Posts Tagged With: Self-care

Best Advice I’ve Gotten In the Past Year? “Practice Radical Self-Care”

Great recs found here.

Great recs found here.

The best advice I got during the past twelve months wasn’t directed at me. And it arrived through an unlikely source, a Goodreads question and answer session.

I don’t usually follow or sign up for these sorts of things. I think the author’s work normally speaks for itself. But I made an exception this one time.  When Anne Lamott, the author of “Help! Thanks! Wow!” among other hilarious, heartfelt and honest books, accepted a stint on the Featured Author Chat over at Goodreads, I jumped on board eager to pick up some writerly advice and a few laughs.

The directness in Anne’s writing reminds me of my best friend who passed away early this year. They both have a no-holds-barred approach to communication. Say it like it is. Don’t worry about offending anyone. Speak truth. Let it all fall where it ought to.

Feels like I get an infusion of new oxygen in my blood after reading Anne’s books. I figured I’d more than enjoy reading what she has to say in a different medium.

Little did I know how helpful it would be.

Sure, she answered queries about writing and about her personal life. But then, a surprise question and an even more surprising answer came through.

In response to a reader’s question about how to deal with depression and discouragement, Anne Lamott’s answer jumped out at me as if it’d been highlighted with fluorescent green marker.

“Depressed and discouraged is really hard, and plenty to deal with. My response, if it was me, was to practice radical self-care, by being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself, exactly as I would be with a friend. Love and gentleness are always the answer. “ – Anne Lamott, from a Goodreads discussion 12/12/13

“Practice radical self-care.”

I’ve said that to myself over and over ever since I read it. Even more so since a funeral and burial and the ensuing grief that’s hovered all year.

So we’ve all heard that “self-care” part of the equation over the years, right? But “radical?” And how do you care for yourself in a radical way?

I turn to my usual sources. I like the third Merriam-Webster definition of radical.

“Radical: very different from the usual or traditional : extreme.”

So I’ve looked at how I normally care for myself and I attempt to do the opposite, or at least a ninety degree shift.

Sounds difficult. But I’ve given it a try anyway.

So how do I “practice radical self-care”?

  • Letting myself ignore all my lists occasionally and the usual side of guilt they’re served with
  • I say “not right now” instead of “sure, anytime, anything”
  • Simply sitting and letting my mind go blank, often
  • Crying when the tears want to leak out
  • Laughing even if it goes against all reason or feels wrong
  • Planning something unprecedented, like getting a manicure, or a spur of the moment trip
  • Saying “No”
  • Reminding MSH that I’m not depressed, just grieving
  • Practicing my depression treatment steps, just in case
  • Accepting that sorrow and faith can coexist in the same brain
  • Journaling, several times a day if necessary, letting words carry some of the weight
  • Napping, earlier bedtimes, later wake times
  • Talking about how I’m feeling

The other part of what Anne said, I’d applied in situations involving others, but rarely with myself.

“Being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself.

The key word there: “exquisitely,” as in “acutely perceptive, discriminating, intense.”

Kind, patient and gentle with myself. How could I go wrong? That was easier the first month or two after my friend died. But then I hit some preconceived notion of “times up” on the grieving thing and stopped being so easy on myself.
Photo by Kettie Olsen

Photo by Kettie Olsen

So I try again and again. And I remind myself again, as Anne said, “Love and gentleness are always the answer.”

I get radical. I care for myself. Practice exquisite patience and gentleness. I apply the concepts of love and kindness to myself. Kind of extreme ideas for me.

It’s a daily, sometimes hourly process working through depression, discouragement and grief.

I owe big thanks for such unusually worded advice from someone who’s been there to someone still wandering the path toward a new normal.


Categories: Cancer, Death, Hope | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

While visiting my parents recently, I attended church with them. Much to my surprise I heard the following statement: “Some of you look like you’ve been rode hard and put away wet.”

The wordsmith in me immediately pulled out my phone and tapped in the phrase to look up later. Turns out it’s a horseman’s term that refers to someone not taking care of a horse after a hard day.

Long day?

Long day?

So we looked like we’d not been properly cared for, huh? Tuckered out, bedraggled, ragtag, worn down, scruffy. It had probably been a tough week for a few people there. In any large group there’s a high probability that more than a few were run ragged that week either physically or emotionally.

The last time I threw my leg over a horse to go riding I hadn’t graduated from high school yet. Now, what feels like nearly a hundred years later, I still remember the sway and roll of sitting in that saddle. The muscles of the horse under me felt powerful and yet, somehow, very gentle. My friend, whose family owned the horses, led the way on her horse through open fields and along the foothills. I could have sat up there all day, feeling like a queen surveying the world.

If you’ve never ridden a horse you’re missing out on one of life’s most eloquent pleasures.

