Skip to main content

$Monday: Springtime for Self-Care in the Fall of Capitalism

Business as usual is canceled. The whole world is coming together to focus on one priority: flattening the curve. Most of us are coming to the realization that our one job now, while we stay at home waiting for our $1200 payments and $600-a-week unemployment bumps to roll in, is to pull up our big girl sweatpants and take good care of ourselves so our medical workers and critical service providers don't have to do unnecessary work. For most of us, our job now is not about making money or productivity but about reducing consumption and personal need. Beloveds, it's backwards day.

Some people are wondering, how do we do our part when we can't go shopping for designer yoga pants to wear at the gym and get facials and magic crystals and... ?

One silver lining of this crisis is that it's forcing us to take a hard look at what's truly important and true and what's capitalist phony baloney. Money and health are not always exchangeable. Self-care is not consumerism, conscious or otherwise. Self-care means: sleep, eat, move, rest, create joy, repeat. Keep your hands clean and your mind dirty. Get serious about laughing and making room for silliness in your life. Learn to stretch your roots, strengthen your trunk, and draw deeply from all of your internal resources to get through this long, weird time.

Originally, the term "self-care" had a medical definition. It was not about self-indulgence or vanity. It was about nurturing your own well-being to reduce your dependence on medical interventions.

Self-care encompasses physical wellness as well as mental and emotional hygiene. We all have some sense of what our individual minds, bodies, and hearts truly need (ahem, probably not scales, bikini goals, weightlifting trophies, or ingenious excuses). Nobody needs to become a zen mistress or a self-help yogi or an Instagram thirst trap. It's okay to want those things and to have non-essential goals, but it's important to know the difference.

It's especially important to stay mindful of which goals are not just neutral but at odds with our health needs. Sometimes the things we do in an attempt to look cute or improve our external circumstances can actually damage our health (such as when we engage in disordered eating or overworking). However, becoming our healthiest selves, physically and emotionally and mentally and spiritually and socially, usually does lead to feeling and being perceived as more attractive and gaining the capability to achieve more success at material goals down the line. Remind yourself of that if it helps you refocus on your health. 

Self-care is not about perfection, and it certainly isn't about blaming ourselves for circumstances outside of our own control. We all have physical conditions and susceptibilities that we never chose and cannot make disappear, but we all have daily choices that can stack the odds of good health in our favor. A whole lot of chronic disease can be attributed to our own behavior, and we have the power to change it.

Self-care is not selfish. It gives us the strength to be there for our most vulnerable loved ones in times of real need. When you set healthy boundaries for yourself and share with others how you are taking good care of yourself, you set a good example and light the way for others to follow.

Givers and--ahem--people who self-identify as "empaths" could benefit greatly, at this weird time, by pulling back from babying and enabling parasitic relationships. This is sink or swim time. Right now, when the poop is actively striking all the fans of the world, encouraging others (who are not your actual dependents) to depend upon your care is dangerous. Overextending yourself to mother people whose mother you are not puts everyone at risk--you, them, and everyone else around. It sets you up to burn out and sets them up to stay weak and helpless and lost when they cannot rely upon you. It sets up a series of failure dominoes that are currently at a heightened risk of getting tipped.

Right now, one of the most powerful ways each one of us can help to relieve the burden upon our medical professionals, our most vulnerable loved ones, and literally everyone on Earth, is to take up more personal responsibility for practicing our own lifestyle medicine.

It is critical to get serious about our health (physical, mental, emotional, social) right now, but that doesn't mean it can't be silly too. It also doesn't mean we have to follow someone else's instructions to the letter. It's usually best to start with getting mindful about what works for each one of us and for the others in our households, if we don't live alone.


Here's an example from my life: I keep hearing that this is the time to take up a sitting meditation practice. For many people, I'm sure that is helpful. My husband and I were white-college Buddhists. We have been practicing members of two hippie sanghas, one hosted by a beautiful Vietnamese temple in our current hometown. We used to love zazen, especially in big groups in lovely spaces with incense and resonant bells and Buddha statues and riotous flower offerings and jewel-toned pillows and cups of fresh mint tea.

Trying to do zazen in your cabin-fevered house with kids and pets SUCKS. It sucks, man. On top of being a frustrating exercise in futility, it's a crushing reminder of all the enjoyable stuff you used to do back in the day and now cannot, not for an indefinite amount of time.

