I have found that the hardest thing about self-care is time management. Of course, this makes sense. All the things we often do, things that become habit, out of convenience, we tend to do to save time. Leastways, that is true for me.
Depending on what you find when you search, there are about six or seven domains of self-care. And about billion pieces of advice on what to specifically do for self-care. I like these domains as a starting point: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, relational, safety and security. Honestly, without having done some research, some of these areas would not have occurred to me.
I’ve focused most on physical self-care. I have been trying to reshape and rebuild my body. Because, health; and because men can have body issues, too. Recreating a physical image of self is probably easier than creating a new emotional image of self, but it still takes hard work and a great deal of time. In the last four and a half months, I’ve made significant progress. At an annual specialist consult this week, it was noted (with some surprise) that I had lost 60 lbs since a year ago. My diet has changed dramatically and I exercise daily. I’ve also made the attempt to get seven hours of sleep each night. I’m not quite there yet, about 10 or 15 minutes short on average, so more discipline is required.
For emotional self-care, apart from getting more sleep, I really have worked on moving away from anger as a lifestyle. While I still have have work to do, it has been quite amazing how much of a difference this has made in my life. I really am less angry. By changing how I think, I have reduced anger and upsettedness. I am more pleasant to be around and this has been noticed. I have worked also on being more in the moment, on mindfulness. These are hard for me the way my mind races. This will take continuing practice, like most things do.
My efforts in spiritual self-care are simple and private. I will mention that spending more time outside, away from all the glowing rectangles in my life is part of this. Finding peace and solace on the trails is renewing. Stillness is also part of this. In Tinnitus and Morning Coffee I wrote about my struggles with accepting the noise and discomfort of tinnitus. After these weeks of effort, we are at least at a grudging accord, tinnitus and me. I may not have made friends with tinnitus as I hope to do, but I am finding the quiet much more pleasant and desirable. I am finding comfort in stillness, despite the constant ringing in my head.
I’ve been broadening my reading for intellectual self-care. I am reading a mix of higher ed, math policy, and personal memoirs. A couple have been a mixture of both. I’ve also been investigating new challenges in programming for the web, especially after I realized that I had been developing web pages for 22 years. While I probably should be writing less code than I do, I enjoy it, and I enjoy learning new things. I struggle with new languages that use different constructs than those I am used to, but that is part of the challenge. However, I have to work to ensure that I am not falling back into a counter-dependency mode by trying to master everything. Instead I try to do these things with narrow purpose and intent.
Relational self-care is why I am doing a lot of these things. It is about renewing and rebuilding the relationships with family and friends that have degraded because of my inward focus. It is a slow process because it has to start with how I feel about myself, repair that, so I can relate to others more openly and accurately. (Accuracy and validity are surprisingly important to healthy relationships.) It also can’t wait until I have done all the work on myself.
As for safety and security, I am a giant, middle-aged, white male. I don’t get too worried about this. For me it is a question of avoiding activities that accompany the phrase “here, hold my beer.” Putting aside the fact that I have given up all forms of alcohol right for the time being, it is about not being stupid, not showing off.
I said at the beginning that time management is the hardest thing about self-care. It is. If you look at these seven domains of self-care, you see the six of them require action. They also require time. When I started using a step counter (initially the one on my phone), I set a goal for 5,000 steps a day and then upped it to 10,000 steps. For the past three weeks I have been trying for 15,000 steps a day. Generally I achieve this or more. However, it takes more than walking for an hour at lunch. It requires brief indoor walking breaks (which rejuvenates my thinking and allows me to read documents and articles while walking in a space of about 18′ by 40′. It’s amazing how many steps you can do in such an area if you put boredom aside and make it productive.
Still, this isn’t enough. I have to either walk or run many evenings. Right now I am trying to run about three days a week. It is still more of run-walk thing, but since it is generally out on trails, that’s appropriate (walk up hills, run the downhills and the flats). These have to be scheduled. I also still try to keep a few hours of stationary bike and video games in the mix each week. The really uneven cardio work that happens when my hindbrain kicks and makes me pedal faster to make my Mii go faster in Super Mario Kart 8 has really helped me return to trailrunning faster than I thought possible. Like I used to do when I was running marathons and ultramarathons years ago, I take advantage of opportunities to walk – as I did last night when I walked 4.5 miles to pick up my car from the dealer after servicing rather than catch a ride.
I haven’t even mentioned golf and range time. These are significant time commitments as well. I work to balance all these things, so that no one thing dominates everything else. This alone is a change.
These things take time that must be scheduled. I have to also allow time to spend with Melinda in the evenings and weekends, which is part of the relational self-care. Making time to read, or to just be (i.e. meditate or sit in stillness), are also time commitments. This is not to say I schedule everything, but rather that I am aware of what I need to do and make time for it. Making time to write or paint (more about that shortly) is also important. I try to recognize the specific needs of each day.
Even my diet changes require a time commitment. I spend an hour or two each Sunday prepping my lunches for the week, trying to anticipate my protein and calorie needs relevant to the physical goals for the week. Other meals require time as well because we have moved so much of the quick and easy foods out of our lives.
So, time management is necessary and critical to my self-care. Along with that is prioritizing what matters. If I can’t do everything, what am I going to give up? I am trying to make the seven hours of sleep the highest priority, but that is such a radical change for my life, it hasn’t happened quite yet. But given the way getting close to it has made me feel, it is about to happen.
I mentioned that I have begun painting. I don’t know that this is a permanent return. What it is now is a self-portrait as self-study. Confronting self-image as I work through these changes in my life. I have only done one previous self-portrait and it was small and quickly done when my skills were pretty sharp. I’ve just jumped into this trying to use skills long-dormant and trying to recall how to think about the act of painting. It’s happening. It’s good (the effort, not necessarily the painting).
All of this is working. I feel better physically and emotionally. I feel more positive than I remember having felt before. So I want more.