Lovely Living

be kind to yourself

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A woman once told me that I need to learn to be kind to myself.

I was reentering the world after a deep depression, and finding a life that I didn’t know I’d had. I was in the process of both beginning and ending relationships. I was no longer panicking daily. My mind was beginning to store memories again.

I told her that I was doing better. She laughed and said “you still need to do it.”

I called (or maybe emailed?) her and asked what she meant. I don’t remember her answer, but that that night, I stopped by a bakery and bought a slice of chocolate cake.

I ate it at my university-issued desk in the dorm room I once hated. The window was open. Someone in the courtyard was playing Joni Mitchell.

This past few days? They were hard ones. Pedestrian culprits – long hours, insomnia, crap food hoovered in inconvenient places. I came to the end of the week depleted.

My work follows a cycle that peaks in March. My hours will go bonkers, rhythms throw out the window. My stress levels go up, sleep goes down. I read less, workout less (though my job itself becomes physical), eat worse. I once described this season as “hell, but so great,” because even though it’s hard, it’s powerfully rewarding. That being said, this weekend is the last entirely free weekend that I’ll have in a while, and I’m savoring it.

I went grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, and the teenager who rang me up sang “My Girl” under his breath. I was so delighted (right up to the point when he pointed at the frozen pizzas and asked if I have teenagers. Kid, I’m 24!) I nearly cried.

Today, my plan is to be nice to myself. This sounds so self-indulgent I almost can’t stand it, but I think practicing simple kindness towards myself will do me good.

I’m going to cook. I have a fridge full of fresh food (finally!), and I’m going to give myself time to follow a detailed recipe I clipped from a magazine several years ago. So rarely do I give myself time to enjoy creating a meal.

I’m going to read. Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea is captivating, but I’m also craving my weathered copy of Anne’s House of Dreams. Since I was eleven, I’ve read all eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series in the spring. Last year, I didn’t, and it felt like I leapfrogged something important.

It’s rare for my days to feel loose and open. Even when I’m “free,” I border my time, hem myself in with private plans. You know what feels radically kind today? To not do that.

The sun is out. Last night’s dusting of snow is gone, and tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to reach the 60’s. (And Minnesota said amen!). Two years ago (two!), I bought a candle that smelled so good I put it into a drawer. I placed the candle underneath my favorite piece of artwork (a drawing someone gave to my grandparents on their wedding), and lit it. In my cupboard, I have gluten free cookies that taste better when they’re eaten one at a time.

Too often, I catch myself thinking “why can’t it all be easier?” Sometimes, it is easy.

Yesterday, I put pink tulips on my table, because when I was a little girl, my mother painted a border of tulips along the molding of my bedroom. I loved their pink, purple, and yellow. In the spring, I would try to pick them.

Kindness, sometimes, is easy like this.

Bookshelf, Journey to Health, Lovely Living

Life Lately: Getting Back to the Joy of It All

1115“Sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it; I’d seldom thought of it like that. Going nowhere as a way of cutting through the noise and finding fresh time and energy to share with others; I’d sometimes moved toward the idea, but it had never come home to me so powerfully.” The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer

These past four or five months have not been bad months, but they’ve been busy months, and busy is hard for me. Each week has been stuffed with work commitments, and weekly appointments, and friends and family, and I-didn’t-know-that-was-coming, and I’ve looked up again and again and said “I need some rest.”

I prefer to move at a slower pace, keeping open wide swaths of time for the people and pursuits I love best. I’ve heard this called creating margin—opening up time and energy around the unshakable commitments of life to make room for more rest, more joy. While I hesitate to call these margins a “need,” because they’re a luxury afforded to me by age and life-stage and privilege, I do know I struggle when my margins disappear.

This spring wound me tight. So tight I began to fray at the edges. I made myself overworked and overtired and overstressed. I came to the end of my days, and I let myself collapse ointo a heap on the couch. I forwent cooking one meal, then another, then another, and I slowly traded a robust reading and writing rhythm for eleven and a half seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. (Y’all, this show has NO business being on its twelfth season). I isolated myself even more than I usually do until I was only seeing people at pre-appointed times. I filled up every blank minute with some form of distraction, because it feels so much easier passively take than actively create.

