Resilience & Self-Care

I ate a bánh mì for lunch yesterday. The first time I ate one, I was in my mid-twenties, and I instantly fell in love. A sausage bánh mì was the last thing I ate before the Poissonnier was born. Few foods make me feel as happy to be alive. At noon yesterday, taking a walk across campus to the food cart that sells them seemed like a good idea, so I invited a colleague along. We chatted as we walked — our conversation wandered across & back around his childhood experiences in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand and our shared love of food. Given the news that broke early in the afternoon, I'm glad I had that bánh mì & conversation to sustain me.

There's plenty of evidence all around us to support the observation that resilience is a crucial, but very fragile, personal resource. It can erode in an hour under the wrong conditions, and it can often be tempting to allocate the time needed to maintain resilience to other activities & duties that seem more pressing. And yet, it’s a horrible thing to be caught without when you most need it.

Over the last year, I've tried to be more mindful of my resilience. I'm not always successful. But I also realized last year that I needed to make changes, and that I needed to accept a certain amount of failure as part of maintaining my resilience.

That has meant doing some things differently. Without cutting myself off from the world, I am progressively placing greater limits on my daily exposure to certain kinds of input. I'm trying to cultivate a few habits intended to help me find a more empathetic, thoughtful way to navigate the world. I'm learning to exercise more patience; a two year old can be a very effective workout buddy some days.

At the same time, I’m not approaching this effort as one of self-improvement. I’m not claiming I’m perfect, mind you — instead, I’m trying not to get hung up on the imperfections I’m all too aware of already. Dealing with my shortcomings through a judgmental deficit model, rather than one that is more focused around care & healing, was simply creating more negative judgment, anxiety, and discontent. Piling all my personal shortcomings up beneath the pressures of family and professional life, and then dumping all the anger & resentment I feel about the direction my state, the country, & society is going, meant my reactions were becoming progressively more unhealthy and self-compounding. I’d been doing that since 2011, and it just wasn’t working anymore. Looking at the Poissonnier, I knew I didn’t want to wind up taking any of that out on her one day.

I’ll specify some of the things I’m trying in a LTE below. That’s a more appropriate place for me to contribute to that part of the conversation. What you’ve been reading is simply the best way I could think of to initiate that conversation. Over the years it’s been expressed often enough — and by plenty of us — that this place is a refuge for folks. I suspect that, for a lot of us, what happens at the WGOM is partially social, and partially (since we're all interacting at a physical remove) partially self-care.

If you feel able to share today, what are you doing for self-care? How do you know when you're doing enough, or the right way? What do you wish you could do, or do differently? Have you been able to model your efforts to attend to your self-care for others who might benefit from seeing you give yourself that attention, whether at home or in your other spheres of life?

32 thoughts on “Resilience & Self-Care”

  1. Not sure if I’ll get on to comment later today...but just wanted to say today’s video wasn’t coordinated with this post, but is certainly not unrelated.

  2. I've realized I have to work out 5-6 times a week. It helps my mood.

    I also think it helps to seek out good news and positive people. With the constant focus on advertising as a model to sell content, there is a focus on outrage. The only way to maintain balance is to intentionally seek it.

    1. I also think it helps to seek out good news and positive people.

      This has helped me lately, along with celebrating the success of those people/groups that help me get through the day. Other people doing well has never made me happier than it does today.

  3. This place is definitely self-care some of the time.

    For me, just taking time to listen to music is often the best form of self-care. I used to be constantly hooked up, able to work and listen at the same time, etc. That ability seems to have faded as I've gotten older, and I've gotten away from having on music as a default. It now takes a conscious awareness and decision for me to put on music, but I find it helps me so much when I do, and I can afford the time for it.

  4. I went to a conference on positive psychology a while ago. Some people think it's all hogwash and people telling you to be happy dangit, but it's more about being intentional than being happy. Get to know someone's name and greet them as they pass by. Write down things you're grateful for. Find ways to make tasks 20 seconds easier on yourself. I had a day last week where I listened to Pharrell Williams' "Happy" right before I went into work, and even though it was objectively a shitty day at work, that song was stuck in my head all day and definitely kept me buoyant.

    I do need to work out more as it does help me feel better. Where I struggle the most is sacrificing sleep for hobbies. Both are important. If I went to bed at 10 every night, I'd feel resentful for never engaging in my hobbies. But if I never go to sleep at 10 it catches up to me in a few days and I get cranky.

    1. I definitely relate to your second paragraph, especially the sacrificing sleep for hobbies. Tough nut to crack when the rest of life is so busy.

  5. Work can weigh you down so that at 5 bells you are mentally shot.

    Yet I find it helps when I can 1) get in laps at my club - shvim+shvitz, 2) do some language (at Pimsleur French 14 now, we are going to Luxembourg/Alsace in a week), 3) do a small house project (e.g. one grocery bag of garden weeds), 3) listen to France Bleu Alsace radio while making dinner, 6) make something fun/different for dinner - tonight was Merguez sausage with wheat spaghetti and San Marzano arrabiata sauce, 7) watch some mindless TV (Laramie/Vikings/CNN/Chopped/Forged in Fire), 8) read (almost done with number 12 of the Poldark series).

