It takes what it takes

A few weeks ago I wrote about the luscious, feet-up summer I was having. The contrast between last month and this one couldn’t be more stark. Not only is it back-to-school for the kids, but back-to-school for me and a big mental transition out of a period of grieving for my father and my role as full-time case manager for my son with special needs.

Hear that grinding noise? That’s the sound of me switching gears rather ungracefully, from first to fifth and back again without completely depressing the clutch. As I work through the tasks of coordinating new childcare routines, figuring out how to be a student in the 21st century (there are no Trapper Keepers on this side of the millennium),  swapping summer clothes for fall, getting used to my husband being away for travel more often again — I am a hot mess. It is not pretty.

In the midst of all this busy-ness, I committed one of the cardinal sins of special needs parenting (and honestly, parenting in general…no, make that life in general): I decided I was too busy to take care of myself.

Self-care for me is the stuff that builds my capacity for this intense life, increases my strength, stretches me and makes me grow. It is not glamorous or even pampering; it is sometimes sweaty, sometimes painful, sometimes boring, often the last thing I want to do with my limited time and energy. It is more akin to the “wax on, wax off” training exercises that Mr. Miyagi had the Karate Kid do — motions that, when done often enough, become part of muscle memory, protective stances deeply rooted in habit and graceful in their economy of movement. Practices that bring me into my body and present moment and hopefully keep me there long enough to fix a couple of problems, give someone a hug and have a laugh.

It started out that I told myself that I didn’t have time to go running because I was too busy catching up on a summer’s worth of email. Then, I couldn’t go to yoga because I was too busy getting ready for school. I couldn’t plan or cook healthy meals because…you guessed it, I was too busy. Eventually, it wasn’t just that I was too busy, but I was too tired, too.

An occasional skipped workout — what’s the big deal, right? Isn’t all of this focus on self-care really just self-indulgence? Maybe for some, but for me, not taking care of myself quickly spirals into unpleasantness towards for the people I care most about, my husband and kids and my mother: I become critical and I raise my voice. I hold others responsible for my emotions. (“Don’t make me angry…you don’t want to see the Hulk when he’s angry.” That kind of thing. Real nice.) I overextend myself, get overwhelmed and anxious, which I strangely compound by trying to distract myself from by going on-line and taking in even more mindless information. I also tend to not pay attention to details and make mistakes which cost me more time and energy.

When looking at the costs of not taking care of myself, I see that self-care is not self-indulgent. It is a responsibility. For the sake of my family, my friends and my community, I can’t afford not to.

What is sort of confounding to me is just what a huge amount of self-care I, a bundle of anxieties and distractions, require. No two people require the same amount, but when I look at the list of just the basic self-care maintenance activities that are needed, it’s almost absurd:

  • Physical: run twice a week, yoga class twice a week, some form of activity (walking or biking instead of driving) on other days; plan and prepare healthy meals
  • Mental and spiritual: attend weekly talks at my local insight meditation center and meditate daily at home for 30 minutes; make some art once a month; step away from my phone and computer every day
  • Emotional: connect with my husband and kids every day; go to therapy every other week; blog once a week; sketch or write in my journal as needed; get together with a friend (without kids) once every other week; read books and blogs by and about special needs parents

I get up at 5am to meditate and journal. I go out after the kids go to bed for yoga and to see friends. I squeeze in the runs when I can; I’m no longer ashamed to show up to school pick up drenched in sweat. I leave early for my meetings so I can bike. At times it seems so unfair that in addition to IEP meetings, doctors’ appointments, therapies at home and everything else, that what this life requires of me is a tremendous amount of time and energy simply on maintaining my sanity.

But this morning, as I headed over to the yoga place around the corner, despite the fact that I have a million other things to do, I remembered there’s a brilliant saying from AA (Alcoholics Anonymous): “It takes what it takes.”

