Self-Care Isn’t A Dirty Word

I have a confession to make, dear reader. I can’t think straight. Is it the full moon? Is it the change of medication? Is it apathy? Whatever it is, I fear I may disappoint you with today’s post. But, if I don’t write, I’ll disappoint myself – because I’ve made a promise to yours truly to write at least once a week – and that, fans, is more important to me than your feelings.

It’s a bit ironic that I’m worried about disappointing you, while writing a post about self-care; Proof that even though I’ve come a long way since I started my journey last spring, there is still work to be done.

My journey started last summer when I realized I was more concerned about others’ happiness than I was about my happiness. “You have a high tolerance for bad behavior”, my therapist had said. At first, I was pleased until I realized she hadn’t meant this as a compliment. What she meant was I had been conditioned not to expect anything from anyone and to give until I had nothing left to give. I took a hard look at this and dove headfirst into something I never experienced.

Self-care.

It took several months for me to wrap my brain around the idea that self-care and selfishness are not the same things – despite what I had been led to believe. I went over to the ‘self-care’ wading pool and dipped my big toe in. I realized that scheduling a monthly massage, a facial here and there, and buying quality wine were all very enjoyable. And, to this day, I still manage to include all that when I feel my inner ‘instapot’ about to blow. But what I learned this year about self-care is a bit harsher but honestly something I needed to know and embrace if I were to gain any momentum in caring for myself.

What did you learn? You ask. Hmmm. Grab a drink. And settle in, because I’m about to tell you.

1) Self-care requires letting go of relationships, habits, and choices that are familiar but no longer serve you. I broke up with my guy for a while. I embraced singlehood by not dating but instead exploring what it is that makes me happy. I stopped working late. I started devising a plan to shut down my massage therapy business by my 50th birthday. I can’t say that I don’t care if people are disappointed; I think that’s always going to be part of who I am. I can say, though, that I care less than I used to.

2) Don’t neglect yourself taking care of someone else. I’ve learned that I don’t owe anyone my time, money, or emotional support. I could tell you stories about the last ten years that would leave you scratching your head and saying (outloud) “What the fuck were you thinking?” I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking: If I don’t say yes, they will be mad. Just fill in the blanks on who ‘they’ are. It could have been anyone. Making people mad was, in my opinion, the scariest thing on the planet. (Hello? Co-dependent much??) Now, I’ve learned I certainly can freely give any of those, but if I can’t do it joyfully, then is that fair to anyone? I wish I could go back in time and redo all the times I let people run over me with their manipulation and guilt trips. The girl standing here now is not the girl of, I dunno – even two years ago. I’ve even learned to tell my son that I need quiet time to think or head off to some camper in the woods when I need a break from everyone else. I don’t apologize for this anymore, even if I know people will be angry or disappointed. I can’t give 100% when there’s only 70% in the bucket.

3) Self-care means being honest with yourself. I can’t go into a lot of details about this, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I made decisions in the past to help other people…only to realize that these decisions didn’t help me at all. Recently I’ve been asked why I’m not in a management position. Why in the world, with two graduate degrees, are you in an entry level job? Um. Because I want to be and the reasons are none of your business. 

4) Boundaries will scare some people. I am under no obligation to answer a text, respond to an email, or share my resources. I can, if I want to, but people who are used to violating boundaries will always find a reason to paint those who set boundaries as horrible, mean people. It’s up to you – and me – to be brave enough to tell them to go fuck themselves. Okay. Maybe not outloud, but you know.

5) Prepare to disappoint people. When you say no to a dinner out, to a party, to a project, or an unliked activity, someone may get their feelings hurt and may be disappointed. They may even use tactics to manipulate you. Resist the urge to care. Please – do yourself a favor and watch this Ted Talk and then start creating your budget. You’ll thank me, I promise.

6) Last but not least…Self-care is the hardest when it is needed the most. When you have worked yourself to death on a project and neglected the other things, it may be tempting to dive back into your to-do list. I urge you not. Americans are horrible at taking a vacation or mental health days. I’m not going to lie – I work somewhere I love, but honestly, we often joke that no one can ‘afford’ to take a vacation because of the amount of work necessary to prepare to be off and then catch up when you get back. Seriously! This doesn’t seem right. You are no good to anyone if you can’t replenish. So. Put in for that vacation. Leave the laptop at home. Tell people you went to the Bermuda Triangle, even if you are seriously just staying home and downloading pirated copies of movies. If it suits you, lie. Really. Lie as your life depends on it because you know, it just might.