  6. Thank you for this post, CH.

    There was a point shortly after the peperoncino was born in 2013 when things were not looking good at home. I was in the thick of the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn and then in a very short span of time, the peperoncino was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (a valve issue), he developed reflux, and he began weekly physical therapy to improve the range of motion in his neck because he had positional plagiocephaly (a flat spot on his head). Mr. NaCl was having some mental health struggles as well. I had thought I was ready for all that came along with bringing a second human being into the world, but I suddenly realized I needed to change my approach to life or risk being broken by all that was happening.

    I couldn’t get away from the house much in those early days, but fortunately I had the WGOM and other ways to connect with people online. And as the peperoncino grew older, I began taking the jalapeño to church regularly. Once the peperoncino no longer needed his morning nap, he began coming along as well. Even though I have far more doubt than certainty, this has helped.

    I take ballet class once a week, which is a big help to both my body and my mind. So much of what my teacher tells us applies to far more than just ballet—such as remembering to breathe and to act with confidence.

    I think about work differently. I approach my job with gratitude, and the time I spend working feels like it makes me a better parent, rather than distancing me from my children. I try to let lots of the small irritations go because I find my overall work to be fulfilling.

    I don’t have lots of time to socialize, but I try to get together with a couple of good friends once a month or so. It’s usually a late night, but somehow my head is still clearer afterward because I’ve gotten a break from all the roles I play in the rest of my life.

    I limit how much news I take in. Sometimes I worry this makes me willfully ignorant. Yet I’ve realized that if I take in too much, it paralyzes me and makes me less effective in everything I do.

    And finally, and perhaps the weirdest item on this list, I swear more than I used to (though mostly not in front of my kids). This may be partly because I’m less of a perfectionist than I used to be. And sometimes . . . it just feels good.

    I often wonder if I should do things like calling my representatives or going to protests. As an introvert, I’m intimidated. But maybe I shouldn’t be.

    I didn’t mean to go on for quite so long, but clearly this touched something in me. I look forward to hearing more from others.

    1. I try to let lots of the small irritations go because I find my overall work to be fulfilling.

      Substitute 'life' for 'work' and this is what I'm doing all the time. Or, at least attempting to do all the time.

      Also, I continue to focus on balance: responsible, long-term planning with the (acronymically/regrettably titled) YOLO ethos. I don't need to look far for reminders.
      One of the providers at our daycare center had a baby last spring and then lost her husband to a brain aneurysm 2 weeks ago.
      He was 31.

      One of my adopted cousins died of an accidental overdose in January.
      He was 20.

      His father (my Mom's youngest brother) was diagnosed with esophageal cancer - stage 4 - in April and entered an assisted living center 2 weeks ago. He won't be moving back out.
      He's 63.

    2. I swear more than I used to

      heh. As I told you at the bar, I find swearing to be the most fulfilling of social transgressions.

  7. I've written and deleted at least three versions of this LTE. I'm not a clinically diagnosed depressive, but I very certainly have depressive traits ... as Craig Finn once said about anxiety, depression is an ambitious politician it keeps knocking until you let it in. I have a constant thought in my head that I'm not good enough / I'm wasting my time / I shouldn't be satisfied / I don't make enough art / the art I make isn't worth my time //// + a deeply cynical outlook. That combination has developed my sharp, yet dark, sense of humor which allows me to laugh at things that probably should make me cry, but also makes me tend towards the negative. It's a constant struggle for me to see the positive in people and their actions

    I've thought a lot about this topic since the election. The news cycle tells me that our language and actions are coarsening, and to some degree that seems to be true, but that doesn't necessarily translate to our everyday interactions with each other. As other have pointed out, I'm seeking positive people and positive interactions with them as a remedy. I've been trying lately to not look at the news cycle as much. I've also been trying to avoid contact with my phone as much as possible. I've turned off the ringer and have started wearing a watch so that I don't need to check my phone for the time. I've had varying degrees of success. The last year or so has been a tough one in terms of professional development, which also drains resilience. I've become locked into a position that I've capped out in, my boss is an asshole, and there aren't many options for even lateral movement in my field (in town at least. The feeling of being trapped in my job led to some bad coping mechanisms in the form of eating like shit and drinking too much. This town will gladly accommodate over indulgence, so it's been a struggle to reshape bad habits, but we're going to the fancy gym and I'be been eating my greens. Eating better and working out ( though I loath the machine / gym / my skin won't forgive me swimming more than 3 days a week) does lead to a better overall world view. I should do more of that...

    Oh, and I swear like a sailor. Always give me a grin.

