Making Self-Care A Habit (or Eat Breakfast Every Day)
I had a setback.
Nothing major. Nothing life-critical. Nothing identity-shaking.
I showed up for a class and it had been cancelled.
And my day’s plans were derailed.
It just required a deep breath, a shrug of the shoulders and a quick pivot.
But I nearly burst into tears.
I felt kind of undone.
I thought about going home to pour myself a stiff drink.
It was 9:45am.
I was kind of shocked by that.
My four year old adapted immediately, dancing off to the car and asking if we could make a pompom, go skiing, go swimming, hang out, instead.
I turned on the radio and David Bowie’s Changes came on, and then a succession of upbeat songs that tried to turn my mood around. After I got home, I built a fire in the firebox and made another cup of coffee. Kid skittered off to a corner where an imaginary world welcomed him in. I slouched under a grey cloud at the counter, still thinking about that drink.
Jesus, I though, after turning all the lights in the house on and pulling out my notebook, where’s your fucking resilience, woman? You live in a warm house, with a healthy little family. All your needs are met without question. The debt collectors are not at the door. There are no scary medical appointments scheduled. As far as you know, outside of the books you read with your boy, there is no such thing as monsters. No one in your childhood suffered a major trauma or addiction. And yet, this little thing nearly undid you.
I cast about for blame: hormones? The isolation of parenting for four years without extended family to lean on? That hour of work I was counting on getting done while the kid was in his class? The ever-present slightly-oily feeling that I’ve been making all the wrong decisions? Unresolved childhood issues? That book I read until 11pm wherein the protagonist is falling apart? Breakfast… did I remember to have breakfast before we rushed out the door? Or did I just feed the kidlet and scarf back a coffee? The friend who had a heart attack yesterday? The rain? The 4pm dark? Trump? I mean, I can’t blame him for everything wrong in the world today.
But seriously, how will I cope with the death of a cherished one, a terrifying medical diagnosis, my kid coming home from school in tears, the collapse of capitalism, if a cancelled class makes me want to pour a long shot from a bottle of scotch stashed above the fridge.
When I noticed this urge, with curiosity and alarm, I felt a sudden tidal wave of compassion, and awe, for the people who struggle with the urge every single day. For whom it is a pattern, a multi-generational habit, a well worn neural pathway, a physical craving. How tough and brave and strong and quick and clever they must be, to continually substitute something else, some other response, some other action, instead. How hard it must be when they fall, to get back up again, forgive themselves, start over. How strangely powerful that desire was, when it came. How many tools I have for resisting it. And yet, there it was.
A friend who had been suffering some panic attacks told me that she was counseled that the simple act of thinking of something to do for yourself, and initiating it – just making a cup of tea, or running the bath – is enough, to change the spiral your brain is heading in. Just that.
A glass of water, a piece of fruit, a drum, a facecloth to splash cold water on your face, the radio dial, your waterproof jacket, a notebook and pen, the dog’s leash, a friend… reaching for self-care.
Practiced daily (and in hindsight, I think that the skipping breakfast thing was at the root of my micro melt-down), basic self-care leads to greater individual resilience.
Individual resilience amplifies into community resilience.
It seems so obvious. Almost too simple. That the way to create a better world starts with remembering to make yourself breakfast. But motherhood has a funny way of making your own breakfast the least important thing on your to-do list. And capitalism and entitled bosses and economic stress have a funny way of making work seem like it should rank over heading to a yoga class, or powering down the computer to go for a walk at lunch time. Internalizing any of the messages that institutionalized racism bombards one with probably makes treating self with tenderness and dignity a bit of a battle too.
But here’s the thing. Maybe we owe it to each other. I owe it to the people I encounter in my day to eat breakfast, so I don’t start crying, or drinking, if there’s a glitch in the operations.
Self-care. Resilience. Strong communities.
They’re stepping stones. Leading the way to all of us knowing what to reach for, when that moment of feeling undone rises up — an apple, a journal, the running shoes, the faucet, each other.
So, breakfast. A good place to start.