The Selfless Practice of Self-Care

It’s strawberry season! My little city just had a strawberry festival, and although I was not able to attend (there was a torrential rain), my husband picked me up some strawberries as he knows my fondness for anything “berry”.

Lately I have been thinking about “self-care” a good bit. I recently made a choice to not do something on behalf of someone I care for and I knew (from their reaction and words) how much I disappointed them. With strawberries on hand (and no dried beans or walnuts as the illustration normally requires), I decided to re-do the illustration with some different elements. I had rice, almonds and now strawberries. Hey… you work with what you have, am I right?

I hate disappointing people. Especially people I really care about and enjoy being around. I have only recently earned a self-awarded “certificate of self-care advocacy”. My normal response to being asked to do something I cannot do, should not do, and will sacrifice my health/mental health to do was “sure! No problem!” and a default. It’s hard to practice self-care at times, because others misunderstand and may believe you are being selfish, self-pitying, or lack compassion for others. I have learned to “stick to my guns”, but it doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and feel another’s disappointment in me. The flip side? I am not disappointed in myself.

My Re-Make of an Old Illustration

So let’s say the grains of rice are all the little things we do each and every day. They are choices to spend 5-10 minutes doing “this or that”. They are relatively unimportant tasks that if left undone, the world does not implode.

The almonds are more important things. I’m going to call my “nuts” family <grin>, close friends, advocacy groups, work and professional life, and community service/faith practices.

The strawberry is me. This big, luscious (- hey… jus’ sayin’) berry includes my physical health, mental health, emotional well-being, and spiritual well-being.

In the jar on the left <points up>, I filled my day/life with all the inconsequential things first, then the “nuts” in my life, and finally me – a big, beautiful strawberry…

… that doesn’t fit.

The jar on the right has the berry going in first. The rice and nuts settle around it just fine. (Yes, I measured and each jar has equal amounts of rice and almonds). If you look carefully, not only did everything FIT, there is some left-over room at the top.

Mayhap poorly illustrated, the point is that if you do NOT put yourself first everything will NOT fit.

Ya gotta NOURISH to FLOURISH

Folks with disability have a hard time with self-care. Let’s stop and discuss possible reasons:

  1. They feel guilty already because they may require another’s assistance and time to do normal tasks.
  2. They rarely have 50/50 friendships. They fear they will be labeled as “takers” and not “givers”.
  3. They fear a lack of control over their lives. Instead, they sacrificially try to help others first, ultimately hurting themselves.
  4. They want to be useful and have a life of purpose.
  5. They believe to say they cannot do something admits defeat.
  6. They work WAY to hard trying to live up to the accomplishments or abilities of someone else who shares their diagnosis but not their life. (No two people are alike).

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is that I cannot live a life with purpose and make a difference if I do not take care of myself FIRST. It’s not selfish. It’s selfLESS. If I do not take care of myself, I am useless and unable to do anything at all for anyone else. I have made the mistake of saying “yes” to something with too high a price tag, only to suffer for days, weeks, or months physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When I practice good “self-care”, I am actually able to do MORE for others.

Now you may be thinking that’s all fine and dandy, but if I am saying “no” to things in order to protect my energy levels, health, and mental health, aren’t people going to really stop seeing a person with disability who CAN have a life of purpose and instead see someone DISABLED?

Not if you handle turning down requests the right way.

You can’t babysit your niece this weekend because you know you need some extra rest? Ask if you can babysit with a 7-10 day notice so that you can rest up in ADVANCE and help with babysitting.

You (and others) were asked to volunteer for a community service opportunity that would mean an entire day of being in a big crowd? (With Meniere’s disease, I can only take so much jostling). Ask if you can donate snacks for the breaks. Ask if there is anything you can do behind the scenes.

Work is having a “walk a mile in her shoes” event. (Everyone wears heels and walks a designated route and distance to support rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence programs and survivors). Y’all? I can’t walk 3 feet in heels with a balance disorder, let alone toddle, stumble and do face-plants all the way around a track with my colleagues. This doesn’t mean I can’t: Invite others to participate, give extra credit to students who participate, volunteer to hand out bottles of water (and bandaids-snort), and cheer along the side-lines. 

Let’s say you really like visiting with a person and care about them a great deal. However, what if they have baggage (in the form of spouses or intimate partners) that may accompany your “person” who is toxic to you and everyone you know? Offer to meet with the friend for a one-on-one lunch or visit. You set the safe boundaries and ultimately enjoy your time with them.