  8. I never, ever dealt with depression until about 3 years ago. Do the math. Opening a business is brutal when you wear all hats. I have never felt as stressed out or depressed as I did between months 6 and 18 after opening. We did a lot right, but some unforeseen circumstances gave us BIG headwinds. I did not handle the pressure well. I please other people and swallow my own pain and disappointment. Everyone leans on me in every aspect of my life and I had no one to lean on who could bear the weight. I know now why people take the easy way out. Luckily for me, I have enough stubborn Swede in me that we dug ourselves out and things are looking so much rosier. This website is a huge part of how I cope. I cope by escaping. I read a ton. I watch deep movies. I watch dumb movies. I only survive during those times by escaping the dark thoughts that sneak in. Of course, my faith helps as well, but honestly I rarely remember to lean on it during my own bad times. Maybe I need to pray more during those times. I don't know.

    I swear like a M%#her F&*ker, but only in my head.

    1. I have done my best to avoid stress in my work life (ie: management), as there is no doubt it can be debilitating. Glad you've come up with good diversions

  9. Today, I tendered my resignation at the job where I've worked for more than a decade. It's collosally scary, but I had gotten to the point where the stresses of it had invaded parts of my life and mental wellbeing that I wasn't comfortable with.

    I've got a new job lined up, it's different and terrifying, but I think in the end, it will be worth it.

    1. Congrats on the move, nibs. Life is short.

      I have plenty of stress in my work life, but it is mostly self-imposed, because there is so damn much that needs doing. I'm blessed to have a leadership position in an organization dedicated to trying to make government work better for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. That helps me get through the frustrating times.

      1. That's kind of where I am, too. There are a lot of things I do that I wouldn't have to do, but I do them because I think they need doing and I think they help people. "Stress" maybe isn't the best word for it, because I really enjoy the things I do (except dealing with higher-ups in the conference, but that's another story). But if does feel a little overwhelming sometimes.

    2. Text me when you have time to go out for a pint and share. Good Luck with the new venture!

        1. He never applied. However, I may have to recruit him for some freelance I.T. work. My skills are lacking.

    3. One of the scariest, and yet one of the most freeing, things you can do is get out of a job you don't like. Good luck in your new job. I'm confident that it will, indeed, be worth it.

      1. or get out of the line of work for which you've trained and think you are only prepared to do. In my case, I discovered pretty quickly that many of the skills I developed in grad school are, in fact, more broadly applicable. Even if my specific knowledge wasn't (very often).

        It turns out, surprisingly enough, that analytical thinking isn't something widely practiced in gubmint. Who knew??!!

        1. Good point. I think most of us have far more ability than we think we do, and can do a lot more jobs than we think we can. In this, as in a lot of other aspects of life, many of our limits are self-imposed.

      2. Sometimes I wish I knew what mean by scary leaving a job you've been at for a long while, but I'm on my fifth job since I graduated 13 years ago. It'd be nice to stay somewhere long term.

        Of course, I've gotten waaaay bigger raises changing jobs than I ever did staying at one, so it doesn't make me all that envious.

        1. I get that, too, in a little different way. There are a lot of people in the little towns I serve who've lived all their lives in one place. I, on the other hand, am living in my sixth town. Yes, they've all been in South Dakota, but still, I kind of envy people who are that deeply rooted to one place. On the other hand, every time I've moved, I've been led to something better, so I'm probably happier than I'd have been had life worked out the other way.

          1. It's funny you mention it in the context of moving because I've done all this job jumping while living in the same house for the past 11 years. I'm not really tied to the community, though (well, a I'm starting to be now that my kids are in school), I just really, really hate the physical act of moving.

            1. I do, too. Luckily, Mrs. A does an excellent job of packing. Plus, now that I'm a pastor, the conference pays my moving expenses.

  10. I finally got some time to sit down & write this LTE, so here goes:

    I cut Twitter cold turkey last November, and I greatly reduced my exposure to Facebook. Both of these things have served to dial down the input of awful stuff into my psyche — not just the actual things I'd read, but the vein of cynicism I have that social media was feeding & enlarging. (I also haven't posted to Instagram since March, which is more about being fed up with the algorithm of Instagram's feed than ingesting any toxicity from the platform.) Around the same time, I started trying to develop a meditation & prayer habit that was simple enough to do anytime, anywhere I felt the need, and short enough that I could commit to doing it every day. So, now I meditate for part of my bus commute each afternoon, which puts me in a better frame of mind for family time. I really notice it on days when I can't take the bus and have to find time to meditate later. As for praying, it's just one prayer, repeated a couple dozen times, a couple times each day.

    In Pepper's recent FMBD post, I mentioned I recently reread Alan Watts' The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, which I'd recommend to anyone interested in assessing how they're reacting to modern stimuli (particularly the negative ones). I don't agree with all of Watts' conclusions, but I think his comprehensive message is worth engaging.

    Finally, at a friend's suggestion, we started exchanging letters (yep, paper letters) this winter, a hobby that's stretching me to think & communicate in a longer, slower, more deliberate format. It's also a cool reminder that, for just half a dollar, you can send something tangible to someone anywhere in the US. When you think of them opening their mailbox to find a letter from you in there, that's a pretty cheap, thoroughly personal way to make someone happy.

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