in self-care has made everything better. I’m happy,  healthy, fit,  and far more relaxed. Even if it is a capitalist boondoggle, it is still an improvement. 

But,  it does seem like there might be a relevant song. 
Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

Sixteen Tons – Merle Travis

Reflection as Self-care

Progress can be an iffy thing to observe. It is easy to become frustrated and discouraged because some changes just take time. This is especially true of subtle changes in behavior and choice.

Today is the first anniversary of taking a specific steps to improve my life. Truth to tell, it actually represents the end of a week of decisions and actions, but it all came together on December 2nd. Together these decisions represented steps toward achieving one goal: to become healthy.  This came down to three major activities – losing weight through a healthier lifestyle, learning and practicing good self-care, recognizing, accepting, and then getting treatment for depression.

So, following some sound advice from someone I trusted, I tackled all of these that one week.

  • I consulted my PCP and started a mild antidepressant.
  • I sought a recommendation for therapist and set up an appointment and did nine months of really hard work.
  • I started with a weight-loss clinic.
  • I gave up my diet soda habit cold turkey (it was a very bad habit in terms of quantity).
  • I dropped quite a few food choices from my diet.

A year later, I have lost 66 pounds and 10 inches from around my waist, a total of 86 pounds over the last 18 months (I had made some changes in the preceding spring, but hit a plateau). And, yes, I have bought quite a few new clothes, multiple times. I am very close to my goal, which is not about my weight itself, but how I see myself in the mirror.

One of the problems in working with working with a weight-loss clinic is that they are focused on the big number on the scale. This is despite the fact that they measure and record your heart rate and blood pressure on each visit.  Why mention this? Because a year ago my resting heart rate was 78 beats per minute (bpm). It is now routinely measured around 52 bpm. Of course, this is not just a function of losing weight, but of also engaging in regular exercising and averaging at least 11,000 steps a day on a bad wee, and 15,000 on a good week. My blood pressure has also dropped and on occasion is very near the low range of values. I might be able to give up the meds at some point.

There was no magic bullet in anything I did. It was all interrelated and all very basic stuff. Treating the depression helped with the weight-loss and lessened the desire to eat crap. The losing weight helped the depression. Counseling led to working on mindfulness. “Mindful eating” assists weight-loss. Studying mindfulness (probably not yet as rigorously and deeply as I hope to do) led to readings in meditation and trying to develop a practice of meditation. Meditation led to early efforts in yoga.

There were also a whole slew of blog posts along the way as I worked my way through the year.

I feel phenomenal. I look better than I have in decades. I am now at about the weight I was in college and in the Army. My health is improved. My attitude and inner self is better, and closer to normally calm.

But my golf game still sucks badly.

Today it was painfully horrible at times. However, I still had fun throughout. I enjoy the game in a way that I hadn’t before. And there is an explanation for the horribleness.

Last spring I played golf and strained my left ankle. The next day I went out for a 10-mile hike in the forest. And then I went to the driving range. On the fifth ball, I screamed. I had clearly torn something in my ankle. So I quite playing for a few weeks and took anti-inflammatories. I played golf again and on the sixth hole I nailed a perfect 275 yard three wood and, you guessed it, screamed.

I got in to see a sports medicine doc and he put in an ankle brace, loaded me with anti-inflammatories, and sent me to physical therapy. After pointing out just how stiff my body was, particularly my ankles, she went to work and gave me a boatload of exercises to do. I complied, she and the doc were satisfied that I had made adequate progress, and I was released with the proviso that I must always wear the brace when playing golf and continue to work on the exercises. The yoga helps with this.

However, because the ankle brace interferes with a normal swing stance and because clearly a normal stance is not ideal for me, I have had to rebuild my swing and that takes time. More often than not it has been better as of late, but not today.

Something else happened in parallel. In the spring I was also experiencing discomfort and pain from my jaw popping while I ate. When it didn’t go away, I schedule an appointment with an oral and facial surgeon….but that was for October. The popping eventually disappeared but I kept the appointment. It was good that I did. He determined that the muscles on the left side of my face were too thick and stiff (and also subject to hemifacial spasms multiple times a day) and that, in all likelihood, the anti-inflammatory used for my ankle had also helped my jaw. He prescribed a med change and more physical therapy.

