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Back to basics self-care

I know “self-care” is a buzz word right now and you can find plenty of articles defining and identifying strategies for “self-care”. I’ve even seen articles questioning the possibility of effective “self-care” for certain groups like parents of small children. Whatever the case, I BELIEVE “self-care” is absolutely essential to survive and thrive in our personal lives.

Whatever strategies you employ, it has to work for you, whether that be taking bubble baths and/ or participating in therapy. There are so many things you can do, some I may not have considered or am not interested in, so I’m not going to make a list.

I will say some facets of self-care are very basic. I’ve noticed my team and myself doing things that point to a lack of basic self-care. I will share a couple examples with you.

  1. Holding your urine for extended periods of time. Go pee! Stop doing the pee pee dance at work. I’m guilty of this one right here! My work days consist of being in meetings all day, planning, problem solving, and collaborating. On one level, I drink plenty of water for health reasons, but what good is it to destroy my already weak, aging bladder because I think I’m too busy to stop what I’m doing to take a much needed restroom break? Really??? I’ve been working on changing the narrative in my head from “It’s so annoying I need to go to the restroom right now!” to “Thank Goodness! Relieving myself will make my body very happy!”
  2. Not preparing for basic needs like food. What do I mean by this? I mean bring snacks and lunch to work, or while running errands, to avoid being hungry. Yes, I know there are articles on the benefits of intermittent fasting, but I’m not referring to intermittent fasting or any type of fasting, for that matter. I’m also not referring to poverty related hunger. I’m referring to basic planning to have food on hand, especially if you don’t like to be hungry. Not eating when you need to can contribute to other problems such as binge eating, brain fogginess, and the “hangry” attitude.

I don’t have this issue because I take breakfast, lunch, and snacks to work EVERY SINGLE day. I’ve made the mistake of not bringing food, thinking I would have time to grab a lunch from somewhere. Silly me! With the nature of my current position, I learned early on I may not be able to leave the office to pick up food because of an impromptu meeting. Since I don’t like to be hungry for lengthy periods plus I enjoy eating healthy, I bring all my meals and snacks to work. It doesn’t help there aren’t many appealing restaurant options near our current work location. This is actually probably a good thing. On the weekends, I find having small packets of mixed nuts and a bottle of water life-saving when running errands.

Plan ahead people! Take care of the basic functions of your body: eat, drink, eliminate, and sleep. You have more control than you think! Your body will thank you. And ultimately it demonstrates self-love and self-care.

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Product junkie

Over the years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to buy products free of harmful chemicals. This was prior to my breast cancer diagnosis in 2016. Since then, I’ve amped up my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle by way of foods I consume and products I use to take care of my body.

On my social media page, I post a lot of my healthy food choices. There’s a push for buying all organic, but that can get expensive. I would love to get to a point where I can buy organic meat, but it’s not cost effective for my family. I find myself considering when I’m at a place like Costco. However, I end up going conventional when looking at my budget. What I do buy organic is produce noted as the dirty dozen. I need to add to my routine to go to a farmer’s market on the weekends. I’ve heard this is another cost-effective option for buying organic.

Dijon dressing ingredients. LPC

I’ve gotten more vigilant about ensuring my physical environment is free from harsh chemicals. In my quest to be healthy, as much as I work to control the things I can, I don’t believe any of us can control everything. Just in our home, it can be overwhelming in considering all the possible places of chemical exposure: carpet, paint, insulation, toilets, new clothing, etc. However, one small thing I’ve done is make a commitment to refrain from purchasing any more scented oil warmers and refills.

Scented Oil Warmers. LPC

I’ve read how harmful scented oil warmers can be for the environment because of inhaling harmful chemicals. I’ve collected so many oil warmers over the years and don’t want to waste them. I found a hack on Pinterest where I replaced the liquid with essential oils, but it hasn’t worked for me. The oils and liquid won’t diffuse, so I may end up trashing all my oil warmers anyway. Bummer!

When I shop for soaps, facial products, and hair, I purchase products free of parabens, sulphates, mineral oils, and other harmful chemicals. I look for products that have essential oils, shea butter, and other healthy ingredients. As part of my self-care routine, I love to give myself facials, so I’m always on the lookout for affordable masks and scrubs. I’m the type of shopper who loves to take my time reading ingredients and touching the product. I do online shopping on occasion, but I prefer to go to my favorite specialty stores to buy what I need.

