Tag Archive | self care

How to create you own Perfect Storm–Expectations and Self-Care Revisted.

I am no meteorologist, nor am I a magician, but I can still conjure up The Perfect Storm, right in the comfort of my own home, too!  How do I do it, you ask?  First, I take a strong storm front of high expectations and I allow it to get bigger.  I work more than I know suits me and my personality and then I expect myself to be all things to anyone who seems to need me.  After I have allowed the extra high expectations of myself to become a twisting mass of worry and frustration, I allow another front to come in from the north.  This other front is called poor self-care.  These two front meet at high altitudes and mingle and begin to feed off of each other until it all looks like something impossible to pinpoint, but  potentially extremely destructive.  Toss in a few unplanned events like very real Hurricane Sandy and let the fun begin!  It is my own, perfect, personal, Frankenstorm, and I made it myself!

The damage done by a little wind storm to the little cottage we lived in three years ago.

A few weeks ago, I started to work more, which is all good because more money never hurts.  However, I was not being as careful as I generally am to limit how much, and when, and what I do.  I was working on the weekends when I should have been enjoying some time alone and just plain doing nothing much.  I am an INFJ–I am a true introvert and I need an inordinate amount of time alone or I wear out quickly.  INFJ’s are puzzles wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a blanket of mystery.  As I told a friend last night, I am an odd combination of one tough cookie and a very delicate flower.  It confuses the heck out of most people.  Anyway, I was not getting enough solitude when I should have been getting a little extra.  At the same time, there seemed to be people with pressing needs all around me and I was doing my best to keep up.  While I was not aware of it at the time, everyone was getting what they needed, with the exception of me.  I was getting worn out, but I am a trooper, so I kept plugging on although I did note that my usual perky mood was flagging a bit.

Wham! Almost a direct hit! Left a nasty hole in the porch, too!

I was feeling just the tiniest bit crabby around the edges and people’s requests were beginning to irritate me a fair amount.  Of course, I was too much of a chicken to say to these various people, “I know that this means a lot to you right now, but I will get to it when I have time.”  One night, this left me trying to counsel a young woman dealing with drug addiction while simultaneously trying to fill out an online form to become an Avon representative for my cousin.  Do you see something wrong with this picture? Do you see priorities a little out of whack? I sure do…now! I imagine you are also getting the “trying to be everything to everyone” thing by now, too.  Ah, but you do see the boundaries blurring?

It just kept on like that and the next thing you know, along came storm system number two, poor self-care.  I usually love to cook and eat very well.  I love my veggies, but now I was loving on sugar a lot, and while I made meals, not much was sounding good to me but cookies and chocolate.  Everyone else had a clean house, but mine had not been really cleaned completely in two weeks.  Simple things like washing my face before bed disappeared.  All of the sudden, I really did not want to do a darned thing, but I kept on trucking because that is how I roll and while I rolled, more people needed things, and I became more tired, and more irritable, and suddenly I was like a Bounty paper towel—super absorbent, just like back in to bad, old, days, when I let everyone else and their needs take precedence over my own.  Still, I had very limited awareness, of course, because once I get on a roll like this one I may as well be deaf, dumb, and blind.

The poor shed died a tragic death that fateful night!

When I said that I had become as absorbent as a Bounty Paper towel, what I mean is that I was, once again, taking on the emotions of all of the people around me.  That is another thing about the INFJ personality.  We are highly intuitive on a couple of different levels.  We know things about people even before they know them.  We feel it.   We sense it.  We do not even know how we do it, so do not bother asking.  Also, even though this may seem like a really cool super power to have, it is a blessing and a curse depending on how you deal with it.  I used to be like one giant sponge walking through life, absorbing all of the emotions of the people around me.  I was very soggy most of the time and usually quite off balance.  So, I gave that up for Lent one year recently, even though I am not Catholic.

