Taking a moment for myself 

Some days I want to be productive, and not doing so causes great stress and emotion. Other days I am happy being me. Biking, stretching, drinking a fabulous green smoothie, reading about health and doing nothing with my boyfriend and cats. Today is the second kind of day and it is fabulous. Although of course there is the voice in the back of my mind reminding me I am a failure and a lazy loser. She doesn’t like it when I stop moving. She wants constant action and energy. She is not okay with pausing to sip coffee and daydream, unless it these are scheduled moments squeezed between hours of extreme productivity. She hates it when I tell her that my truth, my authentic self, thrives on quiet and calm. 

She’s being pretty quiet today though, and easy to ignore, and so I will continue to sip my coffee and do write here about my thoughts and feel at peace with my decision. 

Yesterday I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory. The flowers, the plants, the smell of growth and dirt, the warmth and light of the greenhouses combined to bring me out of a foul depressed mood. I was unsettled, cantankerous, unable to concentrate. I was the opposite of peaceful. It is important for me to make time, especially when I am feeling so down, to go out and explore the world. Reconnect with nature even in the middle of a cold and ice-filled winter. Lose myself in beautiful things. More important, I argue, than productivity, than working and toiling and feeling exhausted. 

So often I equate being tired and worn out with being good and purposeful. And there is something enriching about going all- in to a project, devoting all time and energy to a task and collapsing at the end of the day, tired but filled with the knowledge of a job well done (or at least done with maximal effort). As an endurance runner I have trained myself to revel in the feeling of having nothing left in the tank; if I feel chipper after a race or hard workout, I worry I have failed. 

Life (or running, for that matter) doesn’t always have to be a grueling feat. Sometimes it can be slow. Sometimes walk breaks are in order. Sometimes you need a day off to rest your muscles and store energy so that when you return the hard effort doesn’t feel as overwhelming. 

I forget to give myself permission to slow my life. But it is when things feel most frantic, most urgent, that a break can be most helpful. 

Right now I am applying to grad school and, given that the last time I attempted I not only failed to be accepted but (in series of events that were unrelated but still correlated in time and in my memory) my life was thrown into chaos, I have a lot of fear associated with the process. 

(A selection of the events surrounding my previous experience are: I ran out of money, was faced with the very real possibility of homelessness, lost a bunch of weight because I couldn’t afford food and was also running long distances to keep my anxiety and a close-to-tolerable level, and was compelled to move in with a friend in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin where my depression and anxiety deepened.)

And so, even though I know the task is not difficult, and even though I have only spent two or three hours a day (most days) preparing my material, and even though I am not shaking from exhaustion, a break feels nice. And, because I didn’t hold myself to a strict work timeline this morning, I had the energy and motivation to write this, allowing me to adhere to two do my 2016 goals: writing one personal essay a week and practicing universal self-acceptance.

I am proud of myself for honoring my body’s need to adopt a slower pace. I feel happier, lighter, more rested and (paradoxically) more accomplished. 

Here’s to a year of pauses, of beautiful mornings off, of listening to my truth. 

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Thankful for self-care

To give you an idea of how little I wanted to write today,  I spent more than ten minutes looking at moon charts (which I don’t understand), hoping something would tell me not to write but to go back to bed (for the good of my vibrational energy, of course, not because I am selfish and tired).  I feel guilty because I had yesterday off, only worked for a few hours on Wednesday, even less time on Tuesday and have only had one day of paying work since last Saturday, almost a week ago. And yet I am SO TIRED. Unbelievably tired. Not in the sense that I haven’t slept well or long enough, I certainly have, but in the sense that my mind and my soul need a deep rest. Even the days when working was sparse, I spent time and energy on emotional housekeeping in my relationship (some productive, all exhausting) and on stressing about not wanting to work. I was nowhere near as productive as I could have been on Sunday or Tuesday (Monday I edited for eight long, although rewarding, hours and Wednesday I managed to break through on research and thoughts for a guest blog post I am writing) and felt unproductive and, therefore, unworthy. Today has been an exercise in procrastination, tiredness, and general malaise. I was so excited to have a day without class in which to write, study, do good work. Instead, I lally-gagged in bed, dawdled over breakfast, and took an inordinately long time to shower, dress and show up to my computer.

Yesterday was supposed to be a day of relaxing (Thanksgiving) but that only came in starts and stops. The afternoon was filled with panic, a side effect of sharing a kitchen with my boyfriend’s well-meaning but ever-present mother. I knew from the moment I walked into the kitchen at 12:30 I would not have dinner on the table by four.  No matter how quickly I tried to coax a pie crust out of dates and nuts, chop Brussels sprouts, brown onions and garlic, mash lentils and prep sweet potatoes, time was against me. The constant questioning about how long everything would take to cook did not help matters.

My boyfriend spent the day with a haggard look on his face, rushing around to check on the turkey, put a leaf into the dining room table, fetch me ingredients from our pantry downstairs and generally lend a hand to everyone. I missed his smile and his constant encouragement –he tried to be supportive and reminded me several times that nothing bad would happen if food was 15 minutes later than planned, but this was said with strain and was filled with his own stress. The holidays are horrible for turning a potentially good time (a nice meal on a dark day with family and friends) into a stress-fest. Even the best intentions can be set off-kilter by expectations of perfection (in my case, the expectations are usually self-induced).

Dinner was delicious and clean-up was easy, since I had washed as I cooked and my boyfriend gamely took the lead after dinner. Still, I had a hard time relaxing.

My ideal day would have seen me cooking at a normal, efficient but unhurried pace while listening to shows on the radio. Dinner would have been served when it was ready, sometime in the afternoon. I would have taken time for lunch, or at least a light snack. Post-dinner, a movie, perhaps, or conversation.  And then, a delightful and early trek to bed. An afternoon walk would have been nice, as well.

This is not to say my day wasn’t nice. It truly was. I ran a small road race in the morning, emailed a good friend, spoke on the phone to both of my parents and my sister, I had an impeccable meal with family, there is a roof over my head and money in my bank account. Still, it was not as relaxing as I feel it should have been now when I face a day of work. In other words, I have an irrational belief that I should be so rejuvenated after a holiday that work will come easy and be filled with immediate joy. I am disappointed and frustrated with myself for not jumping out of bed with energy and excitement, moving as quickly as possible to write about affordable housing and the mistakes of our government. I do not believe I should need external motivation, nor should I be distracted by vegan recipe blogs, my current book, the radio, my cats, clipping my fingernails or any number of activities that are not writing.

This is not an atypical belief for me, but it seems especially strong today (perhaps because it has been weeks since I granted myself time to play, to do activities I love and be in the service of myself alone without guilt). Perhaps. Although I am much more willing to externalize my feelings and blame them on the rainy weather than admit I have the power to change how I feel.

Deep breath.

Days like this I have to force myself to remember that I don’t need to be gravely ill, severely exhausted or imminently crazy to treat myself with compassion. Sometimes coffee, a good book and a cuddle with a cat or two are more productive and meaningful than any amount of real, quantifiable work.

During this season of gratitude, I am grateful for my belief (hard as it may be to comprehend at times) that self-care is not just for other people.