We’re all going to die at some point, but I don’t see anything wrong with living a good quality of life. In the quest for health, I think we all just need to keep things in perspective, control what we can and let go of what we can’t, and make healthier choices that make sense for our budgets. As my husband says, you’ll either pay for it now or pay for it later in poor health and medical bills. Again, I want a good quality of life, so we’ll do what we can to pay for it now.

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The Unlearning

Part of the “work” of personal growth is constant self-awareness and reexamining your thoughts. As I’ve been thinking about growth opportunities, particularly in my career, I realize that there is some unlearning I need to do. Like most people, I was raised a particular way and was socialized to believe certain things. I’ve been challenging those beliefs.

This is part of the “work” one must do to release old habits and old ways of thinking that no longer serve a purpose. My main goal is to live all areas of my life authentically and in congruence with my beliefs. I need to get to the source of my beliefs and determine if these are truly my beliefs or beliefs passed on to me that may be holding me back. If they don’t serve a purpose, then I need to let them go or reframe them so they do serve a purpose.

I’ll share a few examples of beliefs I’m challenging:

  1. One must not share an opposing/different view so as not to offend the other person.
  2. Always make peace.
  3. If one doesn’t have anything nice to say, one must not say anything at all.

I’ve found these particular beliefs could potentially prevent me from speaking up in situations where I need to. These beliefs are antithetical to field in which I work – public health/social services. Additionally, I earned my graduate degree in social work and made a commitment to advocate and serve underprivileged populations.

In all humility, I’ve advocated and helped many people. In my current position, I manage resources, which includes people. I’m required to use my expertise to solve problems and make decisions. I advocate at a higher level. I’ve found beliefs can manifest themselves subconsciously, causing me to struggle with speaking up in certain situations because of this subconscious, almost automatic way of thinking.

Could this discomfort also be related to the growing pains of living outside of my comfort zone? Perhaps. I’m here to examine all of the possibilities. Maybe the “discomfort” is really caused by beliefs that don’t serve me well.

My challenge to the first belief:

  1. One must not share an opposing/different view so as not to offend the other person. This was definitely what I picked up on in my family growing up. We were not taught that you could express disagreement to another person, especially an authority figure, and go on with your life, maintaining the relationship. It’s unrealistic to think everyone thinks and believes the exact same things. I’m constantly providing opposing views, especially at work. The reaction I get isn’t always pleasant. Systemic problems, social problems, resource problems, people problems…problems are not pleasant. For the greater good, people need to get over their offenses. I take comfort in performing the requirements of my job with integrity. In terms of family and friends, I’ll work on making my delivery more palatable to the people I love, but if I want to live in integrity and honesty, which I do, then I will speak the truth even if it’s an opposing view. Therefore, I will let this first belief go because it can hold me back from having authentic and truthful relationships. It can prevent me from performing at a high level in my career.

I will unpack my thoughts on the other beliefs in forthcoming posts. Each belief I listed have a theme and feed into each other. I want to free myself from them.

What beliefs do you need to unlearn?

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Body image

The other night as I was perusing through a tray on my night stand, I came across an old high school prom picture in a pile of random photos. I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately. It’s funny how distorted the mind can be. When I was 18 years old, I didn’t think I was pretty, thought I was fat, and was afraid to talk to people. Oh how I’ve grown…literally (pun intended because I’m silly)! Here I am today, wiser, smarter, and the most ALIVE I’ve ever been, and my body is literally changing every day. If I could have my current mindset combined with the body I had back then, I’d be unstoppable! Alas, as fate would have it, life doesn’t work like that.

So at forty six years old, I must contend with this next phase of my life. In the past few weeks, I’ve added to my research: perimenopause, anemia, iron deficiency, and healthy aging. Of all the health issues I’ve had over the years, not one of my doctors told me about perimenopause. I broached the subject with my primary care physician and she didn’t offer much, except to say I was probably experiencing it, but no tests would confirm it…only if I were in menopause. As a breast cancer survivor, my health is my main priority. I put in the work daily to keep myself healthy by exercising, eating healthy, controlling my stress, sleeping, etc. In addition to all of this, I am striving for a healthy body image.

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LPC Summer 2019

I’m glad I can laugh about a recent, real conversation I had with my husband about body image. It went something like this:

  • Me (looking in the mirror, squeezing my stomach & pretending like it didn’t exist): If I didn’t have this stomach, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away from cropped tops. I don’t care about the other parts of my body, I just want a FLAT stomach!
  • Husband: If that’s the case, if I got rid of my stomach, I would never wear a shirt while on my walks, EVER again! (Inside joke: We can’t figure out why most men, no matter their shape or size, or where we are in Austin, jog shirtless.)