That’s my post today. I seem cranky, don’t I? I am. I honestly am a bit grumpy. I get tired of eye rolls and questions when I explain I need time alone. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone – I’m a grown-ass woman – but I find myself placating people who can’t understand why I’d rather be alone than with them, why my relationship is a bit ‘unconventional’, why I make the decisions I make, etc. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to work hard this week not to care as much, and you, dear reader, will hold me to it.

As we part today, I leave you with a song. If you are tired of putting everyone in front of yourself, grab some earbuds and take a listen. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Simplicity: It’s A Mindset, Not An Activity.

For several years now I have shared my story and my desire for everyone to embrace the idea of simplicity. My message, along with others who embrace rational minimalism, has been fairly simple: Do less. Be More. On most days, I stay focused, but sometimes I let others interfere in the plan (and by others, I really just mean my Ego), but what I truly know is that staying focused on what really matters in my life helps me to create a more simple life.

Like many who grew up in the material world of the 80’s, I struggle sometimes with drawing the line between what I need and what I want. Additionally, when people walk into my house and see its sparse decor, I worry they think I can’t afford to buy things to fill up the space. Then I beat myself up for even caring about that at all, because I know in my heart I’d rather spend my weekends hiking with my kiddo than dusting, cleaning, and organizing, so why get all worked up by what they think? Truthfully, I know the message of simplicity appeals to the hearts of many by the number of friends, family members and readers who have reported taking steps to make changes.

“I have come to believe and understand that minimalism, the intentional promotion of the things I most value and the removal of everything that distracts me from it is a message that appeals to the heart and resonates with the soul. It is an invitation that is appreciated, desired, and often accepted when offered.” – Josh Becker

I think all of us, if we spent time listening to our heart instead of the endless stream of advertisements, would realize that disengaging from distractions in any form can help solidify these truths:

Possessions do not equal joy. Recently I looked into buying a little Tiny Cabin. I wanted it in the back yard because I work from home and wanted a REAL office instead of the modified (yet functional!) area in my kitchen that is currently where I work each day. (Yeah, as if this ‘real’ office would make me put on make up and get out of my yoga pants. Not.) Anyway I started thinking that $8,000 for another space I’d have to maintain just didn’t feel worth it. My head said “This (cabin) will make work better”. Thankfully, my heart said “Only I can make my work better. Not my office. 

When we have true freedom, our head and heart are in synch. This weekend I was able to spend all day relaxing. If the following weekend is nice, I plan to take my son on a nature adventure. He is at an age where I’m still kinda cool and he seems to still enjoy our time together. I have been working a second gig in the evenings – not because I need to, but because I haven’t figured out how not to (another blog, another time.) But the wintery weather has left me with evenings free for about three weeks and you know what…I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve decided I will keep this going for another few months, but after that, I’m going to focus on me and my relationships instead of working all the time. I want to play in the mud and dig up worms, maybe plant a few tomatoes to see if I don’t kill them, and take weekend trips.

ericbook2
Look at the chunky baby who is now eight years old – tall and lean!!!

Simplicity just makes fiscal sense. I didn’t wake up one day and say “Gosh…I think I’ll work 40 hours a week for the rest of my life to pay off Capital One”. But somewhere, I bought the lies – and bought a bunch of other crap, for that matter. Today, I can honestly say I still make mistakes (Um…like considering a purchase of a tiny cabin…) but also rejoice when I can admit those mistake . I didn’t go down the Simplicity road to find fiscal freedom but the path has certainly made it easier.

Simplicity gives us freedom to choose better options. Work the weekends or play in the mud? Buy healthy locally grown food or processed boxed meals? Simplicity doesn’t always mean you have to ‘give up’ something. I traded a gym membership to save for a treadmill I can use at home. I traded high-dollar coffee drinks for organic glass bottled non-homogenized milk. I spend a little more money to order things online because I know I’d probably spend the same amount impulse shopping at the grocery store. Simplicity is about trading up – not living with a scarcity mentality.

Recently, I have been challenging old beliefs, focusing on what truly matters in my life, and setting priorities based on new emerging thoughts. It hasn’t been easy, but knowing I can come back to the basics keeps me grounded and better prepared to spend time and money on what is truly important. As dismal as it may seem, our days are numbered. I’d rather spend my time with my people than paying off my stuff. My choice in this will bring me greater joy, most likely, than anything I could purchase.

I wish you a simple week, dear reader. And I hope all is well in your world. I wonder, though:

What can you do without in order to have something better?
What hobbies or activities are you neglecting because you’ve got internal and external clutter weighing you down?
Speaking of ‘internal clutter’ – what thoughts do you battle with that keep you from gaining freedom?

I’m curious about all these – so feel free to reach out. Until next weekend…here’s your song. Stay warm and healthy. Stop touching your face and social distance as much as you can. I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and for once, it isn’t a train.

