self-care doesn’t always feel great

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I would like to report I am hale and hearty, that all is well in my world. After all, I ate yummy food for brekky with kind & funny people in our cozy house where I sit right now looking out on my sunny garden. Should I wish, I can wash myself or my dishes in clean running water. I’d like to say this is all I need. But in truth, I cannot.

The externals are in place. My life looks fine. I look fine (thanks for noticing!). But I’m a bit rattled & raw inside because of my commitment to self-care.

Self-care doesn’t always feel great.

For example, this Thursday, I walked the mile or so from my house to Riverside Medical Center for my yearly mammogram. I see this as part of preventive-care for personal wellness. Self-care 101.

I also see this as a form of elective pain and discomfort. I don’t have to do it, but I choose to. To celebrate my positive but uncomfortable choice, I lined up a pedicure right after the exam. As we all know, the small luxury of a massage chair and warm foot soak goes a long way toward evening out the painful indignities of having intimate body parts smashed and scanned by a stranger.

Did the pedicure help? Maybe. I really like looking at my toes. But did it even out the pain? Not really. Here’s the thing about pain: We don’t pair pain with self-care. Healthy people don’t like pain. We think pain should be avoided. We think pain is bad. But is it?

Before I continue, let me assure you: I do not like pain. I do not seek it out. I am not a masochist. I think the motto No Pain No Gain is rubbish!

I treasure joy & pleasure & happiness. I would like to figure out how to ramp up the energizing feelings and diminish the draining ones. But it is impossible. I’ve noticed that a good deal of a good life involves deep feelings — including pain and discomfort. And current research backs me up on the impossibility of diminishing one and not the other.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” ~ Brené Brown

This wisdom came to mind when someone sent me this message:

In my own opinion, I think what I see which is a barrier to me wanting to use you is your constant reference to yourself and your own struggles. You sound bogged down in your own challenges which doesn’t make you sound available and/or effective. It sounds self preoccupied. I would make others your focus online and shape your messages in another voice. Otherwise it doesn’t give the reader hope or uplift them.”

The comment made me pause. Do I tone down my struggles so people will want to “use” me? Is that the purpose for this site? Should I share only the un-bogged down bits? Change my voice? Should I abandon or tidy up references to my pain? Should I write more selectively, hopefully, upliftingly?

Like my writing models Anne Lamott and David Sedaris, I think one way to redeem a challenge — aka sh***y experience — is to turn it into material. So, will I take this advice? Nope.

I will keep doing what I’m doing which is write to figure out what I think. Write to get out of my head & open my life in case you connect and feel less alone. Write to share stories in the only voice I have: mine. Write so that I never waste a struggle.

I’m glad for the opportunity to process that. But I digress.

Back to feeling rattled & raw.

Why these feelings? Because not all self-care is delightful & delicious. (And not all hopeful & uplifting writing is always hopeful & uplifting.)

Often, painful & draining emotions breathe in the same space as energizing emotions. Positive, proactive choices — a source of energizing emotions — can come with a heaping side of discomfort.

As some readers know, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis — a somewhat rare autoimmune disease — about two years ago. Treatment since then has made life mostly quite manageable. I am grateful! But I’ve had a rough patch since the new year. For seven weeks I explored the limits of frequent to constant double vision. Meds adjusted. New neurologist found. Vision clear. Thank! Goodness!

Because of MG, I’m now considering self-care that looks like major surgery. And *spoiler alert* it also looks like a low-budget blood-and-guts horror film — if you google images for thymectomy. I had to put my head between my legs for a few minutes after that visual onslaught. (When the light-headedness passed, I felt vindicated for my choice to be an artist/writer/teacher.)

This elective discomfort is up for consideration because I’m all about self-care. Long-term health and well-being matter to me. I want to do what I can so that I thrive. Reading the literature and discussing the procedure with two neurologists, I understand the risks and the benefits. No guarantees, but greater likelihood of fewer meds over time, and the possibility of remission.

I’m figuring out insurance, vacation/travel dates, how much emotional support I need & have, etc. so I don’t have a date for surgery right now. What I do have is choices.

Today, I practice self-care with these choices:

I choose to love and accept my body. I choose to love and accept my life.

These choices are mine. These choices are about self-care & well-being. These choices do not feel easy or great. They feel scary. They feel tender. And they feel brave.

Here’s what I know about a thymectomy (surgery):

It will be very uncomfortable. And I will heal.

It will leave a scar. And I will still wear my bikini.

The scar from thymectomy surgery will extend above and below my bikini top.

The scar from thymectomy surgery will extend above and below my bikini top right over my heart.

Here’s what I know about self care: Self-care is kind of like my writing, a mixed bag. It doesn’t always feel great, but it can still be helpful and even empowering.

Over to you:

What are you doing for your personal health and well-being? How do you practice self-care?

 

8 Responses to self-care doesn’t always feel great

  1. Susie Miller March 5, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

    Well, Rebecca, first of all, glad you didn’t listen to that comment! Sharing your personal story (aka challenge) is what it’s all about. I want to hear YOUR story to learn how YOU overcame it or, just lived with it! Anne Lamott and David Sedaris are perfect role models for this. As for self-care and your recent challenges…so sorry about new issues coming up. Sorry about surgery, too. But you will make the best choice, and the hard choice…whatever that is. Love to you! (and BTW, many of us have survived sans bikini–so to speak–for decades and still have joy! LOL…) How do I self-care? Time making art. Time at the ocean. Time with my girlfriends. Chocolate. Pedicures (Ah the restorative power of sparkly toes!). xoxSusie

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane March 5, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      thanks for cheering, susie! i’m so glad you’re part of my tribe. feeling very blessed.

      i chalk up comments like the one i shared to having a distinctive take. if i didn’t draw criticism, than i’d have to wonder if what i write is just more elevator music.

      what solid, sustainable self-care you practice. i would so love to join you for a long beach walk and then an evenig at your studio to create art journal pages. let’s put our heads together and make this so!