I made a deal with myself a few days after our conversation that I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I will focus on the positive parts of my body I love rather than the parts I don’t. Think about all the modifications we make to hide our imperfections. Think about how much energy that takes. Yes, I’ve had a pouch for 18 years (since giving birth to my 12.2 pound son), and I may never like my pouch, but in the big scheme of things, I have two beautiful children. Instead of looking at myself in the mirror in disgust, I will remind myself of the other parts of myself I love more. I’m hear to tell you, this is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. This may be too much for family members who may read this, BUT did I mention having a pouch hasn’t stopped me from having the best sex of my life? Yup, one of many perks of aging and aging with your love.

My oldest sister told me something recently which made me pause. She said, “You know, you’ve been through a lot in your short life”. Her simple statement rendered me speechless (for a few seconds). It’s true, but because I just move forward, I don’t spend time thinking about what I’ve been through. I focus on how else I want to grow and what else I want to accomplish. And because I’ve been through a lot, I no longer want to beat myself up or waste time thinking about how I look. I definitely don’t want to bring that negative energy into my fifties. We all have imperfections. These imperfections make us beautiful.

I want great health and great body image. I want the same for my daughter. I’m committed to aging gracefully, getting wiser, having a healthy body image, and inspiring others to do the same.

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LPC 7-21-19

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The flame that burns from within

Some of favorite things about summer are that school is out for most, the reduced morning traffic (although normal, dreadful traffic ensues by evening rush hour), the long, hot days and breezy nights (not always guaranteed in Austin, Texas), and the opportunities to sit out on my porch in the dark. Tonight, I’m sitting on my porch next to my tabletop fire pit contemplating the commitment I made to maintaining my blog. I’ve been determined to experience this very moment all day.

It seems to me as though some bloggers are able to consistently produce an impressive amount of content…but not me. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of content swirling in my head, but it’s sitting down and actually doing the work of blogging that can be difficult. I have a full life of which I’m grateful, but there’s a flame burning within me that loves to write in any form. It’s how I express myself. I know I can help even just one person by sharing my stories through blogging.

The spark started when I was a little girl. I was in many situations I didn’t want to be in growing up, so as an escape, I developed a healthy imagination. I daydreamed constantly and I also loved to read. I really don’t remember when writing came into play, but I started journaling somewhere in my preteens. It stuck. In many ways, my blog posts are just me journaling my thoughts.

By actively participating in this particular activity which gives me peace and confidence, I’m attending to my self-care. When I go long periods without writing, I feel off kilter. I do write for work on a daily basis, but my personal writing is different. I get so much joy from blogging, despite few likes at times. You’d think I’d post more, but as I alluded to in a previous paragraph, it really is a matter of my time and energy. The best way, I can manage is to not overcommit, which I tend to do when I’m overzealous.

My initial plan was to post weekly on Saturday mornings, but my consistency with that schedule has waned periodically over the years. In the last month, I’ve been writing more, which, in turn, has fueled my desire to write more. However, I might have made another overzealous commitment about two weeks ago. I said to myself that I would post a blog post on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I did this last week. Tuesday of this week came and I completely forgot to blog. When I realized, I said I would write on Wednesday (my Friday before the holiday this week) and I didn’t feel up to it.

What I may do is commit to twice a week, giving myself some flexibility on the days within the work week. For my readers who prefer a routine schedule, this may not be helpful, but I’m trying to take baby steps to writing at least twice a week. I may increase the days, but I’m not sure yet. I’m attempting to have some self-compassion because I have other commitments.

Now, that I’ve pondered the frequency of my writing, what’s left is what I blog about. This blog is about self-care so I tend to focus my posts on implementing self-care strategies into my daily life. I also blog about my bout with breast cancer, my family, my work, travel, mental health, random thoughts, etc. I’m curious about what my readers want to read from me, so please feel free to let me know.

Writing in any form such as blogging is the flame that burns inside of me, so I’m always going to return to it. It ties me back to my younger self. It brings me peace. It gives me confidence. It makes me happy that I’m living a life congruent with my values and goals. My light lesson for this post is you have to nurture the flames that burn inside of you. You don’t want it to consume you…to engulf you in flames, but you want to embrace it, spend time with it, shape it, and honor it. I’m assuming that you will use the flames for depositing good in the world. If you’re like me, you may find it holds the key to who you truly are.

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New Day

I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and a sense of gratitude for this life I get to live. I didn’t get much sleep Sunday night, so I struggled to stay focused and awake all of Monday. It’s a new day and I’m a testament that you can be in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety and still be grateful. As I do daily, I woke up this morning and prayed. I’m sharing the morning prayer that I love the most.