Simple Ways To Help A Grieving Friend

Good morning, dear reader. I’m up early and writing while the house is quiet. I went to bed fairly early last night and woke up naturally at a quarter of six. I feel well-rested, though, so I’m going to give my body what it needs today. At the moment, it’s coffee and some creativity.

I’m going to share some advice today on a topic that is near and dear to me. Grief. I’m no stranger to grief. I’ve lost jobs, sold houses, gotten divorced, attended funerals of those I loved dearly, and watched friendships fall by the wayside. Grief is one emotion that makes no sense because it encompasses so many different emotions like anger, sadness, regret, and loneliness. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one of those a day, but most days – especially right after the loss – the tsunami of emotions are hard to deal with.

One of my closest friends’ father-in-law died yesterday, and another acquaintance posted online about it being the anniversary of her sister’s death. It struck me, at that moment, that maybe – just maybe – they were subtly reaching out for a little reassurance or kindness without directly asking for it. I, with my INTJ brain, may have read more into this than necessary, but still. Does it hurt any of us to be kind? No, but it happens so rarely these days that – and I’m not being flippant here – giving the minimal amount of kindness seems to be even more than the majority is handing out. That makes me sad, but I’m also guilty as charged. We all are, I’m sure.

Everyone gets busy, and everyone forgets things, but I don’t think anyone is too busy to stop and acknowledge a friend in need. I’m not talking about helping a person move (Ugh. Worst thing ever.) I’m merely talking about being present. So much of my journey has been about cutting out necessary distractions from my life to have the time to jump in when someone needs me. Again, I don’t think one has to go overboard on platitudes to make a difference. In fact, when it comes to ‘platitudes’ – just don’t. But here are some things you can do…

  1. Acknowledge the loss. One of the ways I tend to do this is to NOT post in the comment section of a grieving friend’s post. I tend to send a short text or private message. If it’s a loss that just happened, I will usually say, “I’m sure you’re bombarded with arrangements and other things right now, but I am here when you need me.” I’ve been through funerals, and, at first, the shock is so great some people jump into action mode (me) while others it in a chair and stare at a wall. Both are acceptable. This brings me to my next point.
  2. Let them grieve. None of us have a right to judge anyone’s grief. I think we all have a personal responsibility to keep an eye on these folks, but judging the behavior isn’t going to help anyone. When my brother died, I lost my fucking mind. I did things to bury my emotions that I am ashamed of, and so many people judged me instead of helping me. Nice segue…
  3. Be a helper. I don’t accept help well. When I read things like “Offer to do laundry” I cringe. Gross. Who wants someone else going through their dirty laundry? So clearly, not my thing, but when I was going through my divorce, the unexpected babysitting was wonderful. I remember shutting the front door as a friend pulled out of my driveway with my son and within minutes I was asleep. My divorce was so stressful for me that I barely ate and never slept. I lost forty pounds in a period of a few short months, and I looked awful. Having someone step in and offer to do the thing I needed most…priceless.
  4. Schedule reminders. My friend, Machell, is someone who always (always!) seems to text me when I need it the most. Another friend texts me every year on my brother’s death anniversary, and I haven’t talked to her in years. Both are important to me. I, myself, absolutely suck at remembering things. Hell, I didn’t get Machell’s birthday right until this year, and we’ve been friends for nearly two decades. I’m. Just. Bad. At. It. Well…if having an autistic child has taught me anything, it’s use the tools provided to you for your success. So now I schedule that shit. I make a note in my calendar of those crucial dates where a friend might need a text or a lunch date or a shot of whiskey at a little dive bar on the west end of town. I’m not naturally good at these things, so I do have to create opportunities to remind myself. Because if I didn’t, it would be months before I remembered to check in on my friends. At least I admit it.
  5. Send gift cards. Everyone brings over a crap ton of food the days after a funeral (which is appreciated, don’t misunderstand me) but there are also days – weeks after – that the grief hits and all the casseroles are gone. I remember getting a card in the mail weeks after my dad died with five gift cards to restaurants that delivered. The card said: I’m thinking of you. You gotta eat. I don’t remember, at all, who brought a casserole that week. But I do remember that card, and it’s been eleven years. I’ve paid this simple gesture forward many times.
  6. Buy the wine and just listen. It’s so tempting to fill the space with verbal platitudes, but honestly, just be quiet. I learned a little trick from my therapist, who merely says, “That’s interesting. Tell me more about that.” I’m a problem-solver, so I immediately want to jump in and fix someone’s problem. The thing is, though, grief isn’t a problem. Grief is an emotion, and with all emotions, it needs to be processed. Just be present and let them process. Your job is to pour the drinks, listen, and call Uber or put sheets on the guest bed.
  7. Be honest. Often we say the dumbest stuff in hopes of making someone feel better. These sayings are well intended, but honestly, they just end up pissing the person who is grieving off. My favorite: “She’s in a better place.” Really? Because to me, ‘a better place’ is around the fireplace at Christmas. My second favorite: “He wouldn’t want you to be sad.” How do you know? He might. Anyway…my point is… I’ve sent many cards saying the God’s honest truth: I don’t even know what to say right now and I’m afraid I’ll say something idiotic. I am devastated by the news and I want you to know that my heart hurts for you.

