I am in absolute awe of this year. I do not mean for that to read in a lighthearted tone; in fact, to the contrary. Whatever is responsible for turning our world is sounding off far and wide, calling for us to engage in a full-stop. Pandemic, social injustice, acrimonious politics, economic collapse. So much physical and mental trauma...and we aren't even halfway through the year yet. It can, at times, become overwhelming to observe how differently everyone is receiving (or rejecting) these messages from the universe, myself included. The ripple effects of these collective events are staggering; it is infecting every crevice of our lives and our existence. I worry about the well-being of others. There is so much fear, so much anger, so much division, so much pain. Some of it I can relate to; others I will never know, simply because of who I am.
Recently, I have been reflecting, a lot, about how differently I approached and handled the last global catastrophe 12 years ago. It wasn't so great. I know what it's like to lose and how humbling it is to rebuild. I am grateful, however, for those years since, where I committed to putting in the hard work. I don't mean hard work that guarantees immunity from any future struggles; that is fantasy. I mean engaging in the hard work that allows one to grow accustomed to said hard work and hard times. The personal work that is devoted to honing the ability to confront fear, change, and unprecedented challenges (ref: "Big Things"). It calls for getting to know your true center and trusting your core. Some might call it, "self-care". I like to call it, "self-centered" (an intentional double-entendre). It seems contradictory to focus on your best when others around you are suffering, but the best work that can be done for others IS when you are at your best.
"Put on your own mask, prior to assisting others".
A decade ago, I crumbled into a rubble of self-pity and self-harm, my only known coping mechanisms at the time. My heart aches for those who are equally vulnerable, at risk, or enduring this very thing in these suffocating times, through no fault of their own. I know it all too intimately. As a part of the internal work I embarked upon several years ago, I was tasked to identify habits that I considered in high value, or, intrinsic to my well-being. While this really is a lifelong practice, the objective at the time was to thoughtfully and honestly identify, at that moment, what I considered these traits to be and award them with my highest attention, without exception. They would serve as my new foundation as I rebuilt myself. Yours will be beautifully unique to you, but I wanted to share what has helped me navigate through such difficult times as the strongest version of myself.
This used to be the #1 thing I would foresake in my self-care routine. Now, it is the #1 thing I vow never to forego. Depression can be such a cunning deceiver that convinces its target that physical health holds no value. To this day, it can play tricks on me in times when I find myself feeling low, assuring me that wallowing in misery provides far greater comfort. MOVE. Move even when you don't want to. Physical movement elevates the mind, it elevates the mood, it elevates the inner self. That simple shift in perspective will not only be a very welcome reward, but it will serve as a trusted ally of mental and physical preservation. I have embarked on countless workouts and meditation practices during this pandemic, initially protesting in defiance, and have never regretted any one of them.
For the record, I added intentional rest to this list this year. After experiencing very real bouts of insomnia and hyper-anxiety, I found it so essential to schedule periods of absolutely nothing. Slightly tougher to come by for someone wired like me, but this newly adopted habit has become a very cherished addition to my well-being routine.
This is still a struggle for me. I had literally drowned out this vital part of myself for so many years. I used to be such an avid writer and painter, full of emotion. Slowly but surely, as I allowed disappointment and trauma to chip away at my heart, I locked more and more of it away inside, joking that even I didn't have the key anymore. The jury is out as to whether I muted my creative voice to protect it or to punish it. The self-harm that cloaked it for so many years may have suggested the latter, but my inclination is that it was likely equal parts of both.
Fast-forward to a recent long run (one which did not end in regret), where I was simultaneously listening to a podcast that was promoting a free writing seminar for 27 days. This class was designed specifically to nurture self-care and mental well-being during these unsettling times. What a selfless gift from this writer to bestow to a sea of faceless listeners whom she had never met. More on that later. Opportunity knocked. What better time to take an emotional plunge, to reunite with a part of myself that I missed so deeply. To apologize and seek forgiveness from this shunned part of my being that rightfully deserved center stage. Didn't take long; to regard this as a creatively enriching, sanity-saving exercise would be an understatement. I'm proud to report that I will have a lot to share in the coming months.
Identify your connection. Nature will always win my heart; for others, it may be distant family or friends (or all of it!). Genuine connections costs nothing, but the returns are priceless. This practice, for me, is literally stopping to smell the roses. It involves wordless grounding sessions deep into the desert trails. It includes the peaceful practice of planting, pruning, protecting and nurturing my garden. I witness how my dogs and my cats engage in similar restorative practices. Same goes with the wildlife that has found welcome and common ground in our back yard. They never pass up an opportunity of afternoon sunlight, the flash of fresh breeze in the morning, the prime real estate for rest, or to wander, or to explore. There is even mindful intent to connect with each other, harmoniously in tune with what is essential to their own well-being. They sure are wise guides to cue from.
Care for yourself is care for the community, but there is obviously great reward in directly contributing to others. I will never forget how incredibly selfless it was of Laurie to offer this mini writing class, at no cost, with the sole intent of preserving the well-being of her fellow neighbor. There is little doubt that the positive impact of her caring gesture averted many a downward spiral during our respective quarantines. Her thoughtfulness prompted me to make a list of my favorite small businesses that I frequented locally or on social media, in kind. My intent was to support and promote their businesses, so they may survive. I made some beautiful new connections in the process and realized what a beautiful return on investment this exercise proved to be. I dropped off supplies for a neighbor coping with elderly, immune-compromised parents. I donated blood. Even a simple gesture of sending out a check-in text could mean the world to its recipient. Put it all to work, your hands, your voice, your heart. It all makes a difference.
I know what you're thinking. What about the popular pandemic trends of sourdough bread baking, whipped coffee, dance challenges, lip-sync battles, dramatic haircuts, or spreading smiles with sidewalk chalk? How do these rituals fit into all of this serious self-care work? It fits in perfectly. It caters to the lighter side that is also so very necessary when our circumstances become this heavy. It may not solve the world's problems, nor do they dismiss the severity of the circumstance, but what they accomplish is that they exude resilience. They demonstrate our grit and our survival. They encourage unity and foster faith, so no matter what challenges we find ourselves facing, there exists hope for an even brighter future ahead. Created by us, at our best.