So instead, I have implemented a family bedtime meditative reading from the book True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh. I make it funny and relatable to my daughter by replacing all mentions of people with the word "cat." (It's kind of like how my husband and I sing lines of heavy metal songs to each other but replace most of the words with "meow" to make it family-friendly.) It makes my daughter giggle and pay attention and finally think and reflect. For us adults, too, it is easier to practice loving-kindness exercises on our adorable fluffy friend rather than on fellow humans. I'm sure you understand. Humans are jerks, and so are cats, but cats are floofy. Anyway...

Last night I read (adapted), "Loving-kindness is not only the desire to make a cat happy, to bring joy to a beloved cat; it is the ability to bring joy and happiness to the cat you love, because even if your intention is to love this cat, your love might make her suffer."

My daughter's eyes lit up, a wicked grin appeared on her little face, and she said, "Like when I smoosh Gretchen too hard?"

"Yes," I affirmed, and I went on: "Training is needed in order to love properly."

"Like watching cat documentaries?"

Yes. And so on.

So go forth (at home) and figure out how to live your best life--not externally but internally. If you start to climb the walls, sit on the roof and read a book (if you can do so safely; this isn't a good time to break a bone). Read poetry on your phone. Listen to a song that makes you happy. Preserve your sanity and wits like jars of ripe plums so that you can, as Sam Jackson writes in his newest literary work, "stay the f*ck at home." Lounge in your recliner or on your bed in the middle of the day or night and listen to the Not Crazy Podcast "Coronavirus: How to Keep It Together."

Take the lead on finding your most effective methods of recreation so that when this is all over, we can come together again to re-create the kind of economy and social structure that serves us all best.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

Blown Away on Publication Day

The responses to Leirah and the Wild Man 's publication have blown me away! I feel like one of Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham's little fall fairies lifted on a happy gust of wind. I told my husband earlier this month that I wanted to release my first novel secretly, so nobody I knew would feel obligated to buy it and pretend to read it. Even worse, I didn't want my parents or coworkers to actually read my salacious book! I’ve tried for years to find a literary agent who might grant me access to the professional services and veneer of legitimacy that traditional publishing offers, so I would have the courage to put my weird and wild writing out there for readers who don't know me but happen to be looking for 11th century Byzantine thrillers. But I ran out of patience with the publishing industry's compounding scandals, dramas, changing rules, and vulnerability to volatile markets and supply chains. Years ago, finding an agent felt not only possible but inevitab

LEIRAH AND THE WILD MAN: Available for Pre-Order Now!

I am thrilled to announce the surprise release of my first novel! Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World is now available for pre-order. Leirah dreams of stealing a Viking longship, hunting pirates, and freeing the world's thralls. As if by magic, the dragon boat of her fantasies appears at her backwoods homestead, and a crew of seductive outlaws invites her to join them in terrorizing the rich with disguises based on the monsters of local folklore. But Leirah fears their secretive interest in her favorite brother Aven. She takes him and flees on an epic journey down the length of the Danube, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, through the gates of Constantinople, and into the last stronghold of the Goths.   on sale October 23, 2021 (hardcover)   and   November 11, 2021 (ebook) Nook Kindle   I released this book softly, with no marketing or distribution arrangements made in advance, so you will not find it already

Pocket of Joy: Laughing Off Bogus Critics

Beware the false devils of other people's anxieties, insecurities, and petty jealousies that they try to project onto you. If you hear negative messages about yourself repeatedly, especially from people who are very significant to you, like your parents or closest friends, they can worm their way under your eardrums and hijack your own inner voice with their damaging scripts. Once internalized, they can sound like fundamental truth, but they lie as shamelessly as the false angels of your ego do. Don't listen to those who fear your competition because they feel threatened by your talent, your passion, or your persistence. Don't listen to those who would betray you just to keep you down in the crab bucket that they themselves are too afraid to escape. Don't laugh with people who are laughing at you in a mean way. It's healthy for your friends and mentors to keep you humble with constructive criticism, friendly ribbing, and gentle teasing. It's good to maintain yo

Pocket of Joy: Starting a Shiny New Project

Oh, the buoyant thrill of a sparkly new idea! Ooh, the giddy joy of starting in on it--like planting the first footprint on a blanket of new-fallen snow, or drawing the first line on a clean sheet of paper, or sweeping the first brushstroke of slick, wet paint across a wall! Of course, it takes follow-through to manifest a dream through the sweaty, dirty, messy middle of any big project. But when you know you can do it, you can hold onto that shiny new feeling to sustain you all the way to the finish. Here I am chiseling away at the remains of my old kitchen back in the spring, when my new kitchen lived only in my imagination. My husband and I have been working on our kitchen (with my parents' help early on) for four months now. Our summer has been a marathon of hard, sweaty, dirty work littered with setbacks, frustrations, and frequent changes of plans--including the decision to redo our main bathroom at the same time, while we're at it! Anyone who has repaired or remodeled a