With another physical therapist telling me just how stiff I am and seemingly unable to relax.

As luck would have it, this therapist also specializes in facial movement. Now, almost eight years following surgery, I am finally getting treatment for the spasms, muscle weakness, and asymmetry in my face. These things may not get completely eliminated, but after only a month of effort, there is progress. And honestly, I haven’t cared enough about my appearance until now to really worry about my face.

More importantly, I don’t think I would have been ready to really do the work until now. The effort, the concentration, it requires to sit an stare in a mirror trying to move just one or two muscles is significant. Mindfulness is required and acceptance that this effort is of value to do.

Progress in many things over the year. Today I am recognizing and celebrating that progress. I am also mindful of just how connected and related all these things are.

It’s good.


Advanced Self-Care

There can be discomfort in accepting care and support from others. This has been a theme in the last couple of weeks in a number of unrelated conversations.

 “Thank you for caring about me. It is uncomfortable to be cared for but for you I am suffering through it. :)”

Those of us who are counter-dependent or lean in that direction, struggle with relying on others. We believe we can do it all ourselves, without assistance. It’s unhealthy approach to autonomy and independence.

The key in understanding counter-dependency is differentiating it from healthy autonomy. Healthy autonomy is a state of confident self-reliance in which an individual a) recognizes their interdependency with others; b) has an agentic sense of self (i.e., a sense that one can effectively control one’s destiny) and c) is not unduly controlled or influenced by others. The primary defining feature of a healthy autonomy is first that the autonomy motive is an “approach mindset,” meaning that the individual desires to be (relatively) self-reliant because they want to recognize their full potential as an individual, but one who is simultaneously and securely interconnected with others. Second, healthy autonomous individuals can regularly form effective, meaningful, intimate long term relations with others. That is, they can share, be vulnerable, and are comfortable relying on others when it is reasonable to do so.

Signs of Counter-Dependency, Psychology Today.

This mindset gets in the way of good self-care. After all, there is never enough time to do everything. There is also, if we are honest, never truly enough to competency in every single thing we attempt. (This is kind of a harsh reality for those that really believe they can do anything, and do it well enough.) More importantly, there are simply times when we can’t be our own caregiver, although it might take extreme situations to make that clear, such as my own 32 hours of brain surgery.

I’ve written previously about my efforts at self-care. Improved nutrition, exercise, rest, working at mindfulness, learning to be vulnerable and open, are all parts of self-care. I think I have come to see that letting others in to provide care for you, even if it is just assistance, is really an advanced and necessary form of self-care.

This is easier to do with someone you know and trust. Although, I think if trust is really there, then it is much less of a problem to do. Part of counter-dependency is the inability to trust that someone can do something at least as well as you. So, with one-on-one relationships, we can at least begin to negotiate trust pathways to let someone care. It is much harder if we are alone in a community, or worse, believe we are alone in a community, and feel there is no one to trust enough to even reach out to. This is a tremendous place of discomfort.

At this point, I think the only answer is this. Ask yourself, “How much do I truly value my well-being compared to challenging my comfort levels in asking for, and accepting, help?” Like most things, it is something of a cost-benefit analysis, but with the added confusion of “comfort” actually being on both sides of the equation. We balance risks of physical and emotional comfort against generally the emotional discomfort of admitting we need help and need to trust someone to provided.

Needing help is not a bad thing. It is merely a recognition of the existence of limits. Accepting help is really good self-care.

Sometimes Love is Lonely

“Love is hard.”

“Love *is* hard. And sometimes lonely.”

A snippet of conversation between two friends about marriage, caregiving, and family. Most everyone knows that love is hard. Not always, of course, but there are moments, days, and multiples of days in which love is very hard. The hardness generally comes from difference. All couples/families have them to some degree.

