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 (http://www.vidaweb.org/why-i-cant-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.

 

Caregiving and the Art of Waiting

In a discussion the other night, a friend made this observation:

“So much of a caregiver’s life is waiting.”

Exactly true. She was waiting while her care was in the clinic. I have done that so very many times. Sitting in the car or waiting room, with laptop and phone, trying make the most of every minute not directly involved in transport. Sometimes though, all one can do is just sit and wait. You expect a very short wait, you don’t bring a laptop, and ten minutes turns to 20, to 40, and the next thing you know, three hours have gone by. Three hours of nonproductive time, three hours of waiting.

It’s more than that also.

Waiting as a caregiver is…

…waiting for the next thing, for the next shoe to drop.

…waiting for something to change.

…waiting for them to get better.

…waiting for a need to be expressed.

…waiting for things to get worse.

…waiting to know what to do.

…waiting for the gift of patience.

These last two items are key. Sometimes to be a caregiver is to flounder in doubt about what to do, or rather, what is the best thing to do. Advice is rampant. Advice is also confused. Advice is also often ignorant. Figuring out what to do to support your charge, and more than that, to help them heal or to be comfortable, can be very difficult. It gets worse as you try to figure out things to do that do not increase their dependence on you.

Then there is the need for patience. Patience is hard, because its need is tied to all the waiting as much as it tied just to being patient with your patient.

***

Many of us were given a copy of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” as a graduation gift. About midway through it’s excitement about the possibilities in the future, the reader is warned that things may get difficult. The streets are not marked, the path is not clear. The journey may get worse and you’ll wind up headed,

“toward a most useless place. 
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring,or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”

Even though this passage has come to my mind in many waiting rooms, it is wrong. It is not always useless to wait. Sometimes waiting is the most useful thing one can do. It can also be the most caring, loving thing a person can do. The gift of time, from one to another, is precious.

***

Waiting can be a solitary activity. Waiting can also be a community activity. It was often enough that I found myself in the company of others waiting. Once Melinda started using the county transportation service, she did the waiting. The service often required her to wait hours for a pickup and return ride home. While this gave her some independence (freedom from me) it came at a price – inconvenience. And occasionally really poor service.

***

Over the summer I had to start physical therapy for some kind of damage to my ankle (it can cause screaming during my golf swing without drastically changing my swing). When I walked into the therapy wing of the orthopedics office, the receptionist said, “Oh hi! This is the first time I’ve seen you here for yourself.” Yep. I’m kind of recognizable enough because of my size, but two-plus years of escorting Melinda to PT and sitting patiently with a laptop, I leave something of an impression.

***

I guess with the passing of Tom Petty this week, quoting the chorus to The Waiting makes sense:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
-Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, The Waiting.

Waiting can be hard. But as caregivers, it is a large part of what we do. We do it because it needs to be done. We do it because of love, commitment, friendship, whatever reason. But has hard as it is, I do not think waiting is the hardest part. The hardest part is the sense of powerlessness that occurs sometimes daily when you just can’t make things stop hurting for your patient. That’s the hardest part, followed closely by learning to accept that you can do only so much for someone, and doing too much can, in fact, be too much.

We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side
We’d help each other stay in stride
But each lover’s steps fall so differently
But I’ll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me
-Bruce Springsteen, “If I should Fall Behind.”

Waiting is an art. It is an artform we can all do, but we can’t always do well. It’s easy enough to just wait, but to do so without impatience, with grace, takes practice and effort. It is easy to become frustrated and grumpy. Impatience with waiting feeds into these emotions and creates undesired and unneeded conflict. To avoid this, we generally try to find ways to be productive while waiting. It can help and it can also be necessary to keep work moving. When I could afford the time, I found that waiting was often a good time to just take time to be. The stress of intense, long-term caregiving is such that caregiver can lose, or at least feel like they’ve lost, any sense that any moment of time is their own. Taking those moments in a waiting room or a carpark can be just what’s needed to find a moment for self. It took me long enough to learn that lesson, but I did learn it.

Waiting is what we do.

 

Mythos, the West, and Manliness

This picture popped up in a discussion between my sister me (she’s the disheveled little girl causing trouble). But notice me. I’m ready for anything. There’s nothing I can’t handle.

medadanddaphne

After all, I’ve got my trusty six-shooter by my side.

Spending one’s boyhood in Chickasha, OK (the horse-trailer capital of the world and the birthplace of Cleavon Little (but I suspect more people know that I was born there than he)) made it next to impossible to know something about cowboys and to want to be one. It was also the time of the Lone Ranger, even if in re-runs, and the return to “those thrilling days of yesteryear.”

As a family picture, this is kind of oddity in that probably shortly after this, Daphne became the outgoing one, the focus of all attention. I think it must of have been not too long after this photo that things changed and she settled fully into her role as the middle child.

This picture bothers me. My eye continues to be drawn to the holster at my side. Even though it’s a toy, I feel look too comfortable with too much of a challenge in my eye. I don’t remember being a troublemaker at that age. I think that came much later. So I kind of hate the idea that I might be feeling empowered by having a gun at my side, even if it is a toy.

If I carry a gun today (which is rare, but I do deer hunt with a handgun occasionally), I feel weight. I feel the weight of responsibility in all its dimensions and risks. I feel far more responsibility than power. I also feel the actual weight. My choices in weapons lean towards the heavy and reliable. But heavy. I really find nothing empowering about a gun, knife, or other weapon. I find them burdensome, with the exception of a really good knife or Leatherman’s Tool in the great outdoors.

I’ve carried and used a lot of weapons. Everything from a pellet gun to a 90mm recoilless rifle with a lot of dangerous in between, so it’s not a question of lack of experience or knowledge. I have had some serious training, including sniper school at Ft. Campbell and I know how much fun it can be to just blow shit up with explosives. But I think I would tell little Tod, if I could, to find other toys. Not to ask for the Johnny Eagle M-14 and M-1911, both of which shot spring-loaded bullets.

On the other hand, I grew up having compulsion against serving in the Army and tackling whatever came my way, so it may not have been all that bad a thing to have all those toy guns. But Zach did not grow up with a toy guns, and instead had other toys that may have included cabbage patch dolls, but still he became a hunter. Peer experiences can be powerful.

I notice a lot of people carrying around town.

They don’t really seem to have the confidence of the little boy above.