I built up all these bad habits, and my body responded. Sleep deteriorated, and as my sugar and caffeine intakes rose, my body and mind both became sluggish. I was perpetually not sick, but not well. Then, a month ago, I began breaking out in hives and eczema, and last week, after a nerve-wracking (and expensive) trip to the ER, I learned that I have costochondritis and pericarditis—both painful, but non-threatening swellings inside my body.

I’m like a car badly in need of an oil change. Not broken, but I’ve gone just a little too long without taking proper care. I’m working on taking proper care now.

I use this space to document the “working through it” of it. The figuring it all out, as vague as that it. Now that work is promising to ease up a bit, and the temperatures are above freezing, I’m working my way through this little pile-up back to the joy of it all.

1113I’m doing that by getting back on top of my reading game. When I don’t read enough, I feel unbalanced, like I’ve left the house with only one shoe one. After a series of false starts and bad reads (who knew I would dislike The Sun Also Rises so much), I did what I haven’t done in months and had myself a little party trip to the book store. I picked up a few thrillers, and devoured Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None in days. I’m currently in the middle of the gorgeous Seating Arrangements. I’ve plunged back into my Granta Book of the American Short Story, and am trying to pick apart the genius of this hard, hard art form. I said last week that I understand the world through stories, and my goodness, it feel good to be back with them.

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Connected to the uptick in reading, I’m also going back to what inspires me so that I can make an easier time of my slow crawl back to a daily writing habit. For me, this means giving myself time to consume and time to think. I’m keeping the TV off, and as best I can, my phone away.

I reread this sad, strange, surreal story about a man who removed himself from the world for nearly thirty years. I’m pouring over the photographs from a recent visit to the Grand Canyon (more on that later—it’s been a month, and my soul still hasn’t settled). I’m doing what I heard another artist talk about, and using photographs as jumping off points for the stories I want to tell.

After the announcement of their 16 Tony nominations, I also gave Hamilton another go, and it all clicked together in a way it hasn’t before. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack over and over, not only because the music is good (it is) or the story is interesting (it is), but because Hamilton is an extraordinary example of what I find most phenomenal and worthy about artwork. At its core, art is the reworking and reimagining and retelling of our oldest stories so that the beautiful, radical, essential humanity of them is clear. Hamilton does this (and with history, no less!), and it’s blasted open the doors of my own shuttered creativity.

Side note: If you’re not already, start listening. It’s a dancing, rapping, race-bending bio-musical about the man who founded the National Treasury, was at the center of America’s first sex scandal, and was killed in a duel by the Vice President. If that doesn’t get you excited, I’m not sure what will.

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I’m turning my attention to food, trying to both follow the Michal Pollan food rules (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants), and rediscover the joy of creating meals. In response to the skin irritations and the swelling, I spent hours pouring over cookbooks and food blogs, looking for recipes that were low in sugar and dairy and high in vegetables. I’m mixing up what I buy, and what I eat, and trying to reorient my perspective around food so I see it as a source of energy and a gift, but not as a bandage or a salve. My goal is to make and eat food that’s good, real, and energizing, not to create a rulebook around what I “should” or “shouldn’t” and “can” or “can’t” eat. A few recipes from my May meal plan: broccoli melts, oatmeal blueberry breakfast bars, spring fettuccine primavera, and artichoke ricotta flatbread (with goat cheese instead of ricotta, and homemade pizza dough).

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There’s something slow and spectacular in keeping pace with only ourselves.

Journey to Health

Health and Wellness: Because My Body Needs My Care

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I’ve had it up to here with my body.

I don’t have health issues, per say, but my body is high maintenance. It has itself some issues.

If you’ve spend much time with me, you’ll know about all my food stuff. I’m lactose intolerant (enough so that it’s not worth it to eat that piece of pizza). I have acid reflux, which keeps me avoiding tomato, onion, spicy heat, excessive grease. I don’t handle hunger or a drop in blood sugar well (hangry is a familiar state, as are the “too hungry to talk to you,” “too hungry to see straight,” and “so hungry I feel nauseous) states. I’m frequently exhausted, and need lots of sleep. My sinus passages are narrow, and I’m prone to painful sinus infections. I did something to my low back years ago, and now the base of my spine throbs with pain if I’m certain positions, sit too long, stand too long. I waged a decade long war with severe acne, and still have sensitive skin (I’m writing this slathered in steroid cream).