That phrase, “rode hard and put away wet” has stuck with me for days now. Curiosity pushed me to research a bit more about how to care for a horse after a ride or a day of hard work. A few basic steps, about twenty to thirty minutes, and a horse can relax and rejuvenate after a days work.

Loosening the saddle some, pulling up the stirrups so they don’t bang around, letting it walk a bit to cool down are the first things to do. Following that you’d take off the bridle and put on a halter and tie the horse off. Loosen the cinch and take the saddle off being careful not to hit the horse’s back. Remove the blanket, clean off dirt and sweat with a wet sponge and brush and then dry off with a towel. While doing so check for cuts, nicks, and scratches. Check the hooves for stones and mud and use a hoof pick to clean. Lead the horse to pasture, take off the halter and let the horse cool down a bit more before feeding.

Here, let me pose for you.

Here, let me pose for you.

I wondered why someone wouldn’t take care of horse when the steps are basic common sense and fairly simple. If it keeps the horse happy and healthy and you care about the animal wouldn’t you do this every time?

What happens when these basic steps aren’t taken? A horse can develop saddle sores, or have untended wounds, become lame or simply be dirty and unkempt and uncomfortable.

I wondered why we don’t do this for ourselves. After a long day working or caring for others do we take basic measures to make sure we’re healthy and cared for?

At the end of the day do we loosen up a bit, set aside worries so they aren’t banging around, cool down a bit and shake off the weight of the day? Is there some basic self-care we could engage in that’s equivalent to having a brush down and our hoofs checked?

More than likely we push ourselves nonstop from the minute we wake up until our head hits the pillow at bedtime. Sure we might turn on the TV or browse the Internet some. For me that’s not much different from wandering into the stall untended. I need a more active, conscientious and deliberate effort to relax and care for my physical and mental well-being.

Reading or writing after a long day works wonders to wipe away the “sweat and dirt” of my day’s ride. Other times, having a conversation with MSH helps me lift the saddle weight of worry from my shoulders. Sometimes simply sitting and doing nothing, staring, thinking or meditating can wash away a day’s stress. If you’re the praying sort, that might be your emotional and spiritual grooming time to work out the kinks of life’s demands. Or maybe a literal washing in the shower or a soak in the tub serves as an emotional cleansing in your day.

Whatever we need to do to avoid being “rode hard and put away wet” seems like a good plan to me.

Well, hello there!

Sounds like basic horse sense to me!


“A horse loves freedom, and the weariest old work horse will roll on the ground or break into a lumbering gallop when he is turned loose into the open.” ~Gerald Raftery





Categories: good ideas, Mental Health, physical health, Wondering | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

A Real Nail Biter

When you’re determined to do something not much will stand in your way.

I had a sister who sucked her thumb when she was young until she was almost not a child anymore. Mom and Dad tried everything, rewards, punishments, a mouthpiece, and yucky tasting stuff painted on her thumb. Nothing seemed to work. Whatever she got from sucking on that thumb outweighed any threat or reward anyone could put before her.

What finally worked? Peer pressure!

In other words: You can’t be cool and suck your thumb at a slumber party.

Instant cure for her.

My bad habit cure wasn’t so instantaneous. What other people thought about my fingernail biting didn’t matter much to me at all.

Munched fingernails.

Munched fingernails.

I tried that yucky paint on stuff because I wanted to stop biting my fingernails. Mom and Dad wanted me to stop biting my nails, too. But the stuff didn’t taste bad enough. I would still keep biting and chewing and gnawing away at my nails and my cuticles. I would chew past the quick until my poor fingers bled and throbbed. Sometimes I had four or five bandages on my fingers to keep them from hurting too much. Once they healed enough I would be back at chewing my nails again.

Not only did I want to stop biting my nails, I wanted to have long beautiful manicured nails. But nothing I tried did any good.

I might add that this was long before the common occurrence of nail salons that populate every strip mall across the country. I couldn’t simply go get acrylic nails glued on.

At the back of most teen magazines there were adds for fake nail kits like the ones “used in Hollywood.” I succumbed in my desperation and paid out hard-earned babysitting money for one of these “easy to use” kits. What a disaster! Lumpy foul-smelling glops of gunk on the ends of my fingers. Bah!

At this point you might be asking a few questions. What was I so stressed about? Why did I chew my nails? Was I an anxious child?

Did I worry?

Oh yes, I did worry.

I worried about everything from the end of the world to what to do during a nuclear explosion. I worried about who I would play with at recess and whether I’d see the cute boy at lunch. I worried about the bullies and the popular girls and I worried about getting left behind. Then as I got older I worried about playing the clarinet decently and fitting in with some group, having cute enough clothes, homework assignments, AP tests, a part-time job. You name it, I probably worried about it.

