I sat down to write about self-care when I realized that I have been practicing it almost completely for nearly the past year. At first, it wasn’t intentional to withdraw from many of my normal practices – such as writing this blog, which I have done monthly for almost a decade now. It is a bit surprising to me to realize that I haven’t written or posted since March 2016. At first, I just got immersed in some major projects like taking my coaching to the next level, more deeply developing my healing skills and fulfilling some new professional roles.
Then, some summer plans took me away from my typical activities for extended periods including a week-long Green River canoe trip with friends – delightful, relaxing and fun. A month in Montana with my parents at their new summer place was really low-key and totally great. I guided five river trips – the busiest river summer in 14 years, and a bit more than I bargained for, actually. Finally, I had the opportunity to return to Burning Man when some last minute tickets came through, and the planning and prep and travel there and back took up the better part of a month.
September is always a busy month for me. National Hazing Prevention Week coincides with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. In my “other life” I am a speaker and hazing prevention expert who gets invited to appear in the media and travel around the country talking with college students about hazing. On October 11th, I completed my last speaking engagement in Texas, and on the 13th I boarded a plane first to San Diego and then a few days later to the Big Island of Hawaii for a three month internship on an organic farm and cancer retreat center where I have been ever since.
Whew! That felt like a lot as I was writing it all down, and maybe you are saying, “Hmm I don’t really see the self-care part in all of that busyness.” So let’s break it down, because self-care is a concept that most of us don’t really understand, and rarely embrace in our fast-paced lives (me included). And there is more to the story than what I’ve shared here so far. All that stuff I’ve listed . . . that’s just logistics. That’s external. It’s scheduling. Self-care is internal. It’s reflective. It includes “emotional first aid,” a term used by Guy Winch in his TED Talk by the same name. Often, when we think of self-care it involves the body in some way – hot baths, a warm drink or other food treat, and/or a nice massage. The self is made up of mind, body and spirit, and all must be cared for in order for the self to thrive.
In May when I got cell phone reception again after having been on the river with friends for a week, I had a message from my oncologist as well as a few texts. It seems he had been trying to reach me to tell me that my blood marker was on the rise again. After three cancer diagnoses, we are both pretty aware by now that when it goes up, something is going on. Since I was heading straight to Montana after my Utah canoe trip, I told him the scans would have to wait until July. I spent a month enjoying myself, and time with my parents, and practicing self-care, and I rarely thought about what news I might receive from my scans, which did confirm, in July, several small tumors growing in my abdomen.
Self-care is about recognizing what is good for you, and doing that. I could have allowed someone else’s urgency to delay my drive to Montana so I could get scans more quickly, or spent my month away worried about whether or not the cancer was back and what was coming next. I didn’t. When I experienced some brief, but excruciating, arm pain in September, just weeks before I was scheduled to leave for Hawaii, I spent a brief time wondering if this problem – whatever it was – might prevent me from fulfilling my farm work internship. It didn’t. When my absentee ballot didn’t arrive for the presidential election, and my mail forwarding seemed to function only sporadically, and the election results weren’t what I expected, I could have devolved into massive frustration and upset that marred my time on the island. I didn’t.
Self-care means that sometimes what you decide isn’t convenient or expedient for others (ok, often it means that), and you have to let go of what is best for them in order to do what is best for YOU. This is often one of the biggest barriers, especially for those of us who are people-pleasers or helper types. We so want to be helpful that we will say yes to almost any opportunity to do so, even if it isn’t in our best interests. We shouldn’t. I let go of quite a bit this fall in order to truly take care of myself through cancer-recurrence number three. Blogging has never been a chore for me. It is something I love. I work out my own issues through writing about them. But when blog topics didn’t show up and writing didn’t flow naturally, I gave it up until it did.
I had great intentions of fleshing out some new course ideas, sending out email newsletters, working on a new business idea and picking up some new coaching clients during my time in Hawaii. I didn’t. I got up early most days to continue coaching the clients I had (since Hawaii is several hours earlier than the mainland), I fulfilled some other obligations from afar, and I practiced a whole lot of self-care. I came to Hawaii for some very specific reasons, and I realized early on that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill those if I was too stuck in what I was supposed to do, from either a personal or a professional perspective, back at home. I wanted to actually be here in Hawaii in mind, body and spirit.
My goals for this internship were:
To learn how to grow, store, prepare and preserve food.
To get into shape by working outdoors in the sunshine and eating healthily.
To practice living in community and off the grid (since this is a goal someday soon).
I can honestly say that I have fulfilled them all 100%. I’ve learned so much during these three months about farming and fermenting, yes, and so much more that wasn’t on the list. I have maintained a daily Qigong practice that has enriched my life in so many ways. I have shared a small space with 5-7 other people in harmony 98-percent of the time. When it rained for six weeks straight and everything I owned was damp, and we were up to our ankles in mud everyday, and I missed the Colorado sunshine, I reminded myself that I was in paradise and all this rain made everything grow. (And I got to the beach on the “dry side” of the island whenever I could).
When I would have guilty pangs about not being in touch with friends back home as often as I wanted to, not completing any of the professional tasks I intended, not being home for the holidays with my family for the first time ever, I would remind myself of what my friend said to me once over coffee when I had just been given the news about one of my cancer recurrences: “It is great to take care of other people,” he said, “and you have such a great heart for service. But you can’t take care of anyone if you’re dead, so you better learn to take care of yourself first.” Wow, was that great advice, and the best reason I know of to practice good self-care.
So I’m sorry I’ve been out of touch. I have missed blogging, and I have missed connecting with you. I haven’t missed the stress, upset, frustration, busyness, and many other things that often accompany my daily to do list though. I have been so happy to let go of those to put my hands in the dirt, breathe deeply, enjoy lots of rainbows and sunsets, learn a new energy practice, pick food out of my backyard and cook it minutes later, and generally take good care of the most important person in my life – ME.
Oh, and I’ve come to really enjoy boogie boarding too.
I will be back in Denver on February 7th, and I look forward to connecting with you in whatever way will be of service – a coaching session, river trip, workshop, retreat or speaking engagement. I am at your service. And please know that what I am able to provide will be greatly enhanced by the fact that I have been practicing good self-care for quite a while now. I’m happy to help you learn to practice it too. In fact, if we are to work together, I will insist that you do.