Sometimes my prayers are super short. Sometimes my prayers are for specific people. Sometimes my prayers are of thankfulness. Sometimes I ask God for specific things. Sometimes I cite and meditate on prayers from a specific book of prayers my husband bought me many years ago, while we were dating. I knew he was special when he brought me this gift.

Lately, I’ve been immensely worried about my son, Caleb. I know all the logical and spiritual reasons why worry isn’t helpful, but I haven’t gotten to a place yet where I don’t do it. I’m human. I hate that I worry. However, I’ve been making peace with the thought that if things don’t turn out my way, they’ll still be ok. God has a way of letting you know He will take care of things. You’ve got to listen.

At the end of the day, I have a good kid who has some work to do with finding himself. He’s a late bloomer. I will guide him as best as I can, but when I worked in direct practice at an outpatient mental health clinic, I’ve told many clients in the past that I can’t do more than them. Now that Caleb is 18 years old, I’m working on adopting this same philosophy. Of course, you do everything for your babies, toddlers, and children, but as they get older, the parenting dynamic changes. Parents need to adjust. I need to move into a coach and consultant role.

I’m so grateful that it’s a new day…a new day for me to not be so hard on myself like I was yesterday. A new day for me to make a positive impact on somebody’s life. A new day for me to nurture my kids. A new day for me to be a loving wife. A new day for me to be a fair boss. A new day for me to share my gifts. A new day for me to be better than before. A new day for God’s light to shine through me.

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Face your fears Part Deux

Last week, I wrote a blog post about facing my fears by finally getting my wisdom teeth removed. In case you’re wondering, I’m healing very well. Thank you. Although a significant experience, it proved to be less dramatic than I imagined. This past week, I’ve mulled over the lessons that can be learned from dealing with our fears head on. I found myself recalling my upbringing and experiences.

Fear was a big part of my life growing up. The mindset of fear was imposed on me. My point isn’t I’m a victim, but that fear is powerful. You don’t just unlearn fear. It can creep into your thoughts and seduce you with misinformation without you realizing what’s happening. Fear can cripple your mind. It can make you freeze. And there may be legitimate reasons to be fearful, but I don’t think we are meant to live in a state of fear. It takes a great amount of conscious, hard work to train yourself as an adult to overcome the damaging effects of fear. For some, this work may entail therapy, which is ok.

Fear started in my life before I was born. My parents were born into poverty in Haiti, an island with a tragic history of government corruption and civil unrest. I don’t know much about my grandparents on either side, but they were no doubt born into poverty in Haiti. My father physically and emotionally abused my mother. My siblings witnessed and internalized the abuse. Although I was too young to remember, there is no doubt in my mind that I internalized the atmosphere (terror, shame, secrecy, inadequacy, sadness). I was raised in two different, opposing religions, inundated with strict rules that created fear. My family were immigrants to the United States, and in Haitian culture, there is fear of Haitian children becoming Americanized and abandoning their roots.

Those are the big ticket “fear” items that I contend with…there are more. Each scenario manifests fear differently and in countless ways, but it’s all fear. For example, when I was little, we literally moved around a lot to escape my father. Divorce didn’t stop him from terrorizing my family. He would get on drunken rampages, find out where my mom lived, then would obscenely bang on the door and harrass until eventually my mom found another place to escape. We were fine as long as we kept our distance, but there was the constant fear of him finding out where we were and then what would he do.

I feared people in my Catholic elementary school would find out that my mom was really a Jehovah’s Witness. My uncle’s family thought it best that all of the children attended Catholic school. It’s common in Haiti for children to attend private, parochial schools. I believe my mom’s fear of what could happen to me based on her status as a single, immigrant parent in the United States caused her to make decisions based on loyalty and familiarity. She didn’t have anybody else.

How do I contend with generational fear? I consciously work to break the cycle. Awareness is an important first step. Next steps included learning about who I was through soul searching and education, determining my purpose through prayer, implementing my vision for my life, and living as God had intended for me. I don’t think God wants us to live in fear. I don’t raise my children to live in fear. There is so much GOODNESS and fortune on the other side of fear.

By no means am I completely absolved of fear. It’s a lifelong struggle. Thoughts creep up that I can’t control. However, awareness is still that important first step. Then, I go through a process of determining the source…the reason behind the fear. When I come to an understanding of what the fear is, then I challenge it. I face it. If I’m brave enough, which I usually am, I move towards it. I keep moving towards it until it has no more power.