Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A follow-up to self care

Okay. Don't judge me. But, I am currently reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I saw the movie and didn't love it, because there seemed to be a lot missing, a lot that didn't make sense - much of which is perfectly clear in the book. Stop laughing Alex, because I am actually enjoying reading it.

After writing my post about the line between self-care and indulgence, I read this passage in the book that I thought was really interesting:

"For me, though, a major obstacle in my pursuit of pleasure was my ingrained sense of Puritan guilt. Do I really deserve this pleasure? This is very American, too -- the insecurity about whether we have earned our happiness. Planet Advertising in America orbits completely around the need to convince the uncertain consumer that yes, you have actually warranted a special treat. This Bud's for You! You Deserve a Break Today! Because You're Worth It! You've Come a Long Way, Baby! And the insecure consumer thinks, Yeah! Thanks! I AM gonna go buy a six-pack, damn it! Maybe even two six-packs! And then comes the reactionary binge. Followed by the remorse. Such advertising campaigns would probably not be as effective in the Italian culture, where people already know that they are entitled to enjoyment in this life. The reply in Italy to "You Deserve a Break Today" would probably be, Yeah, no duh. That's why I'm planning on taking a break at noon, to go over to your house and sleep with your wife."

I think there are a few interesting points here...First of all, restriction with a subsequent binge. We hear about this in reference to eating disorders and yo-yo diets...Skip lunch, then eat a massive dinner. This is the very reason we encouraged the overweight teens we worked with as part of the adolescent weight loss study to never skip a meal. When you skip, you tend to be hungrier and overeat at your next meal for a net of more calories than if you had eaten two small-ish meals. So then you've eaten more calories, but you feel like you've had less, because you restricted, and so then you think - well, then I deserve some dessert, too. And before you know it, whatever reasonable calorie goal you had set for yourself is blown. And then comes the guilt. (Oh guilt. How you have haunted my life.)

But all this clearly applies not just to how we eat, but the way we shop, or sleep, or the way we relax. (Well, the way I "relax.") - For example - during the week, I feel "far too busy" to watch a TV show, most of the time. But then I end up squandering the entirety of my first day off watching 5 hours of TV in a row, and then I feel guilty for "wasting" a whole day. Or, I don't get enough sleep and then feel hazy when I sleep in on Saturday.

I also find it interesting that other cultures do not exist this way. Maybe this is why Europe doesn't have the obesity problem America has - because they have a more consistent confidence that they do deserve breaks and do deserve some pleasures in life. There isn't the same need for a reactionary binge, and with no binge, there's no need for the guilt that brings the cycle back around to restricting again as penance.

Essentially, I think we need more balance. Over-eating, or over-sleeping, or over-TV-watching might all just be a quest for achieving balance that was lacking elsewhere. By budgeting time in our day-to-day lives for a variety of pursuits (including something pleasurable!), then we may just find that we don't need to binge (on whatever it is we are binging on) come the weekend. And we may find that there is time for those real self-care activities - such as sleeping well, eating well, and exercising - after all.

(However, I make no promises that I will be able to follow this philosophy myself once the hectic school year begins again...)

A bad dream

It is only July 27th, and I am already feeling that the summer is "nearly over." Because it is almost August. And once we are in August, it is almost September. And once it is September, things will get busy again. And once things are busy again, I will go bananas. And....However, the only really crazy thing is my thinking.

I had a terribly stressful dream last night that it was suddenly September, and I was fired from my Research Assistantship (meaning loss of tuition credits and stipend!) "because of the economy." (Which is weird, because once you already have a grant, "the economy" isn't going to take it away. Plus, my advisor was the one firing me, even though she is not related to this research project in any way....My brain is playing tricks on me!)

Then, today, September issues of magazines were already delivered. Even Yoga Journal can't resist the industry's strange standard of sending out magazines WAY before it is actually the issue's month. (I don't understand this at all...)

I had to stop and say WAIT! There is no use getting all panicked and frittering away an entire month worrying about things to come! What am I doing right NOW? And I realized...Oh yes. I am at the beach. I am swimming in the (very cold) ocean and it feels delicious. Oh, what is that I see? Beautiful blue skies and shimmering water? Ahh yes, for so many reasons, right now is better than whatever is coming in the future and whatever happened in the past, because it is right now. And it is beautiful!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A snippet of a phone conversation

Me: I'm excited to see you! I'm about to go food shopping, so I hope you're ready to eat delicious food all weekend!

Brother: Wait, am I going to have to eat beets and dandelions all weekend? Did you know dandelions are a weed?