What had really happened is that I had actually figured out where I ended and where other people began and then I stuck some boundaries in between me and everyone else.  I thought I was fairly impenetrable  now, but I was wrong.  Old behavior, back sliding, call it what you will. To any counselor it would look like classic relapse symptoms, but drinking was, and is, a repulsive thought to me.  Yet, one can relapse in other ways.  If you are busy looking for my boundaries at this point in the story, they are a very thin, blurry line –and weakening by the minute.  I tried to push the fragile, little line back into place.  People kept pushing back and I let them.

All we heard all night long, as we sat in the dark, was the sound of the wind, and trees snapping all around us.

Along comes Ms. Frankenstorm to make matters worse.  I do not like wind storms.  I live in a cottage surrounded by tall pines, and those babies snap at the slightest provocation.  However, I am good at storm preparedness, so I went right out and bought water, and non-perishable food items, and flashlights, and candles, and I began sawing up trees that were already down.  At first, it looked like we might get a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy, but then it shifted.  We will still get a good storm, but now that darned thing is heading straight for four of my adult children.  I began sending out mass emails to get assurance that they would prepare and I got a boatload of pithy, and truly hysterical responses, but I am a mom to the core.  While I laughed at their wit and cleverness, I was crying inside and scared.  Sigh.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and I felt awful.  I hurt all over and I just wanted to cry and yet I could not think of one thing going badly in my life that would provoke such intense feelings.  I worried that I was getting depressed.  I wondered if I might suddenly have become gluten intolerant.  One of my elderly friends told me it was probably “The change.”  Well, I finished changing two years ago without one mood swing.  Menopause was the easiest thing I have ever done in my life, so I could not figure out why mood disturbances would start now.

I tried my “Move a muscle, change a thought” trick.  I cleaned out my fridge and took my trash to the dump.  I cut up another tree, which usually invigorates me.  I felt worse.  I felt like throwing up.  I felt like I was wrapped in a thick fog of stupidity.  So, I went to bed and I prayed and I slept soundly for almost three hours.  When I woke up, I felt great!  I said to myself, “You were just tired.  Whew.”  Did I just relax for the rest of the day?  Heck, no!  I felt terrific, so I cleaned my entire little house, sawed up another tree or two, and took a shower.  I hate a dirty house during a power outage.  By the time my son left with his Dad last evening whatever happy high I had gotten from my nap had vanished.  I started reading more about Hurricane Sandy and felt the need to leave teary messages on each child’s phone pleading with them to flee NOW.  There was obscenity involved.  There it was—Frankenstorm wrecking havoc far and wide.  My own personal Perfect Storm.

Snap, snap, snap, all night long…in the dark, with no power.

As my adult children began to call me back and talk me down, I began to see the whole picture of what I had allowed to happen to me in the last couple of weeks.  I had allowed myself to become completely and totally emotionally exhausted.  They laughed at me, in their usual, loving way.  I laughed at myself.  I felt better, but I also realized that those boundaries I though were now immovable are, under the right conditions, still a little weak.  Today, I am sand bagging them with solitude and self-care.  As my own mother used to say, very tongue in cheek, as she was a language arts snob, “Your mama didn’t raise no dummies.”  Well, I didn’t raise no dummies, either.  To say that my children are bright would be a gross understatement.  They are brilliant, and they are in God’s hand.   They will take fine care of themselves.

There lies the most crucial bit of awareness.  It is not my job to take care of the whole world and everyone in it.  I am not God.  I spent a lifetime trying to save everyone from themselves and almost killed myself trying to do so.  As another one of my elderly friends told me this morning, “Experience is a great teacher.”  Yes, it is, indeed.  Living through a whole lot of tough experiences has taught me all of my best lessons.  I cannot go back.  I cannot lose sight of myself in the hubbub of everyone else and their needs.  I cannot save everyone from their misery, and why should I even want to do that?

Were it not for my own times of misery, I would not be where I am now, which is happy, healthy, and content– as long as I take good care of myself, and leave the rest to God.  Why would I want to rob others of those hard, but valuable, experiences so they can grow and bloom on their own?  Sometimes I behave as if I have all of the answers for everyone.  The truth is that the only person that I have all of the answers for is me, but if I stop listening everyone in my sphere suffers in some way.