Pocket of Joy: Catching More Grief with Sugar

A few days ago, I wrote about the irrational anger at death that I discovered lurking under my grief and fear . Then I saw this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and it broke my heart open in a different place. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (@gabbat) It is said in pop psychology that sadness lies beneath anger, but in myself I find layers of both, one upon another over and over again, glued together with veins of sticky sweet frustrated longings and backed up affections and other feelings wedged here and there untidily, which cannot be easily peeled apart and healed. I suspect that most people are like me in that way, more or less, and so they have patterns of mixed up emotional tissues unlike mine, in other disordered arrangements. Last week I realized once again, as I must do from time to time, that I am a coddled pet of this world, with so many privileges that a sense of entitlement sneaks up on me whenever I forget how a

Small But Sweet Bathroom Renovation

We have fixed, upgraded, and redecorated our little old bathroom just in time for another pandemic winter! Now that the kitchen and main bathroom are both functional and personalized for our family, we are ready to hunker down in comfort. I had hoped I wouldn't have to spend quite as much time at home heading into 2022, but here we are. At home. What a difference it makes to have a beautiful bathroom, though! For a tall person, it is such a relief to my back to have a higher bathroom vanity that allows me to wash my hands without bending over, and a shower that rains down from well above the top of my head! We put up a taller mirror (an inexpensive antique) than the one that was there before and installed the new light fixture ("rescued" from our local Habitat ReStore) up close to the ceiling, making the room seem taller and bigger even though there is actually less space between the vanity top and ceiling. We saved loads of money by doing as much work ourselves as we co

Feast Your Eyes on This Cozy Cabincore Kitchen

My dream kitchen has become a reality at long last! Just in time for fall, I am falling in love with this new hearth of my home. Feast your eyes on this pure Michigan, cozy, crazy, cabincore kitchen! It's too bold and particular a style to be everyone's cup of tea, and that is exactly the point. This isn't a generic, beige box of a house to be flipped into the impersonal sales market, and it's not a rental unit, and it's not an entertainment space designed to be minimally offensive to the maximally judgmental hypothetical guest, it's my family's home , where we personalize our own cups of tea using supplies organized within our giant alien ceramic shelf pod and its smaller companion weird ceramic pod that holds our precious baggie of holy basil given to my husband as a tip at the bike shop he manages. Most of the ceramics in this room were created by a personal friend, artist Lisa Truax, who used local Michigan earth as one of the components in the piece tha

Releasing My Thirsty Darling

Good news! I have accepted the death of my most cherished lifelong career dream, and that means I am ready to release my debut novel exactly the way I want to: full of blood and other juices, rich historical detail about places you've never visited in another book, a large cast of complex characters entangled in complicated relationships, historical authenticity beefed up with a healthy disregard for biased conventions, and an all-absorbing plot that moves at its most effective pace. Leirah and the Wild Man glides forth destined for a fate of cult classic, not bestseller. Let's... push... things... forward. (Shout out to nostalgic muse Mike Skinner of The Streets and his legendarily underrated Original Pirate Material .) Here she comes, my thirsty darling, like the Lady of Shalott floating off to her glorious doom after a fever-hot vision of Lancelot torched her will to stay locked up and safe in her tower. She won't live happily ever after, but she'll look flawless a

Pocket of Joy: Sunny Days with Dark and Stormy Nights

We need both sunshine and rain to survive, all of us--all people, all animals, all plants, all life on Earth. And when we can learn to enjoy changeable weather and seasons with a flexible attitude and a readiness to take advantage of whatever comes along, we can weather the storms of life--metaphorically speaking. Literature helps us to envision pleasures we've never experienced as well as terrors and hardships we've never faced--in the safe, pillowy world of our own imaginations. Reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic and resilient when we encounter situations we've read about in real life. Dark fiction inoculates us against shock and despair in the real world. Writing fiction has therapeutic benefits as well. Way back when I used to participate in NaNoWriMo , I learned that a good author must behave like a fickle, brutal god of the ancients--setting up trials and tribulations for our beloved creations just to watch them fight their way through. My writing compa