But was all this worry the reason I bit my fingernails? I have no idea.

I think it was just a strange habit I fell into. Something to do. A nervous tic. Boredom.

Saved by Good Intentions

As a freshman in college, a slightly older freshman took me under her wing. I suppose I came across as out of date, or frumpy, or plain. I don’t know. I was more interested in learning something in my classes and doing well writing essays and taking tests. I also held down a part-time job and didn’t have much time for a social life. Whatever the reason, she had a few suggestions for updating my look, inspiring more self-confidence, and for improving my grooming.

Looking back I might have taken offense at her chutzpah, but I think I simply welcomed her attention and concern. Mostly, I was glad for the “older sister” treatment, since I didn’t have an older sister.

Among tons of advice, which I quickly forgot, she gave me some surprisingly simple advice that solved a lifelong problem. She told me that if I took care of my fingernails every single day, pushing back my cuticles, smoothing and filing any rough edges, and repainting them every single day they would grow in.

Guess what?

A sampling of nail care kitsch.

A sampling of nail care kitsch.

It worked! My nails grew. Instead of chewing at the gnarly looking stubs, I looked longingly at the barely growing but meticulously cared for tips of my nails. I saw potential. I saw hope.

Did my dorm mate’s ministrations suddenly and miraculously cause me to start dating a lot? No! And I didn’t care that much about dating then. But my fingernails grew longer than they had ever been! I finally liked how my hands looked.

Strange that all it took to cure my nail-biting was to pay attention to them in a different way. Instead of mindlessly gnawing away, I was mindfully caring for my nails.

Makes me wonder.

I wonder if that works for other things in life? Replace automatic behavior with thoughtful and focused behavior and voilà! Hmmm. Curious.

*Note to self: research this phenomenon in depth.

Once in a while, usually when I’m reading a suspenseful or intense book, I’ll start fiddling about at a rough edge of a nail or a cuticle and before I know it (after fifty pages or so) I have a short nail. And if the book keeps my attention tied up too much, I’ll find almost all my nails short again. But, then I grow them back really quickly.

I suppose that’s why I try to chew gum, or eat chocolate, or nuts, or popcorn when I’m reading. I should keep a nail file nearby, or use an emery board as a bookmark.

For the most part, now that I’m technically a mature adult, I keep my nails looking long and neat. Occasionally I’ll splurge for a manicure, but that’s rare.

I still worry. I haven’t found a magic cure for that. Which is too bad.

But at least my fingernails don’t pay that price anymore.


I did a quick search and found a few articles about changing bad habits if you’re interested in learning more.






Categories: physical health, self-image | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Once in a while a writing prompt from WordPress vibrates one of those inner strings. Today’s did.

“What are you putting off? Why?”

Give me an hour or two and I’ll think this one over and write more on the topic. Plus I’ve got a few things I need to take care of.


Okay, I’m back. I didn’t procrastinate quite as long on this as I thought I might.

Here’s what I thought about.

Attending to Flight Attendants

(Photo credit: Felix_Nine)

Y’know on the airplane when the flight attendants do their safety spiel? There’s that part about if the cabin pressure suddenly drops then oxygen masks will drop in front of you. They then tell you that if you’re traveling with young children or a person who requires assistance you should put on your own mask first. Once your oxygen mask is in place then you help others with their oxygen masks.

That goes against every instinct most parents have. Kids always come first, don’t they? Almost always. And if you’re a caregiver, priority number one is the person you care for.

The reason behind these instructions of putting on your own oxygen mask first is simple. In the time it takes for you to help someone else with their mask, you might not get enough oxygen to be coherent or conscious enough to put on your own.

What in the heck does this have to do with what I procrastinate?

My procrastination problem involves neglecting my own needs in favor of almost everyone else’s needs.


Because I have this drive to make other people feel happy, comfortable, loved, cared for, safe, needed and known.That’s who I am. I feel almost selfish when I take time for myself. It’s always been a paradox to figure out how to meet my own needs while caring for others.

The result of this procrastination of my rest, my food, my exercise, my down time, my mental and spiritual nurturing is burnout, exhaustion, lack of clear thinking, self-pity, depression and ineffective use of time.

Surely there is a solution.

In the past my solution has been to wake up earlier, or stay up later, or both in order to take care of me. Which then eats into my sleep time. After a while, that “solution” has created more of a problem than a help. I’m overly tired, cranky, whiny and not very kind or patient. I start to resent those people I’m wanting to serve. Generosity and niceness fly out the window.


(Photo credit: drbrain)

I’m not sure I have a solution yet. But the image of an oxygen mask dropped in front of my face keeps popping into my head.

Do you think that’s a clue?