I am upright today, and peaceful, and even though I may go cut up a few more trees, this weekend is about rebuilding my own boundaries in the wake of my own personal Perfect Storm.  This weekend is about shoring up my boundaries and resting, and taking good care of me.  Yes, I am still a little scared of Frankenstorm, but I am prepared, and when all is said and done, God has got this one.  He has had it all along.  As long as I take care of myself, come what may, I will be fine.  I will be praying that you are all safe and fine, too.

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The art of just being—Safe in your own skin

Several weeks ago I sprained my ankle.  I have a trick ankle–(I have always wanted to call some body part a trick whatever ;-)–but the only trick that this ankle does is to randomly give out from time to time.  This ankle has given out so many times in my life that I have lost count.  The last time it had happened was two and a half-year prior, and before that three of so years prior, only that time the trick had me tumbling down a flight of stairs and left me with a foot broken in two places.  Of course, the break took priority over the weak ankle, so I never mentioned it to a doctor, nor had I ever treated it properly when it is sprained.  This last time though, I quit what I was doing fairly soon after I had hit the ground, and instead of trying to carry on as I normally would have, I told my client I could not finish.  I went straight to the store and bought two bags of frozen peas, some ibuprofen, and an Ace bandage.

Once I was home, I wrapped the ankle, took some medication for the pain and inflammation, and I elevated my ankle and iced it every two hours and I did this for four whole days.  It was a bad sprain.  My son was with his father that week, so I could actually take care of my poor ankle the way I knew I should have been care for each and every time.   I learned a lot during that time I was laid up.  In the past, I had always hated being laid up.  I am a mover and a shaker.  I had a friend who once told me, many years ago, that even when I was sitting perfectly still, it was as if I was vibrating.  I chalked that up to being a high-strung, expressive, high energy person, and to some degree, I believe that is true.  But these days, I am not strung nearly as high as I used to be.  These days, I can just be.

I had no problem at all laying in bed with my foot up for hours while I read.  I greatly enjoyed laying on my couch just thinking while I iced my ankle.  I felt relaxed and I feel comfortable with just being and I felt more than comfortable with taking care of myself properly.  I felt at peace.  It was lovely.  Of course, I had a lot of time to think and I realized that even two years ago I might not have been able to give myself this  type care.  In fact, I am certain I would not have been able to, and three years ago, there would have been no way I could have held still for even twenty minutes to ice my ankle.  What had changed after a lifetime of moving and shaking?  I finally felt safe in my own skin, and I finally felt safe to be myself fully, and that has only happen in the last year or so.

I thought back to three years ago.  It was shortly after I had left my marriage and I felt happy and free, but I was not relaxed.  I loved where my son and I were living, and I was making life changing choices, but I was wound so tightly that, in retrospect, I am surprised I survived.  I kept having random panic attacks that just came out of nowhere, like the great heart attack that wasn’t a heart attack incident on Thanksgiving night of 2009.  My kids had been home, and we had enjoyed a splendid evening, and a wonderful meal.  With the exception of my little boy, they had gone off to their Dad’s, and I was downloading pictures when I began to have chest pains.  I finally called 911, and there was an ambulance ride, and my adult sons came back over to fetch their brother, and in the end it was all anxiety. As I told the ER doctor, “I think I really just need a good cry.”  After my EKG and lab tests were fine, he agreed, and sent us all home.

The stress of that time still floors me when I think about it.  I had left a hideous marriage with nothing but a child and  duffel bag of clothing.  I knew I was going to prison and I knew I had a horrible divorce to look forward to getting through.  On the outside, I looked fine, but on the inside I was terrified and stressed beyond what most people could handle.  One night I was knitting and I realized that I was sitting perched on the edge of the couch.  I then realized that I never sat back.  I could not relax enough to do more than perch anxiously on the edge of the couch.  When I laid my head on the pillow at night, I had to consciously relax my neck enough so that my head was actually on the pillow, not hovering over it.  Amazingly, I thought I was doing really well at the time, too.