Le sigh. Let's see what the dear brother has to say AFTER he eats all the yummy things I make! :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

A reflection on self-care

"Self-care" is a catch phrase I have heard a lot since beginning to work in the mental health field a few years ago. Going to workshops as a Case Manager, wise people said, "Make sure you are taking care of yourself. At the end of the day, make sure you do whatever it takes to relax yourself - a hot shower to wash the days concerns away, a run in the park with your dog, a yoga class - because you cannot care for someone else if you have not cared for yourself first." While I completely agree with the necessity and importance of self-care, what I kept hearing was, Make sure you exercise, make sure you eat well, make sure you get enough sleep. Make sure...

The trouble is, "self-care," which initially sounds like something pleasant, starts to feel like yet another thing to put on the to-do list - a task, a job. (Which means I am even less likely to want to do it.) And somehow, taking care of oneself is often the last thing checked off the to-do list (a.k.a. the one that never gets checked off, but continues to get transferred to the next day's list of tasks.)

But why is this the case? There are plenty of people who are convinced that Americans are really narcissists, so shouldn't we all love spending time on ourselves?

When I was a case manager, I often translated "self-care" to self-indulgence, which is a fairly easy mistake to make, as noted in this Psychology Today article. We are bombarded constantly with marketing messages that tell us we are "worth it," and that everyone "deserves a little 'me time.'" While I didn't do anything as problematic as going into massive credit card debt, I was so emotionally exhausted that I would often over-sleep and spend hours watching TV or movies on the couch. I didn't exercise enough (or at all) and I ate a so-so diet at weird times because my schedule was so erratic. Surprise, surprise - the time I spent "relaxing" did not rejuvenate me and I quit my job as a case manager after only a year and two months. Granted, there were other issues involved beyond my minimal self-care - such as it being my first job out of college, lack of experience and relevant education, and being a little too emotionally invested. I never got the hang of the schedule, and overall it wasn't a good match for my personality. (I need a lot more structure!) But as my professor noted in our last counseling class, self-care doesn't work when you are already burned out. I didn't start attending yoga classes regularly or investing more time in creating a healthy schedule until it was already too late. I felt a lot of guilt about not being able to "handle it" when I decided to leave the job, and I shed a lot of tears over feeling like I failed myself and the children I worked with. But all was not lost: I learned a lot about what I need in a work environment, ways to be organized, and different things I can do to advocate for myself.

As a full-time Research Coordinator, I had different kinds of job stress, but was overall able to maintain a healthier lifestyle. I got the right amount of sleep, exercised fairly regularly, and took yoga breaks in my office. Also, since I was working on a weight loss study, I started paying more attention to what I ate. (Alex described this time in our life as when we "started eating a lot of baby carrots.")

Now, as a graduate student, the self-care subject has come up in many classes again, yet has been difficult to maintain, but for different reasons. A dominant factor for me is definitely Time. During the Spring semester, I was taking five classes, working part-time as a research assistant, and doing a practicum simultaneously. This meant that I would sometimes leave the house at 7:00 AM and not return home until 10:30 PM. When exactly was I supposed to maintain a relationship with my spouse, friends, and family, let alone fit in some self-care? I'll say during this time, the two greatest decisions I ever made were these: 1) Deciding it was worth it to schlep all my extra stuff into the city to go to the gym in between work and class and 2) Marrying a man who was willing to pack me a lunch and cook me dinner every day.

The second dominant factor is a little more elusive, I think. For some of us, a very strong desire to succeed can mean pushing ourselves to do more, be better, be able to "handle" it all. In some ways, society rewards people who can somehow "do it all" and instills guilty feelings in those who live a more balanced life. If you are not doing this, that, and the other just like Mrs. So-and-So, are you as successful?

I'm going to say, Yes! Especially over the long term. While it might seem impressive now that that person can juggle all those things, the likelihood of maintaining that kind of insane schedule is low. Having balance in one's life is potentially the only way to not get burned out, and for me, the only way to really feel happy.

Too much spinach can give you gout, by which I mean, too much of *anything* is not good for you. So roll out your yoga mat, put on your sneakers, or turn up the music for a private dance party in your living room. It might not be easy, but taking care of yourself is really the best way to prepare yourself to care for somebody else.

Also, be honest with yourself. Chances are, a little less time on Facebook might be the only change that has to be made to squeeze in 20 minutes of restorative yoga before bedtime (she says to herself with a sigh.)