It takes what it takes. As in, yes, to get sober sometimes you do need to check yourself into a hospital, move, get a new job, leave your spouse, get new friends, go to a meeting every single day for the rest of your life.  Some people need more than that. Some will need less. How much does it take to get sober? It takes what it takes.

How much does it take for me to live without be angry, stiff, whiny and overwhelmed? Apparently a fair amount. It takes what it takes. For all of us. Even for me.

Anyone out there care to share what it takes for them? Can you share what you’ve done to make time for self-care, especially when you’re busy? I could really use some inspiration!

Published by Cristin Lind

Facilitator, consultant, speaker for better health and care through patient-professional partnership. Passionate about helping change agents build courage and agency. She/her.

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  1. It takes what it takes…
    For me it’s naps. My sister-in-law who has seven kids, all home schooled and who was a missionary with my brother for several years (which included the home births of four children in another country) once told me, “Lauri you’re so busy you need to take naps” What…
    WHAT was she talking about!
    Didn’t she realize if I had time I certainly wouldn’t be taking naps!

    But, after almost three straight years of not sleeping through the night because my daughters internal clock had short circuited resulting in a routine of waking at about 2:00 AM and NOT able to get back to sleep… I thought I should consider it.
    (Even though I worked over 50 hours a week)

    At first I was doing it for “make-up sleep” but now I see that it was a way for me to rest, and take care of myself. Not an exact exchange of sleep for what was being lost.

    Since Mi Vida loca had me up at 2:00 AM take make sure my daughter didn’t try cook, clean with household chemicals, eat frozen food, “play” in the bathroom with all the toiletries or leave the house… I worked it out with my husband that he took over at 4:00AM and I then could nap until 7:00 AM.

    In the evenings I would “nap” from about 8:00-10:30 and then get up and finish a few tasks he couldn’t get to. Read my e-mails and do some paperwork.
    It was whatever it took.

    Now that she is in a sleep over school and we are regular all-nighters (sleeping all through the night that is) I still nap.
    It is the way I take care of myself.
    Not because I am tiered per sa but because it rejuvenates me.
    Refreshes me, and fills my cup up again.

    I don’t do it daily but when I do… It is indeed
    “… what it takes”… for me anyway!

  2. Not taking care of myself led to total body rebellion…fibromyalgia or the equivalent. Now forced not to work, I still have trouble finding the time to do the long list of self-care items…write in journal, tai-chi, Qigong, meditate, write in blog, write article, eat well, garden, long walk in woods with dog, gym work-out, art museum, friends, taking photographs, read for pleasure, write for pleasure…and my daughter is an adult not living at home, still requiring possibly even more attention than she did as a younger girl.
    It takes what it takes.
    I like that sentiment much better than “It is what it is”.
    But I can only do so much so I guess it is what it is and I have to let it go and stop judging myself. That is part of the self-care, too.
    May “I” be held in Loving Kindness…
    Have Compassion for yourself.
    When I first started insight meditation, I was completely bowled over by the realization that I needed to forgive myself before I could forgive anyone else…if you dont allow yourself to be imperfect, then of course it is more difficult to be patient with others. And also the deeper issues of that thought which I will not go in to here…
    From someone who knows that we are not all saints just because we deal with our special needs children…it sounds as if you are a tremendously wonderfully involved parent and you have now inspired me to keep trying to do my best as well.
    Thank you, also, very much for reading my blog and commenting.

    1. Thanks, Catherine. Yes, part of this journey is about learning to forgive ourselves, that’s for sure. I’ve also realized that for me, forgiving myself means learning to let go of regret. (Guilt I can see no use for, but regret is a little stickier…) But putting one foot in front of the other, doing what I need to do to take care of myself when I can, seems to help. It puts me in the right place at the right time, in a way. Hard to explain, but I sense a woman of your experience would get it. I subscribed to your blog and look forward to learning more from your wisdom–it’s great to have someone further along on the journey (however circular that journey is) to learn from. Thanks.

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