Putting me first makes sense, logically. Implementing that solution requires mental rewiring and emotional redirects.

I’m not so sure I can pull it off. But I need to.

Putting myself first.

Taking care of me.

Me first.


Looks like I have some work to do.

Categories: Family, Mental Health, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Scrabblize: A New Word for the Dictionary

Scrabble game

Scrabble game (Photo credit: jcolman)

Actually I should probably spell the title of this post Scrabble I’s. It sounds the same but means something different.

Let me explain.

About year ago life pulled me up short and quick. One too many sure-I’d-be-happy-to’s, one straw too many on this particular camel’s back, far too many aches on the heart, and far too little sleep. I’d been through a couple of tough years and was working my way down off the teetering cliff edge of stress and worry.

One day it just hit. I couldn’t do it anymore. My body and my brain and my heart all just said, “Nope. No more. Not going another step. Done. Finished.”

Kaput – On Empty

Instead of getting out of bed and getting on with the getting on I dragged myself to the couch and sobbed for an hour or two or three. Then I lay there like a bag of rocks. Unmoving. Unmoved. Worn down completely.

Talked things over with MSH, with a conclusion that I needed a break, needed to get away, regardless of our non-existent resources. He pulled a rabbit out of hat and a few hours later I found myself on a plane headed to my cousin’s house. My return ticket was for a week later with the option of staying longer if I needed to.

I did a ton of sleeping, especially the first few days. I did a mountain of thinking. And got in some high quality nature time. Denver is awesome that way.  And in the evenings my cousin and I played Scrabble, live and in-person, instead of on the internet like we usually do.

As usual she won most of the games

In Scrabble you can get some weird letter combinations on your tray. Seven letters and all of them vowels is a common one. Or all of them consonants, happens more often than I care to count.

It’s not even unusual to get three or even four of the same letter on your tray at once.That’s annoying and kind of useless for scoring the big words and high numbers.

Something weird happened during one particular game. Cue the eerie music.

My tray filled up with “I” tiles.

What the aitch?

Getting a tray full of almost all the “I” tiles was aggravating. Can you think of any words with lots of I’s? I can’t. I couldn’t. Even if I cheated and used a word builder program on the computer, which I don’t do, there was little I could do with that many I’s.

Français : Lettre I dans le Scrabble

There are nine tiles with the letter “I” in the version of Scrabble we were playing. I got eight of them, not all at once, but close together, with six on my tray at one time.

“Maybe the tiles are trying to tell me something,” I said to my cousin.

Ever the wise and thoughtful one, she asked me what I thought it meant to get almost all the “I” tiles.

I figured it was the “game maker’s” way of telling me I needed to think about “I” more often. It was MY turn for a while. “I” needed to take care of my needs, my health, my mental well-being, my basics.

I kind of knew that by then anyway, but this was just a strange reinforcing visual of what needed to happen.

The song by that country western dude came to mind almost immediately, you know the one, by Toby Keith:

“I wanna talk about me

Wanna talk about I

Wanna talk about number one

Oh my me my

What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see

I like talking about you you you you, usually, but occasionally

I wanna talk about meeeeee

I wanna talk about me”

I didn’t just want to talk about me. “I” needed to talk about and take care of me for a change. The Scrabble tiles were pretty clear about it.

Like Spinning Plates

Spinning Plates Lego Style  (Photo credit: Jameson42)

Balancing Rocks or Spinning Plates

Well, my cousin and I discussed the need for the ever-elusive concept of balance in our lives. That seems a sort of common thread in many of our conversations. How to achieve balance, why it’s so difficult to find, what to drop or add where.

I don’t normally take advice from Scrabble tiles. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But this one time, it seemed the perfect recipe for finding balance.

To twenty or more parts “U”

add eight parts “I”

for a more reasonable, balanced, livable life.

Stir well.

Season to taste.

Add more “I” as needed.

I’m certain that escaping to paradise for a week isn’t a normally balanced way of adding more “I” to one’s life. But it sure helped mine out.

Not your typical resolution

I returned to real life with a resolve to take care of myself more conscientiously.

I have an almost daily reminder when “My turn” pops up on my computer Scrabble game. There’s often an “I” tile that tweaks my balance meter and causes me to check my “I” gauges.

Writing this blog is part of that “I” time. Every day I focus on “I” for an hour or two, doing what I love, writing, thinking, and then writing some more. Then I get on with my day, taking care of all the “U”s in my life.


(Photo credit: Emma Humphrey)

Scrabble I’s.

Scrabblize. It might not be in any dictionary, but it’s in my vocabulary anyway.

Your turn.

Have you ever gotten a message or advice you needed from an unusual source or in an odd way?

It’d be fun to hear about it, if you’d like to share.

Categories: Mental Health | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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