What do you guys do to practice self-care? Do you have any time-management tips or tricks you use to squeeze everything into a day? How can we support and encourage each other to keep up with our self-care practices?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A burning desire

Also, how much do I want this dress?!
If you go to and zoom in, you'll see that the print is elephants and polka dots! How adorable!

An ode to elephants, part I

So, what's with the elephants?

I am certain it is a burning question in all of your minds, so I am going to write a few posts over the next few days (or weeks) about elephants, why they are awesome, and why I love them.

It all began with Tufts University. A place that is near and dear to my heart....The place where I met my soul mate (is that too cheesy to say?) The place where I got a college education. The place where I made multiple dear friendships. The place that allowed me to study in Paris. I could go on, but I really love Tufts. I drank the Koolaid, and I believe that my fancy education was worth it. I also believe that Tufts, especially, is an amazing institution that teaches its students the importance of making "a world of difference." We each have a civic duty to give back to our communities.

And who other to inspire in us this spirit of cooperation and selflessness than Jumbo the elephant? Jumbo is the mascot of Tufts. He began his life in Ethiopia, and was captured as a baby in 1861. Named potentially as a misspelling of "Jumbe," the Swahili word for "chief," the name of Jumbo the elephant was what introduced the word "jumbo" to our language. He lived the early part of his life in Paris, at the Jardin des Plantes, but then was traded to the Regent Park zoo in London. There he met his keeper "Scotty," who would be with him for the rest of his life. In London, Jumbo lived a relatively happy life, giving rides to children, including the children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria, and even to Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Phineas T. Barnum!

Finally, Jumbo made his way to America in 1882, purchased by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to become the main act in the Barnum and Bailey circus. (While thinking of circus animals makes me sad, Jumbo actually did not have to do any "tricks" beyond walking in a circle around the ring next to a baby elephant, so that the crowd could be impressed by his massive size.) Another $20,000 was spent on the logistics of transporting Jumbo to the states, but Barnum made his money back within the first 10 days of Jumbo being a part of the circus menagerie. In the first year, he made $1.5 million!

However, the reason I am proud to have Jumbo as a mascot lies in the story of his tragic death. While it may not actually be true, Barnum's account of Jumbo's death takes place in 1885, when Jumbo was 24 years old. The menagerie was being loaded onto the trains to leave St. Thomas, Ontario, when an unscheduled express freight train came barreling past. Jumbo, who was accompanying the baby elephant Tom Thumb, gave his life to protect the baby elephant by pushing him onto the bank and being struck by the train himself. However it happened, multiple accounts confirm the final moments of his life, when Jumbo curled his trunk around his trainer Scotty, drawing him to his head as Scotty sobbed.

In 1889, after a world tour, Jumbo's stuffed body was donated to Tufts and he became our mascot. Sadly, in 1975, a fire destroyed the body, but the ashes are still kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director's office today.

True or not, this is the story of Jumbo's death that is told at Tufts, because we want to be inspired to be as giving and selfless as Jumbo!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A battle between Ennui and Gratitude

I am having one of those days when I have a very long to-do list, but I cannot seem to make myself do anything that actually *needs* to get done. Of course I can manage to play Words with Friends, troll on the internet for blogs and recipes, and watch episode of "Mercy" on Netflix, but forget about mopping the floor or doing my Yoga Teacher Training homework. It's sort of a mix of the blah's and the I-don't-want-to-work-I-want-to-bang-on-the-drum-all-day's. If I was going to be this unproductive, I wish I would have just gone to the beach!

One thing I can say for myself is that I have been letting some ideas marinate in my head for the practice yoga class I am supposed to plan and teach at this weekend's penultimate training. It would be better if I was farther along in my actual "lesson plan," but I will get there eventually, I'm sure.

I've been ruminating on the concept of Gratitude, which in yoga philosophy is called Aparigraha. One of the 5 yamas, Aparigraha is also translated as "awareness of abundance, fulfillment," or "non-greed, non-possessiveness." It's one of the main tenets of yoga philosophy that encourages us to reflect our true nature by living in peace with ourselves and each other.

Gratitude is also a topic that came up in an article I read for our pre-practicum class last session in school, and how important it is as part of Positive Psychology. The article was about how to be an "authentically happy School Psychologist." Research done in the field of positive psychology found that people who kept "gratitude journals," where they wrote down things, events, or people for which or whom they felt grateful, experienced greater SWB, or subjective well-being. Essentially, people who make an active effort to feel and express gratitude are happier. Research suggests these people enjoy their work more, are more energetic and optimistic, and are more likely to offer help and support to others (If anyone wants the citations for these articles, just let me know!) So why don't we all do this every day?

