The importance of self-care

For the past week and a half or so, I’ve been dealing with a series of unexplained headaches.  My right temple will throb for a day or two, then I’ll wake up and my left temple will be aching.  A couple of days later, the pain is in the front of my head.  My normal remedy – a lot of water and some Aleve – doesn’t do much.

My nurse practitioner has been working to help me figure out what’s going on – and can I just take a moment to say that I am so lucky to have good health insurance, and that it’s a travesty that health care like this is inaccessible for so many people? – but I suspect that the cause is a rather mundane one: stress.

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself hit by health problems caused by internalized stress.  It seems to be a feature of my personality, actually.  I take all of my stress, wad it up like a dirty towel and stuff it in my stomach or my brain, where it festers until I can barely turn my head without wincing.

The past ten days have been a painful reminder of just how important self-care is when it comes to living a functional life.  Never mind the fact that you really cannot be of much use to anyone else if you are fighting pain or illness all the time.  It should be enough to just want to feel okay.

How do I make myself feel okay?  Here’s my standard list:

I try to get enough sleep.  Sometimes my work schedule is such that I wake up at 3:30 a.m.  (Yay TV news!) On days like that, “enough sleep” just ain’t gonna happen.  But aside from that, I make a deliberate effort to get at least eight hours of sleep.  I have to. When I’m sleep-deprived, I make mistakes. I’m grouchy. I write like shit.  Plus, sleep is awesome.  You’ll never convince me otherwise.

I drink a lot of water.  You know those people who carry around jugs of water?  And who always sip from them?  Yep, that’s me.  Judge if you must.

I eat when I’m feeling hungry.  Want to see me in Beastmaster from Hell mode?  Talk me when I haven’t eaten in six or seven hours.  If you are lucky, I won’t rip your arm off and beat you to death with it.

I go to the gym on my lunch breaks.  I know this seems excessive and weird, but I can’t overstate how wonderful it is to be able to take thirty minutes out of the middle of my day to go slam some heavy metal around.  It’s like an inoculation against aggravation.

I go for a run at least every other day.  Once, I didn’t go for a run for two days. On the third day, I went for a run and posted about it on Facebook.  My boss saw the update and said, “Thank God! Caitlin will be normal again!”

I goof off.  I love to goof off.  I play on Facebook, I look at silly things on the internet, I watch television, I read books and zines.  Goofing off is awesome and necessary.   Seriously, what is the point of all of this if you can’t have some fun?

Alas, clearly this was not enough.  So now I am trying these:

Taking a yoga class.  I used to do yoga several years ago but I stopped for…I don’t really know why. Anyway, reading Anytime Yoga caused me to reconsider, so I took my first yoga class last night, and I loved it.  I walked in feeling completely aggro and left feeling peaceful and blissed out.  (And also sore, but in a good way!)

Running sans music. This morning during my run, I noticed the sun was coming up in the most brilliant shades of pink and orange.  I hit pause on my iPod – the Chemical Brothers didn’t really go with the scene – and I ran while watching the sun come up and listening to the birds.

Meditating.  Meditating is fucking hard, yo.  I know, I know – they don’t call it a practice because everyone turns into the Maharishi upon closing their eyes, but still.  But I have tried a few times in the past couple of days, and even the act of attempting to meditate – of just being very still and quiet – has a calming effect on me.

Cutting back on alcohol.  I am not a huge drinker but I do enjoy my beer.  I also know that having two beers seems to make my headaches worse the day after.  It’s kind of a no-brainer, yes?

What about you?  What do you do to take care of yourself?

7 responses to “The importance of self-care

  1. Never mind the fact that you really cannot be of much use to anyone else if you are fighting pain or illness all the time….

    … What about you? What do you do to take care of yourself?

    My answer is a little bit the opposite of your statement (and a little bit not):

    1) Understanding that I can be of a lot of use to others even when I’m working with pain and illness most of the time. I have a tendency to feel like I’m letting other people down when I can’t do what they ask of me. Sometimes I am, yes. But there are also a number of other cases where I can do something to help someone else, even if it’s not the same people or in the same way that I would have reached if I’d been pain free. It’s not terribly uncommon for chronic pain or illness to contribute to depression, and sometimes feeling like I am still a useful person in the world helps work against that idea.

    At the same time:

    2) Understanding that I don’t owe anyone else my health or wellness. This isn’t to say that I don’t value being as pain-free or non-poopy as possible, or that I never use it to help out other people, but — It’s okay for my wellness to just be about me. Honestly, this came about after repetitive cycles about taking other people’s advice for how to feel better. Partly so that I might feel better, yes, but also partly so that I look like I’m appreciating their advice (and also partly to guard against claims that I didn’t try everything).

    I was going to say more, but “enough sleep” is a priority on my self-care list of the night. 😉

    • Thanks for your comment! Your first point is interesting, and obviously one I hadn’t thought of, as I’m dealing with an acute issue vs. a chronic issue. Right now I’m mostly just frustrated about the fact that I have to find ways to live my life while being in pain.

      And with regards to your second point, I often think about some women I grew up around, who were stay at home moms and took care of a bunch of kids and were involved in a lot of church and community type things. They ran themselves into the ground, with almost no time for themselves, and I used to think that it was a shame, because their lack of self-care ultimately hurt their abilities to handle their responsibilities to others. But then I was like, why does it have to be about other people? Why isn’t it enough to just want to feel better? I don’t know if men get this as much as women, this idea that one’s health is necessary because it allows you to serve others better. What do you think?

      • As a teacher, I work in a fairly woman-oriented profession. In every school where I’ve taught or student taught, there’s been a widely accepted and stated idea that teachers should take care of themselves “so we can be there for our kids.”

        While I absolutely agree that a teacher with physical/mental/emotional reserves is going to be more effective than a teacher who’s depleted, I also agree with you — There doesn’t have to be an altruistic motive for self-care. It’s okay for taking care of myself to just be about me.

      • Yeah, that’s an interesting dynamic, isn’t it? It’s like “be healthy, but not for you, for everyone else!” This isn’t to discount the importance of being able to serve your role in society – I very strongly believe that the most important part of life are our relationships with each other (and also animals!) – but just that it’s interesting that even self-care is framed in such a way that it becomes other-directed.

    • Ha! I figured the self proclaimed Fit Geek would understand. I just sometimes think that maybe people are like OMG that Caitlin, she’s so excessive and hardcore, when really I’m just a big nerd who loves to lift weights. 😀

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