Now I have survived the divorce from hell and all ended well.  I survived prison and while in prison, I got to the core of my pain from age 5 forward and I uncovered my authentic self and have learned to love, respect, appreciate, and care for her—for me.  I know now that the all of that high-strung, ever-moving, vibrating person was me working as hard as I could, with all the power that I had at my disposal, to contain a lifetime of unexpressed emotions and pain.  I certainly expressed emotions, but not the ones that needed to be expressed, and I certainly felt pain, but I drank to cover that up so I could go on for another day holding everything in and functioning to the best of my ability.

Those two years prior to going into prison were like transition in labor.  Things had kicked into high gear, and everything that I had been repressing was screaming to get out, but there was no safe place yet.  Prison was the safe place where there were two very safe people to guide me through the birth of myself and the pain that accompanied the birth.  Now I have no problem just being.  When I work, I work hard, and I move fast, but a lot of the free-floating, hard to contain, frenetic energy is gone.  I do not have to work anymore hold in pain, or sadness, or anger.  It is gone, for the most part, and anything new that crops up is dealt with promptly and easily.  I can and do take care of myself now.  I have no problem setting limits, and it is becoming easier for me to say “no” when I need to say it.  I feel safe because I know it is me who keeps me safe with proper boundaries, kindness, and self-love which is something I denied myself for a very long time.

When I had returned to work after my sprained ankle one of my clients said, “Well, you had a nice little break, didn’t you?”  The comment came from a woman who cannot care for herself to save her life, and the comment was intended to induce guilt.  In the past, I would have felt the need to defend myself, or to justify my actions.  This time I said nothing because I knew I did not need to justify caring for myself.  I just glanced at her, smiled, and kept working.  After a bit, she said, “You really needed to do that, though, didn’t you?  You needed to take care of yourself.”  I replied, “Yes, I did.”

I need to care for myself every day and I will continue to do it, even if some do not understand.  I am safe in my own skin.  I can just be now and that is a miracle.  The true beauty of it all, though, is the fact that now that I allow myself to be me, and I care for myself, everyone else gets to be whoever they are and that is okay.  The only person I have to live with 24/7 for the rest of my life is me.  I get top priority now and by ranking myself that way, everyone in my life benefits greatly.  What a blessed thing it is just being me–finally.  It was well worth the wait.

The fine art of pampering…

To begin with, when I said that I would be blogging less over the summer, I certainly did not think I would go this long between posts, but it has been a wild ride of a summer so far!  My daughter is officially married two weeks as of today.  She is also back from her Caribbean honeymoon.  The wedding weekend was perfect and the wedding itself was like a fairy tale, only better, because it was real.  She was a gorgeous bride and my son-in-law, who I adore, was a very handsome groom.  Best of all, I had all seven of my children in one place at the same time, which is rare these days.  My 7 year old was in heaven all weekend, flitting from one sibling group to another.  Everyone had a splendid time, and there was no “anyone-zilla” moments at any time.

Could they look any happier or more stunning? No, they could not.

Can you believe that I took this picture, and the one above? No one else can, either…

 

A professional “First Look” image by Susan Shek. (susanshek.com) If you live in the NYC area and need a wedding photographer, she is the woman for you! She did a fabulous job!

Not a single thing went wrong the entire wedding weekend.  You see, my daughter is a planner, unlike her mother.  She had everything organized so beautifully that it was seamless.  She gave me the role at the wedding of the “go to” person, something that I excel at, and I carried that role through the reception, happy to do it.  It was a weekend to remember for a very long time to come.  NYC is gorgeous in the summer, if not a little hot…

My daughter is not just a top notch organizer, she also is caring and generous, so I felt more than a little pampered during our stay in NYC.  My two daughters, the little bro, and I stayed together in a lovely suite with a full kitchen and all the amenities one could need.  On the day before the wedding, Emily took her matron of honor, her sister, and I out for manicures and pedicures.  What a treat!  During the pedicure phase, the technician was massaging my feet and asked me if I’d like a 10 minute foot massage.  Oh, it felt so heavenly that I jumped at the opportunity, and it was during this divine foot massage that I found myself fighting back tears.

