Let’s Talk About Self-Care

It takes a lot of work to keep me functioning. I don’t mean it takes me a lot of work like it takes a lot of work to maintain a pristine physique (it does require a lot of work, I’m told, but I wouldn’t have any clue about that. Fatty likes his food.). No, I’m talking about the work it takes to maintain basic functionality.

There are a few factors at play that caused this:

  • One, I have back issues. If you’ve never had back issues, I can’t full explain it, but this is what I can tell you: I can’t remember the last time I went 24 hours without any type of pain. I went 8 hours pain-free in August, and it felt like I was on drugs. I was giddy. There are days where I just want to lie down on the floor. They’re rare, but they exist.
  • Two, I’m just injury-prone in general. This is a product of lifestyle, which is brings us to
  • Three, I work a desk job. Desk job’s are great in a lot of ways, but they are also a significant contributor to the decline of physical health of Americans.
  • Four, I have a stressful job. There are more stressful jobs in the world, but I have a “make your own stress” job, which is great because
  • Five, I like to make my own stress. I think A LOT. Most of my hobbies are about getting my brain to shut down or to keep it so focused it’s not running off on its own. Think of my brain like a border collie. Great when it’s focused and the possibility of being a real jerk if it has nothing better to do.

All of this results in me doing a few things just to keep my mind and body in check. Basically, I’m going to run through all of the big and little things I do to stay in one piece. If you find something you’ve never tried, give it a go. Every person has their own needs. These are just the things that help me. You’ll notice a good chunk of them were featured in the Super Awesome Year of Me.

Running

Hey, that’s why we’re here. I run even though I complain about it because it’s necessary. I don’t have a better way to get cardio work in quickly, and cardio’s necessary, especially if I drop from a heart attack and would like to recover.

But in all seriousness, running allows me to burn off the wrong kind of energy, that nervous energy that has zero chance of being productive. Plus, I get a lot of t-shirts.

Reading

This is a default for me when I’m overwhelmed. I like to dive into a good book and hide there. Not always the healthiest coping mechanism, but it helps. And if you’re going to engage in an activity for the wrong reason, at least engage in one that’s good for you. And because writers are the biggest bunch of dorks who include the most random bits of information, you also get to learn the most random bits of information. You’re gonna kill it at trivia night.

Writing

This is the other reason we’re here. I enjoy writing. I write for a living, but I don’t write fun stuff for a living. I write research papers. Not fun. Interesting but not fun.

This is about fun. This is about taking the time to put thoughts on a screen illuminated by the magic of technology. I can put jokes in here. I can put my thoughts here. And I can (hopefully) stretch my ability as a writer. This blog (and my other blog) are about allowing me to write under the guise of providing useful information for other people.

As a teenager, I wrote a lot. I don’t know what good it did or what good I thought it would do, but I enjoyed writing. Slowly, I got older and wrote less. This was my chance to take some of that back. I’m probably not going to write the next great American novel, but I can still write.

Yoga

This was the first piece of deliberate self-care I ever engaged in. I was doing most of the others, but I did them for fun. They just happened to be beneficial. I started doing yoga for my back. And it worked. I didn’t know why it worked; it just did.

Later, I would figure out it wasn’t just the stretching and that the core work was a contributor, but it didn’t matter. I found something that worked.

I don’t practice as often as I should, but I’m a yoga convert of 8 years. I don’t believe I’m flushing out toxins or finding (much) inner peace, but my body’s happier when I do yoga, so my brain’s happier too. And when I’m running, yoga’s the only thing that allows me to keep living a normal life.

Stretching

Not the same as yoga. For those of you keeping score, yoga includes stretching. It is not about stretching. And frankly, sometimes yoga isn’t all that great for stretching. Yoga classes and routines aren’t prescriptions. They don’t help my specific issues. I steal what I learn from yoga for my own use, but I have to do pretty deliberate stretching. At this point, it’s a full-body stretch routine, but I’ve had PTs who gave me specific stretches for back pain and costochondritis. Basically, I do stretches to help me with back pain.

Drawing

I should have put this caveat in earlier, but just because I enjoy doing something, that doesn’t mean I actually am any good at it. I’ve always enjoyed drawing. If you leave me alone, I’m doodling or making elaborate patterns.

While I always liked it, I didn’t realize what it was doing to my brain. When I did the Super Awesome Month of Drawing, I was a lot more calm after each picture was done. The concentration of drawing was downright meditative.

Music

This one goes two ways. The easiest to see is that I almost constantly have music going. I wake up and turn on Spotify. I have music going all day while I work. My commute has satellite radio. My walk to the office features me wearing earbuds. And of course, I run to a soundtrack now. Music is life.

Really, though, it’s the second aspect that’s most important. I play guitar. I’m not as good about playing every day as I’d like to be, but I play more days than not. Everyone should make music and preferably learn an instrument. It’s something to concentrate on, and if you’re brave, you can even write your own stuff. And that’s pretty damn cool.

Massage

And this is the one that has me outside of my comfort zone. I’m not a fan of strangers touching me, especially when I’m wearing almost no clothing. Let’s just not, thanks.

But I had back pain flare up that was lasting more than a week. When I asked the physical therapist what I could do, massage was their best recommendation. So I gave it a try. I went to a n0-frills sports massage place and proceeded to have a stranger make a valiant attempt at making me cry. And it was fantastic.

I was able to go back there one more time before I moved, and then I began my odyssey in Mississippi of finding a good massage. I had to make it to my 3rd location and even then it was my second MT before I found someone I was happy with. Now, every month or two, someone half my size digs their elbows into my back to buy me a few hours of relief.

And the thing I wish I did more of? Meditating.

I do things that hit some of the same points of meditating, but like running being the best cardio I can access, meditating is the best I can do to hit the brain.

5-10 minutes is all I need, and I can’t make myself do it. It’s hard. Trying to focus on your breathing and letting stray thoughts drift on by without dwelling on them is an enormous task as far as I’m concerned. But man, I feel fantastic after a good session. Unfortunately, I can’t stick with it long enough to see if there are long-term benefits. Maybe one day.

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