I don’t think writers are particularly good at self-care. I don’t mean that in any sort of Oprah, granola-type way; I mean it at a fairly basic level. Adequate sleep. Basic nutrition. Occasional exercise. Returning emails or texts.
Introverts by nature (even if we’re good at faking otherwise), we stay in and up late, getting minimal sleep and maximal stress from day jobs or deadlines or both. There are dependency issues (doomed relationships, Postmates), over-indulgences (of alcohol or ego), tedious addictions (to substances, social media or praise). We subsist on caffeine, carbs, sugar and scotch. Whatever takes the least amount of effort to collect and ingest. This is not because we are lazy, per se; it’s because we are utterly drained from creating people and places and things, all day every day. We don’t have any energy left for ourselves. Even if we did, we’d find something better to do than shop, cook or tidy. We’d force ourselves to be social or binge Netflix. But, if we’re being honest, we’d skip all of that and just go back to whatever draft we’re working on or set off on a new idea. We grow paler and weaker, in more than just a physical sense.
I’ve always been conscious of that work/life/creative balance—the times I’ve been somewhat successful at it, and the times I’ve utterly failed. It’s like that quality triangle given to clients for a reality check: Good/Fast/Cheap—pick two because you can’t have it all. Work (financial stability)/Life (socializing and self-care)/Creative Endeavors: which two do you pick?
Life falls to the bottom of the list and self-care is the rock it rests upon.
For the past two years, I have utterly sucked at the Life category, so much so that Creative Endeavors suffered as well. The past twelve months have been especially meh. Work is the reason. Financial stability is a nice thing to have, but jobs offering that often come with a fair degree of responsibility and stress. I’ve only recently recognized the level of pressure I was operating under. I know, in this, I am not alone.
At first, you think, “Be patient. It will soon pass, things will get back to normal and so will I.” Then you come to understand it won’t pass; this is the new normal and you’d better figure out how to live in it. The only way to do that is next-level adulting. You can’t bullshit yourself any longer. Hard choices have to be made. Like waking up early and eating your vegetables.
That’s what I’m doing, finally: accepting adulthood. Creative adulthood, that is, which innately has an aspect of Peter Panning. It was time to face the fact that youthful patience needed to shift to mature focus. Whatever we’re waiting for (stress to reduce, life to normalize, dreams to come true) can no longer be the central point(s). Only what we are in direct control of matters. Which actions we take, how we divide our time and energy, the projects we prioritize, the relationships we tend—including the one with ourselves—are the primary concerns. Everything else has to take its place in line.
Knowing this full-on adult thing would be no easy feat, I started plotting back in April. I signed up for a new yoga studio then, though it wouldn’t be open until late June. My diet of LPQ gluten-free tartines and Indian take-out of chicken curry and aloo matar, sans rice or naan, would no longer do (I haven’t had the energy to shop let alone cook). At the tail end of 2017, I’d purchased The Autoimmune Solution (because EBV, asthma, allergies), but wasn’t ready for the culinary commitment/restrictions. (Like I said, this was going to take time.) With my fatigue at an all-time high (or six-feet-under low), I finally opened the book and checked my calendar for a date. August, after travelling and before the holidays, was the perfect time to make that change. Giving up coffee, eggs and chickpeas will be something to mourn (July has been serving as that wake). But, when I look back at when I was my most balanced, it was when I was a six-days-a-week gym rat (easier to do because I worked from home and the economy hadn’t yet crashed) and followed a hybrid diet of low-glycemic and right-for-my-blood-type. I was writing screenplays, started my first novel and was blogging on the reg (back when people did that sort of thing). Granted, financial stability came and went, but there’s something to be said about that level of self-care. I had energy for myself, my loved ones and my creative work. It was a better balance. That whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” way of doing things has something to it. Taking care of yourself takes care of a lot of other stuff, too.
I’m now in my fourth week of 5:30 alarms and 6:30 yoga. Heated practice isn’t my bag and I’ve already dehydrated myself once (because I’m all shades of awesome), so ultra-hydration is also on the list of things to do. Coordinating breakfast afterward without coffee, carbs or eggs is going to be another magic trick to perform before work (but I don’t have to worry about that until August). Getting to bed before midnight (or 1 AM) is something I’m still trying to do. But I am getting a rhythm, making choices, setting priorities, and it’s starting to feel good.
I am still stressed. There are still expectations I’m not meeting, too many projects crying for attention and a third novel giving me the stink eye, but first things first. This summer is about resetting, returning to the person I used to know and the creator I need to be.