Self care and scarcity

IMG_9551.JPGIn thinking about how I’m going to go about having this midlife crisis, wherein I dig out of of my 15 year phase of self neglect, I am finding it helpful to use the information I’ve gathered over the years from my work with children, my own and other people’s, and my work with the elderly. My mom, who went from being a preschool teacher to being a corporate trainer used to tell me, in reference to the transfer of skills from her old job to the new one, that people really didn’t change as much as they thought they did from 4 to 40. Their basic needs, the way they tick, and the things that help motivate them, were really pretty consistent across the years. My own experiences working with the very young and very old have shown that to be very true.
Teepa Snow, a popular dementia educator (if you love someone with dementia, you owe it to yourself to check her out) says that there are four major types of human activity that need to be addressed to create meaning in a person’s day. The first is productive activity. This can be paid or not. It’s what you contribute to society and your community. This is an area where I feel very blessed. Everyday, both at work and at home, presents me with ample opportunity to feel productive and contribute to the greater good. This particular kind of activity is not something most adults my age are conciously grateful for. We often have so much more opportunity for productive activity than we can realisticly handle that it feels more like a burden than a blessing. That is one gift that working with children and the elderly has given me. Seeing how much both groups struggle when they don’t feel as though they have a valuable contribution to make has helped me to cultivate gratitude for the work I have to do.
The second type is leisure activity. Things you do for their own sake. This can be anything from watching a game, playing cards, playing music, worship, or reading a novel. I could use a little work in this area, but not as much as you’d probably imagine. I am passionate enough about the things I do for their own sake that, when things do get out of balance in this area, I naturally push back and make time for them.
The third type of activity is self care. This is where I really fall down. The thing I have noticed is that most of my arguments to myself about why I should do better at this also surround the needs of others. If I were better rested, had better health, and took better care of myself, I would have more leftover to give. While this is true, I think it’s probably not a very good motivator for longterm change. Somehow I have to get to the point of valuing self care as much for my own sake as for others. How exactly I’m going to do that, I haven’t figured out yet.
The fourth type of activity is rest and restoration. This is also an area I struggle with, but again, not as badly as you might imagine. At 40 years old, my body just flat out refuses to cooperate anymore if it gets to the end of it’s energy and doesn’t get a recharge. Really, that window where you can just abuse yourself and push through without rest was short. I have some young coworkers who can pull 16 hour shifts, sleep three minutes, eat a bowl of ramen and get back to work. I remember being like that, but I had pretty much wrapped that phase of my life up by 25. Due to the lack of self care, my ability to recharge isn’t all that efficient, but it’s not completely neglected. Honestly, if there was one thing I would do differently in my youth, it would be to place a higher value on rest and restoration. It’s vastly underrated.
So the question, as it always is, is how to give myself the resources I need for better self care, when my resources are limited and already stretched. What kinds of self care am I most in need of? One source of frequent frustration between my husband and myself is that he is pretty good about just taking something if he needs it. If he needs new pants, he buys them. He doesn’t fret over it, or feel guilty over it. If his hair is getting too long, he cuts it. If he’s hungry, he eats. He’s not doing these things because he thinks he deserves them and I don’t. He’s doing them because they are reasonable self care, but I often take it personally, like he is taking a bigger slice of the pie. I constantly feel the pull of productive activity. I can’t decide how much of that is just reasonable, after all, there is a lot of productive activity that needs to be done, and I often feel like it’s not done very well, and how much of it is a habit of busyness. That is something I am really going to need to examine this year of I’m going to get a handle on this thing.

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