These tears were not the emotions of a mother about to marry off a daughter, but of a woman realizing that despite her dedication to self care, she had forgotten entirely about the fine art of pampering one’s self.  It wasn’t self pity.  It was like life–my life for the past 12 years–passing before my eyes, as if a small part of me was dying.  I think it was the part of me that felt it needed to be punished.  In those 10 minutes, I saw, and felt as much as I could in the middle of a nail salon, what the last 12 years had been like for me as a woman.  I saw the drinking, and the rehabs, and the relapses.  I saw jails, and prison.  I saw a very bad marriage, and leaving it on my 50th birthday.  I saw the death of my brother-in-law and moves.  I also saw the healing of myself and my son and my whole family post the drinking, and the incarcerations, and the abuse of my marriage, and I saw sustained sobriety, love, peace, and a very happy life.  What I did not see was me taking the time to ever truly pamper me in that time period.  Like the weeks preceding my daughter’s wedding, I had spent 12 years moving steadily from one thing to the next to the next with little thought for niceties for myself.

Rest assured that I do not go without goodies entirely.  I have a friend who spoils me with things regularly, and my children spoil me with gifts on the three major Mom holidays—Christmas, Mother’s Day, and my birthday.  I want for nothing, except for the things that only I can give to myself like the nightly bubble bath I took for most of my life, or doing my own nails nicely, or giving myself a facial, or putting a few “Me” movies onto our Netflix queue.  No one can do those things for me, and those things are my idea of pampering, simple as they are.  How could I forget something that I used to be quite good at, like slathering myself with lotion any chance I got, or having matching undie sets?  Lack of time and money are not excuses.  I had been neglecting the one person who I need to take the best care of and that person was me.

As I mentioned, I am quite good at self care.  I eat an impeccable diet, and have my BMI well within a normal range now.  My blood pressure is normal, and I went off of my statin with my doctor’s approval and lowered my cholesterol to within normal limits in three months time.  I exercise, I have a regular bedtime and wake up time, and all of my female tests are perfect.  My body is in fine shape.  I take care of my mind by reading, writing, and playing Scrabble, I take care of my spirit by listening to music, dancing, and again, writing.  I take care of my soul by praying for an  hour every day, reading the Bible, and the devotional masters from past centuries.  I took care of my emotional needs by getting the help I needed to heal from a lifetime of trauma.  As a result, all past psychiatric diagnoses have disappeared, and I have rewired my brain to the point where I need no psych medications and have never been happier, or more at peace.  Self care is work and it takes practice, but it pays off greatly in the end.

However, self care without pampering is like cake with no frosting. The cake may be good, but it will be lacking the fullness of its delight without the frosting.  What good is a well cared for mind, body, and soul, if you do not pamper it from time to time even in the most simple ways?  I have begun again to build the habit of pampering into my life.  Being a single mom makes it harder, but not impossible.  I started yesterday by dressing up for no reason.

I have begun my nightly baths again, and bought a pumice stone for my feet.  Yesterday, I did my nails and instead of the usual messy, slap dash, job that I do myself, I took my time and made it a half day event.  I used a base coat and let it dry fully, two coats of carefully applied polish, well dried between applications, and a top coat.  I didn’t try to do a million other things with half dry nails, and what do you know?  My nails look like they were professionally done.  This morning, I gave myself a decadent kitchen cupboard facial, with a sugar and lemon juice scrub, a cocoa and oatmeal mask, and a coating of olive oil.  It took all of 30 minutes.  My feet have been moisturized twice, and do they feel happier for that small effort!