Work related requirements: I have learned that if a meeting or activity is required and yet will not be fully accessible to me (hearing, space to move safely, etc.) to request accommodations WITHOUT APOLOGY. However, then I work hard to be fully invested and participate with enthusiasm. 

In closing, I wanted to share a final thought. This one I am still working on and currently fail to do it right more than I do it wrong.

Don’t apologize for practicing self-care.

I worry too much about what people think I suppose. I tend to TMI (too much information) after declining an invitation to participate in something and make excuses when none are necessary. I’m trying to learn not to say:

I’m sorry I can’t help with that. I know I’m letting you down.

and instead say,

I know myself well enough I cannot do that safely. I am trying to practice self-care. May I do “this (fill-in-the-blank)” instead?

Develop a self-care plan. Chart out (it helps to see it, I promise!) what you can do in a day and what you can do in a week. Stubbornly defend your right to say “no” to something when your chart is already full. Y’all? Don’t scratch out that necessary NAP to do a task for someone else instead. If your nap is needed to re-charge, make it a priority.

Take care of yourself! (A great article on what self-care IS and IS NOT – CLICK HERE).

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

© 2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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I Would Rather Walk with a Friend in the Dark, than Alone in the Light

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I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light — Helen Keller

I graduated from Walsh High School in a rural area of Colorado in 1984. Fast forward 34 years <wince> and I am graduating again with now my final degree. In 1984 I was a healthy young woman with a moderate hearing loss in one ear. In 2018 I am a middle-aged woman in a perpetual state of getting healthy <wince>, profoundly deaf (and “hearing again” as long as I am wearing my bionics) and an adult with disability from Meniere’s disease and Post Concussive Syndrome.

It may surprise you to learn that I am happier and healthier (emotionally and psychologically) than I was at the age of 18. Life has been hard – and continues to be, but doesn’t everyone experience that in some form or fashion? My challenges have made me who I am today.

The 2018 Denise, has found a life worth living by embracing my unique challenges and focusing my life and energy in the disability community. Oh yes! It’s hard sometimes… dark even; however, I am amongst friends, fellow warriors, super heroes, and advocates.

May I just say, “THANK GOD FOR THE INTERNET”? There are numerous research studies that support that the Internet has connected, educated, and created a platform for advocacy for those with disability. The community, the friends I have found over the last 34 years has made every challenge I’ve shouldered worth it. Most of the people with disabilities I have come to know have different challenges and diagnoses. Yet all work hard to experience the best quality of life they can. We use a variety of accessibility tools, medications, assistive devices, and medical procedures to maximize every opportunity while insisting on a productive and meaningful life. We are stubborn. We believe in self-care. Our priorities tend to be the things that really matter. Some of us are Spoonies.

My dissertation, something I have become quite passionate about, revolves around the theory that traumatic events and diagnoses do not have to destroy a person. As a matter of fact, a wealth of research (my own included) supports that these events can stimulate growth – the foundation of Posttraumatic Growth studies.

This doesn’t mean that I do not have bad days. They happen. Those bad days are something you recognize and experience as well. Yet I have learned that walking in the dark and challenging path of life with disability with all OF YOU, is far better than any walk I took on the lighted, well-tended path alone.

My challenges are progressive. Do you know that doesn’t even bother me? I’ve learned how resilient I am and I have learned to:

  1. Reach out to my community when needed for support
  2. Ask for advice and work-arounds
  3. Find new ways of doing things
  4. Rely on a loyal service dog for minuscule but necessary tasks I was too afraid to bother others with
  5. Believe in myself
  6. Pray hard – but work harder
  7.  Never stop learning
  8. Believe the future is accessible
  9. Stand with others
  10. Be vulnerable and open about the good and the bad

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I’ve also learned to CHOOSE HAPPINESS and to do my best to spread that message. It may seem like a difficult choice some days, but cognitive psychologists agree that if you deliberately change your thinker (your chooser), it will change your feeler, and show in a change in your behavior. It is amazing what “choosing happiness” can do to your personal outlook. Don’t be afraid to embrace the days you scream and cry and cuss up a storm (sorry mom). Those days will happen as well. I have learned though that if my focus is positive advocacy and choosing happiness, those screaming days are few and far between.

I’ve always admired Helen Keller. This intelligent and gifted woman had neither sight nor hearing. Yet Helen learned that her life “in the dark” was pleasantly full of like-minded friends and associates. She knew the value of walking in the dark with a friend. I hope you can learn to embrace that mindset as well.

L. Denise Portis, Ph.D.

©2018 Personal Hearing Loss Journal