These suggestions may not be fancy, but they are simple and easy. I promise you, though, the actions I’ve suggested are no less important than grand gestures of assistance. I’ll never let anyone come over and clean my house or do my laundry – but I will let them buy me a drink while I cry it out near a fire. I’ll always allow someone to watch my son while I take care of myself, and I always appreciate the handwritten card that comes in the mail. These things aren’t hard to do, folks; they are hard to remember to do. So, figure it out.

I’m not going to finish out with a song today, but I will link you back to a post I wrote recently about dealing with loss. Remember, dear reader, that grief isn’t logical, so pay attention to those around you and be present for them if you can.

The “Work/Life Balance” Myth

Today’s title is a bit misleading, dear reader. I’m sorry. It was a good hook, though, right? The truth is I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘work/life balance’. I believe there is work. I believe there is life. And I believe the two must learn to play well together. The idea of a work/life balance is as foreign as the idea that relationships are 50/50. When, if ever, have relationships been 50/50? Someone is always giving, at minimum, 51%.

So, recently, I was asked to speak to a group about how to make work more simple. If I’ve learned anything on my simplicity journey, it is that the lessons must span across all aspects of one’s life or true freedom, joy and contentment cannot be reached. This includes letting go of the myth that one can ‘find balance’. You can not simply ‘find balance’. One must set (and vigilantly guard) boundaries.

Boundaries create balance. No seeking, searching, or finding is necessary.

What are some of the boundaries I recommend for achieving the goal of keeping work and life playing nicely together? There are many but these are my top five to get you started:

Fire bad clients. “But she tips so well!” – not if she doesn’t regularly show up or cancels on you at the last minute. I don’t care how big the tip is, she does not value what you do. Make room for someone who does. (This can also be applied to your personal life. I regularly ‘fire’ people from my social circle for many energy-draining reasons. I recently met with someone I had considered a long-time friend. After the meeting I realized “Wow. I really don’t like him” and vowed that I wouldn’t waste another afternoon meeting with him.)

Stop working so much. If you are working the weekends I have three truths for you that you need to face: 1) You have too much work. Delegate. (This is RARELY the case, by the way). 2) You don’t set boundaries on your time therefore you work at being busy, but you are rarely productive (Am I getting warmer?) and 3) You are avoiding something. Something at home, something you need to do (Exercise, meditate, relax…?); something that would raise your productivity level instead of your ‘busy’ level.

Stop the Social Media Cycle. If you own a small business, I have something to tell you: No one gives a crap about your business’ Facebook page. And the political drama and cat photos you’ve been posting on your personal page? Well, they’ve blocked those too. Stop telling yourself that the hour you spend on Facebook (Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc. etc. etc.) is ‘effective marketing’. It is not.

Stop spending more than you earn. If you stop spending more than you earn you can stop working so much. This entire blog started for me because I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Read my history and know that it is okay to downsize.

Have clear direction (For your career…business…life…relationship…). It is easy to make decisions when you know, without a doubt, what values you hold dear. If you want to be the best massage therapist in town, for example, then stop wasting time with body wraps, sugar scrubs, and the newest fads. Study massage therapy. Study how you can fix someone’s problem with massage therapy. Stay true to your noble path and stop chasing rainbows (unless those rainbows happen to be on your path then by all means frolic your heart away.)

I’ve been there. I’ve had jobs dangled in front of me that I’m qualified to do, but that I have no interest in because it would mean I’d have less time to hang out with my kiddo. I’ve been there, struggling to find the point in the which all aspects of my life met in the middle, never tipping on end or the other. So, yeah. I sought balance and tried every silly thing under the sun to ‘find’ it. It wasn’t until I set my boundaries and started following the advice above did peace reveal itself. If you need help with this…I’m here for you. I’m rooting for you. I know it is hard, but I believe you can do it.

Enjoy your week. I hope the team you are rooting for wins tonight. Here’s your song for the week. Time flies, for sure. Slow down, smell the whiskey.