Sometimes it feels like life is about putting out fires.  We run from one fire to the next to the next to the next.  At some point, we think, “Okay, I have finally got this.  I have achieved balance.  All of the fires are under control.”  Inevitably, something comes along to show us that we have not quite “won at life” yet.  I thank God for that–for the continual opportunity to learn and grow and to make adjustments, even if the lesson that needs to be learned is a repeat of something that I used to know.  Relearning to pamper myself regularly is a lesson I know I am going to enjoy.  I hope you all will learn to enjoy it, too.  Thank you Emily for helping me to remember to pamper me, too!  Now, you all go do something nice for yourselves!

Summer is here. It’s time to lighten up…

The last week or two have been an absolute blur, and the upcoming weeks are looking quite blurry, too.  Anyone with kids knows that, for whatever reason, schools try to jam pack as much activity into the end of the school year as possible.  There are concerts and plays and field trips and book fairs and lots of extra things to remember and make time for in a week.  I got through all of that only to have my 7 year old son come down with Lyme disease over the weekend, causing him to miss his last two days of school, and my last two days of productivity by my own too-high standards.  When my older six kids were school age, I so looked forward to summer vacation, and I am happy it is here now, too, but with more trepidation for some reason.  I suppose it hasn’t helped much that summer vacation began with an extremely sick kid.  Thank God, he is on the mend now and coming back up to full speed.

At the same time, my oldest daughter is getting married in nine days.  Of course, there is a lot of emotion that goes along with that, for her and for me.  I try to alternate my periods of feeling overwhelmed with hers, because my job is to be there for her when she is overwhelmed right now.  It is easier to do today than it was Monday when I had a kid with a fever of 103 who hurt all over, but…  Cake, favors, sashes all need to happen, as does remembering to remember everything.  Of course, I have to continue to work through all of this, now with a child in tow, because for whatever reason, money doesn’t just drop into my lap 😉  The bills do not disappear just because I have a lot going on, or a lot on my mind.  Something gives, eventually, and it has been this blog.

I was talking to a friend this morning who is quite a lot like me, right down to her temperament type.  She is full of love and compassion and understanding and when she has a friend in need she is the first one to listen and then tell them they are being too hard on themselves.  I know someone just like her.  Me.  I afford everyone in my life the luxury of being kind and gentle with themselves, but sometimes I forget to afford myself that same luxury.  God forbid I even have a less than kind thought towards someone who has been less than kind to me.  I feel as if I have lost my personal integrity because some very human thought spent two minutes in my brain.  She and I discussed this tendency we have to be overly harsh with ourselves.  We both know that we need to knock it off.

I know that I have come so far when it comes to treating myself kindly.  I have set boundaries and I keep them firm.  I do not beat myself up in the way that I used to do for mistakes, major and minor, and I no longer expect perfection from myself—unless I am cooking, or writing, or….;-)  Perfectionism is a nasty habit, and a hard one to break, and it is a form of self punishment that looks like something society really loves–productivity, ambition, call it what you will.  I can’t buy into it anymore.  I need to let go of the death grip I have on life.  I need to treat myself like a very good friend.

Just a bit ago, I sat outside as the sun was starting to go down and I could hear the birds chirping, and the “summer kids” down by the lake playing.  It is summer.  In the summertime, people lighten up, relax, and let loose.  From an age standpoint, I am more in the fall of my life, but I need to incorporate a summer attitude of internal simplicity that under girds my day to day living.  I need to continue forward with the work I have done on self forgiveness, and I need to stop trying to make up for lost time.  That time is gone, but what time I have now is absolutely lovely.  I need to lighten up for life and begin, finally, to bask in the warmth of an inward, eternal, summer.  If I don’t blog as much in the next few months, I will be at the beach with my son, or at my friend’s cottage on the ocean, or I may just be laying on the couch enjoying the silence, or the sounds of the loons on the lake, and allowing myself to be tired and to need a little rest.  I hope that you will do the same, my friends.