As a society, we have Thanksgiving Day as one day a year when we pause to give thanks for the blessings in our lives, but the irony is that we eat like gluttons on that day! I'm not necessarily saying that we shouldn't -- I love green bean casserole and turkey with fresh cranberry sauce! -- but a part of Aparigraha is feeling grateful for the abundance we *already* have in our lives and not needing to grasp onto all these other things.

Amazingly, Gratitude can also be a powerful antidote to angry or frustrated feelings. I know that when feeling upset, it can be extremely difficult to access logic or opposite positive emotions. (Trust me, I definitely don't manage to do this all the time.) But on the occasions when I have been able to stop, breathe, and think about something I am thankful for, it is easier to let the frustration or anger go. If Anger is a block of ice, Gratitude melts it into water so you can no longer hold onto it. One example from this past winter: I was waiting on the train platform, early in the morning. I was tired, it was cold and raining, I had a long day ahead of me, and to top it off, the train was late for the gazillionth day in a row. I could feel the frustration rising up inside, like this day was already doomed... but I was able to stop and think...Well, at least I have a warm coat on, I remembered to bring my umbrella, and I have a mug full of hot coffee. It could be worse. And by concentrating on those things I was grateful for, I just couldn't hold on to that frustration anymore, and the day went on OK.

So today, even though I haven't been as productive as I should have, I am still grateful for many things: For the beautiful summer weather, for the wonderful Farmer's Market in town where I got these scrumptious raspberries and this stunning dahlia, and for coming home to a cool air-conditioned apartment.

(In the background of the photo, you can see Gatsby being grateful that I let him lick the empty peanut butter jar! And here's hoping the husband is grateful I didn't go ahead and eat all the raspberries myself :P )

A CSA update

I am really loving being a part of the Farm Direct Co-op. Every week is like a surprise and a puzzle to come up with creative and delicious ways to use our fresh produce. (Not that I am actually coming up with recipes myself, I'm not at all a talented chef. But I enjoy scouring the internet for recipes that sound good!)

I mentioned I was excited about the Dandelion Greens last week, and I have to say they were very yummy, mostly because of this crack-tastic hot dressing. I used the peas to make this light and summery pasta dish from Cooking Light, which I've made before (but it is clearly worth repeating!)

On Tuesday, I made a healthy and delicious quinoa dish that the FDC blog posted, using the kale from the FDC, plus a head of broccoli, basil, and 2 tomatoes from the Salem Farmer's Market.

This week, we received: 3 more cucumbers (I'm still looking to perfect an easy cucumber salad.) 2 summer squash and 1 zucchini, 1 tomato, a bunch of swiss chard, and a bunch of beets.

Last night, I made this soup with the summer squash, zucchini, and half of the swiss chard. It was delicious! Plus, a side salad with last week's lettuce, some of the cucumber, tomato, and an orange bell pepper we had kicking around. Definitely worth repeating.

Tonight I'm planning to make this with the beets. I've never used the beet greens before, but I'm trying my best to not be wasteful. Plus, the beets are sort of small, so they wouldn't amount to much on their own. However, I think I'm going to boil the beets instead of roast them, because I just don't think I can stand to turn my oven on today!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A foot is not always a foot

Here we are in July already, and I have not written a single post about my pre-practicum experience, which has been over for weeks. It went by remarkably quickly, and I don't think I ever lost the feeling of being an over-stimulated puppy dressed up in a skirt and heels. I went around trying to remember all those people's names, but all I really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and take a nap!

The "pre-" practicum is actually a really great idea. We spend 75 hours in a school, shadowing and observing, before we begin our "real" practicum in the Fall, when we can be put to work. The purpose is to get one's feet wet, to be exposed to the school ecology, to get acclimated. Even though I obviously attended Middle School myself, and visited many schools as a Case Manager, it is amazing how different each school can be, and how much we miss as self-absorbed adolescents. There is a whole buzzing hive of activity that goes on beyond the classroom, a whole network of relationships and conversations behind what we see as children, as students. I don't think I am quite "acclimated," but the initial shock has worn off. I do think when I return in September, there will be more of a feeling of "coming back," rather than the feeling of Beginning.

I also can't say that there were too many humorous moments, mostly because my brain was racing to keep up with learning the map of the school and remembering who was who, rather than noticing the funny parts. But here is one little parting tidbit, from a lesson about units of measurement:

5th grade boy: This ruler is a foot? (Holds up to his own foot) But my foot isn't as big as this, to tell you the truth!