  2. Bridget Tucker March 6, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    I always read your writing (although I have never before responded). Often you talk about the very things I struggle with; this time especially. Although I am not dealing with any physical concern that is nearly as serious as yours, I am attempting to self care by not downwardly comparing my life issues with those of others who face far greater problems. I am trying to redefine “whining” as simply stating a fact that will enable me to up-shift my attitude–good food for my spirit. If I recognize that most grievances and frustrations are part of being human, I can choose to be owned by them, or see them as connecting with everyone’s experiences of being human. Lots of times I fail to remember that, but when I do it’s terrific.

    You name a vital reality: “life is hard, but live it as fully as you can.” If one is to truly live that might be the only spirit that affords a chance at the reward of “well done” when we reach the obituary page.

    I too want art journal time, beach time, and good chocolate with good wine time–all of it with good friends because laughter comes easier with friends. I now vow to make it happen. Thank you

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane March 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

      Thank YOU, Bridget <3
      I feel the love and encouragement in your words. I like your definition of whining. Once we name a thing -- feeling, situation, idea -- we can decide how we relate to it. So glad you are stepping back from comparisions; minimizing personal experience equals minimizing our souls.
      Holding you in the light as you honor your vow.

  3. Diane .crane March 7, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    Hey, loved your column which I read aloud to hubby who is languishing in the hospital contemplating what it means to be well and alive. He and I are doing our best to care for each other and ourselves. Your shared experience is heart opening as well as mind opening….now, about that bikini! Nothing will mar how beautiful you look!! When I was a little girl, I went to have my appendix removed. Someone in the hospital told me that I would never be able to wear a bikini. I remember wondering what the heck are they talking about? And later I realized I was being shamed. Shamed because as a woman, I was expected to meet a standard of perfect beauty (whose standard?) or hide and cover myself. Golly! What would those people think of the tattoo culture now? Ha. Take care, my sweet. And be in touch. DCI

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane March 9, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      Dear Diane,
      How kind of you to share my words and respond. Hugs to your honey in hospital. And hugs to you as you care for him.

      What it means to be well and alive — to live well — is a question that keeps me company most every day. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande helped me examine the question in new ways. I think you might enjoy his writing and his perspective.

      About our bodies. How the heck did we get to this place? Writer Chery Strayed puts it well in her book Tiny Beautiful Things.

      “There are so many tiny revolutions in a life, a million ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. And perhaps the body is our final frontier. It’s the one place we can’t leave. We’re there till it goes. Most women and some men spend their lives trying to alter it, hide it, prettify it, make it what it isn’t, or conceal it for what it is. But what if we didn’t do that?”

      What if? And that’s where I’m going with the bikini. And it sounds like that’s where you’ve landed after sorting out the shame that begins so early that it doesn’t have a name.

      In the light and in my own skin,
      Rebecca

  4. adellshay March 31, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    Hello, Darling Rebecca! I just had the chance to read this blog, and I really get how uncomfortable it can be in the space of what is unknown. I am so grateful to have met you and to be part of your unfolding journey. Especially since you are generous enough to share it with us all so that we know it is safe to be real.

    Having been carved from neck to pelvis, I may have more scars visible while wearing my itty bitty teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini than anyone else I know. I have come to love these signs of courage and tenacity. One was from open-heart surgery, Three from Thoracic Outlet. Fourteen were from various organ and scar tissue removals. Three biguns were from intestinal surgeries… To each, I rub oil gently and sing praises. Thank you for opening. Thank you for closing. Thank you for healing.

    I am 6 feet tall, and one day in my 30s, trying to look very smart while walking around Harvard University, a car load of young boys circled the block several times yelling “AMAZON” at me each time they came round the block. Everyone on the street gaped. I was mortified and began crying. Then suddenly, I walked into a bookstore and looked up the definition of “Amazon” to find that these women warriors cut off their left breasts to make it easier to shoot arrows at their prey. I never minded being called an Amazon again, and I have celebrated each cut, knowing that it made me a better warrior and more able to be less of who I thought I was and more of who I truly am.

    If you join the zipper club (a name donned by all who have a zipper on their chest), you and I must hit the beach with our skinny selves in teenie weenie bikinis and bows slung over one shoulder.

    I shall be with you whatever your decision knowing that it is impossible for you not to choose perfectly.

    Love, Adell

    • Rebecca Waring-Crane April 1, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

      Dear stunning Amazon Adell,
      Yes! To openinging, closing & healing. Yes! to the signs of courage and tenacity. Yes! to celebrating the body, broken and beautiful, healing, moving, resonding.

      Cheryl Strayed’s words found me as I entered my new possibility.

      “There are so many tiny revolutions in a life, a million ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. And perhaps the body is our final frontier. It’s the one place we can’t leave. We’re there till it goes. Most women and some men spend their lives trying to alter it, hide it, prettify it, make it what it isn’t, or conceal it for what it is. But what if we didn’t do that?”

      We’re there till it goes. Yup. So. Let’s embrace it. All.

      Thank you for cheering. Love & kindness just tip my bucket! I’m so so so thankful we are friends.
      Hugs!

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