See what I mean about high-maintenance?

My body has been revealing these glitches in the system for about five, six years, and in that time, my relationship to general health and wellness has been rocky. If we were a couple, we’d have broken up and come back together a thousand, obnoxious times.

I used to be an avid, almost obsessive, exerciser, but I lost the zeal and the dedication. All through college, I cycled through intense mental commitments to a workout routines and deep love affairs with my bed and my books (and, let’s be honest, Netflix). My eating habits, though never dreadful, slid steadily from lean proteins, fresh vegetables and monitored portions to granola bars and pasta kept ready in the fridge. The growing up of life brought higher levels of stress than I still don’t how to handle, and I’ve never been good at creating environments of health or peace for myself.

And it’s been a while since I’ve really, really cared. Healthy living has always been a priority. It’s always on my list, but it’s been lower on it than, say, re-watching Silicon Valley.

Until recently.

Now, I’m fed-up. Fed-up with not feeling well. Fed-up with eating and not feeling full, with constantly managing my body’s temper tantrums, with having rashes spread down my arms and up my legs, and fed-up with feeling so captive to a body that was designed to run better than this.

I’m fed-up with what comes from not being intentional about health and wellness.

My body is my home. It’s a house for my mind and for my soul and it’s the vessel that carries me through the world. It’s just been recently that I’ve come to really believe this, and it’s made me want to shake my own shoulders: Why don’t you give your body more of your energy? More of your love and your care?

The same goes with food. It’s fuel; it’s the means to my energy. Why do I eat junk that does the opposite of what food is supposed to do? (In an impulse of nostalgia, I bought myself one of those blue-raspberry ICEEs at the movie theater, remembering how often I’d beg my mom for one as a kid. I felt that sugar crash hard, and afterward thought to myself, how many more times will I do that before I really learn?)

So I’m setting myself out on a mission. A pursuit or an exploration or an adventure (I don’t want to call it a journey) into healthy living and general bodily wellness.

I don’t have the money or the time to see a dietitian or an allergist to help me decide what to eat, nor do I have the means to hire a personal trainer to teach me how to enjoy my workouts. I’m also not interested in any cult of “drink this powdered shake,” “take this miracle pill,” “chia seeds/acai berries/eating-like-a-cave-man will save your life.”

I do, however, have an arsenal of exercise options that don’t include a paid gym membership or running (hello, apartment complex workout center, goodbye hell on pavement), and I do have the ability to experiment with my foods. Already I’ve set a (pathetically small) workout goal for myself, and have begun tracking what foods create what effect within me. Already I’ve learned that lentil and avocados are a great combination for me, but the very best cheeseburger I’ve ever tanks my energy levels and turns me into jell-o with legs.

I don’t expect that I’ll widen my sinus passages or make my lactose intolerance go away through healthier eating. In fact, I have a feeling that if I dedicate myself to eating well for my body, I’ll actually become more discerning and have an even longer list of foods I’m not interested in eating.

I do expect that I’ll be able to raise my energy levels. I do expect that eating more thoughtfully will increase my productivity and creativity, and I do expect that working out will make me feel stronger in my body, feel more capable and more energized, and more awake to the world around me.

I also expect this to be really hard. I expect to skip workouts and hate the ones I complete, and I very much expect to find myself shoveling spoonfuls of chocolate chips and peanut butter into my mouth for no other reason that I really, really wanted to. I expect to cook food that tastes terrible, and to be cranky about saying no to things that won’t serve me well.

But I have to start somewhere, right? I can’t start out with all the answers.

My body needs to be precious to me. Not for vanity or pride (though I won’t say no to a dropping a few pounds if it happens), but for durability, and for strength. For knowing that my soul, to which I’ve always given infinitely more care and concern, is housed in a vessel that will sustain my life.

 

P.S. To anyone who has already figured out this lesson, who knows which foods give the best fuel and who get excited for Saturday morning workouts, help me! I’ll take any advice, recipes, food recommendations, workout tips you want to share.