  • Difference in politics.
  • Difference in expectations.
  • Difference in desire.
  • Difference in ableness.
  • Difference in ability.
  • Difference in perception.
  • Difference in wellness.
  • Difference in strengths.
  • Difference in power/position.

And so on. There are no limits to the differences possible. Most of the time there is probably never an issue, but sometimes the differences bubble to the top and conflict evolves. If we don’t learn to handle conflict effectively it can get out of hand create more conflict.

There are times though that the differences seem almost insurmountable. Times where the gulf between two people just seems unimaginably large. This can easily happen in a caregiving-based relationship where there is great a differential in the partnership role. It can be lonely doing all the work that *should* be shared between two people (recognizing that in most households there is nothing close to an equal distribution of housework and child-rearing).

That’s one type of loneliness. Another form of loneliness is that of waiting as a part of caring. Waiting at a clinic, practicing patience, perhaps alone with your thoughts of hopes and fears for the future. Waiting as a parent for your child to return home late at night. Or more acutely, waiting by your child’s bedside for the fever to break, waiting for them to cry out. Waiting for a loved one in a hospital to draw a final breath, to say a final goodbye. Waiting for your partner to make the decision to live and be well. Love can be a very lonely vigil.

It’s fun to focus on the excitement, the joy, the goodness, of love. We talk about the hard work of love when we get frustrated if things go wrong or get icky, or we have to do the truly hard work of love. We rarely talk about how lonely love can be. Probably this is because the loneliness is only there when we are doing the hardest work of love – keeping a small light burning in a largely silent vigil.

From Agitation to Love

A friend shared this link with me today, “We can’t survive in a state of constant agitation.” This paragraph is particularly good:

“Yes, actions are important; they are absolutely essential, in fact. But I don’t believe we can survive for long in a state of constant agitation. Our bodies and hearts need rest to replenish stores of energy. This is something best done from a place of love.”

This is the core, I think, of self-care, acting out of love for yourself. Treating yourself as you would a loved one – with kindness, compassion, and honesty. I know this is sounds new-agey to some, and crunchy-granola to others, but ask yourself this: Why shouldn’t you treat yourself this way? If self-love really means treating yourself in this manner, and the reason for doing so is to improve your life, what exactly is the problem?

I never understood this previously. It never occurred to me to treat myself halfway well. That’s why anger became lifestyle and stress became habit. I went on day by day, functioning, sometimes well, but more often than not, it was just good enough. I also didn’t enjoy life the way I should have. I loved my family, I loved my job, but life, perhaps not so much.

As I’ve written before, breathing helps. Counting single breaths, finding the moment, and remaining there, makes a difference and leads to patience. Impatience is costly as it leaves one unsatisfied.  All of this is related to agitation and reversing it. Stress, anger, impatience, are just ways to become and remain agitated. Remove the sources of agitation, if you can, change the responses to stress, and living becomes a little easier. If you can’t remove the agitation, try to reduce the amount of time it crosses into your life.

I have had a number of friends and family members dealing with addiction over the years. Sometimes it was them, their spouse, or other family member. Regardless of who it was with the problem, one of the issues we faced is “dwelling.” In recovery from addiction there is challenge enough for the person with the addiction to deal with the yen, the desire, for the substance or behavior at the source of the problem. In recovery, and I have seen this also with PTSD,  dwelling on past behaviors and failures becomes an issue. I think though it is about more than forgiveness of self or others, that’s hard enough. It is instead about moving on and living in the current moment.

This is hard.

You can dwell on the past all you want, but it is the past. It’s over. The only way you can change it is to change the remembered narrative. You can rewrite your memory. Make yourself the hero, or at least remove the blame from yourself. Of course, doing so is contrary to your best interests. It is fundamentally dishonest with one’s self and that just creates more problems on down the road. Somehow, you simply have to find a way to move on, while maintaining an honest recollection that allows your continued growth and development.

So, I think once you have learned to accept yourself and your history, and learn to love yourself as you are – a flawed individual seeking personal growth and development, you can learn to take better care of yourself. Self-care is critical and when done well, makes all these other things easier. You know you are engaging in good self-care when breathing becomes an act of love instead of a mere act of survival.