Self-What? Remembering Self-Care
Last updated: March 2021
At a recent physical therapy appointment at my pain management clinic, my therapist began to ask me questions related to self-care. "So have you tried the breathing techniques we talked about?" she asked. "Um...well...not really," I replied sheepishly.
She tried again, "How about meditation?" My response was another one filled with awkward "umms" and "errs" and then another "Well, not really."
"How about exercise?" she implored. What about it? Oh, right, have I done any exercise. Like, with my body. I struggled to answer this question too. Finally I thought of something that hopefully wouldn't make me sound like a total loser.
"I rode my bike one day!" I announced triumphantly. "It was great, actually, but I think I overdid it because my knee starting hurting a lot later that night and now I've been too afraid to get back on my bike." Sigh. And that was the truth. So much for self-care!
Why is self-care, especially when you have a chronic illness, so difficult to do or continue doing? Maybe it's easy for some people, but I've always had a very hard time practicing it--despite knowing that it would be good for me.
There are several factors that could help explain my failures at self-care, I think, such as: lack of time, lack of energy, emotional issues, RA pain issues, organizational issues. Yes, I have a lot of issues! However, even with all of the challenges that constantly get in my way of developing good self-care habits, I really do want to learn how to make self-care an important and consistent part of my life.
Having and making time for self-care is a big challenge for me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles with this. With working multiple jobs, volunteering, family, watching all of those true crime TV shows that freak me out, and dealing with everything that having RA entails--there's not much time. I know, I shouldn't be complaining when I'm single and I don't even have children to suck up the precious hours of my day. But still, I always seem to be running out the door, driving like a maniac somewhere, and chasing after the clock.
My organizational skills also affect my "time issues" and vice versa. Or, I should probably say my lack of organizational skills. Example: I don't know how many times I've tried keeping a planner and making "to-do" lists with little success. Many, many times. Yes, I buy planners in all shapes and sizes and make neatly-written lists, but then I invariably lose them somehow. To-do lists end up crumpled in the bottom of purses, hidden in notebooks (that also get lost), shoved in books and pockets, and who knows, maybe some to-do list monster comes in the middle of the night and gobbles them up along with my socks and pens. I don't know what my problem is, but I've always been a bit of a disaster when it comes to being organized and managing my time. Needless to say, my self-care suffers as a result.
Procrastination could probably be included in the "Time/Organization" section of this article, but because it's such a huge problem of mine, it gets its own special section. Congratulations, procrastination! Speaking of that, do you realize how long I've been putting off even writing this article? You don't want to know. For some reason, I often have trouble doing things that I even like doing, such as writing articles like this for RheumatoidArthritis.net, or, say, going to yoga. Or swimming. Biking. Painting. Knitting. Napping. Seriously, what is my problem? "I've been meaning to do that" is a phrase I think and say way too much, I've realized.
Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to accomplish things in your head or feel like you're accomplishing things because you're thinking about them all the time. Does this happen to anybody else, by the way, or is it just me? As we all know, it takes real physical (and mental) energy to do things. Living with varying degrees of RA pain and fatigue every day makes activity, of any sort, often quite difficult.
How do you muster up enough energy to drive to the swimming pool after you've worked all day, mostly on your feet, teaching kindergarteners? How do you find extra "spoons" when you spent your last one halfway through the day after doing two loads of laundry? I could go on listing all of the everyday things, big and small, that often wipe me out, but I think you get the drift. I'm often running dangerously low on energy. What's funny is that I do know that practicing good self-care would probably help with my pain and low energy, if I can make myself do it.
Pain, of course, is another major issue when it comes to practicing self-care and developing any kind of habit, I'd argue. Pain--real, stabbing, shooting, aching, throbbing, and endlessly assaulting--can get in the way of almost anything. And it does. A lot. It can't be ignored, and it forces us to adapt our lives around it. What I just haven't figured out yet is how to adapt my pain, in all its degrees and shades, to include self-care alongside it.
Denial, anybody? Guilt? Self-loathing? Frustration? I'm well-acquainted with all of those feelings, and they're definitely obstacles to successfully practicing self-care. Denial is more of a sneaky, subconscious offender, I think, because it takes its form in me trying too hard to do too much. I prefer to think I'm like every other able-bodied person out there who can successfully juggle working full-time, family responsibilities, a social life, and whatever else able-bodied people do. The only problem is, I'm not like other people who are healthy and don't have to fight an uphill battle against pain and disability every day. Sometimes I don't know my limitations, or I don't want to admit to them, and therefore I don't think I even need self-care. Or, I don't need it that much. Guess what? I do need it.
Guilt is another fun one. I'm guessing that I'm not alone in feeling guilty about taking the time (and energy) to practice self-care. If I stop and make time to try meditating, for example, I often feel like I should be doing something more "productive"--such as editing photos, updating my website, applying for jobs, or a million other things on all of those lost to-do lists. Simply taking the time to rest and relax is difficult for me; I usually want to keep going and working on things. Guilt, along with fears of being "lazy," find a way to creep into my head and torment me whenever I stop to rest. Napping during the day is also something that I very rarely do. However, I'm sure that a little nap here and there would probably help with my pain--especially if I'm not getting enough sleep at night.
So, now that I've pointed my finger at all of the things in life that stop me from engaging in effective self-care, and doing so on a regular basis, what's something good that can come from all of this? Recognizing there's a problem or that a change needs to be made is an important first step, and I think I've definitely reached that. Now I need to look more closely at where and how I can make those changes. Simply getting more sleep at night is something I could start doing. More sleep means more energy, and more energy means more time and "spoons" available in the day to accomplish daily goals and to practice good self-care habits.
What I would really like to know is what other people's self-care habits are. Do you practice self-care? How? How often? Does it help? If anybody has any good tips, recommendations, or stories to share, I would love to hear them.
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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