Self Care during the Hard Times


Hard times arrived last week. In no particular order of importance. A mistake I made which cost me a big project. The death of an old friend. Conflict with a member of staff. A visit from a difficult family member. My dog’s health continues to worsen

It has been one tough week for me and I am sitting here feeling a bit bruised. I have felt sadness, fear, regret, self judgement, anger, rage, a whole collective of suffering. Oh including a big ulcer under my tongue which makes talking and eating hard!

Difficulties require self care specific to each situation and all require self compassion, compassion for all those involved, and for me also many many cups of tea. This is how I have been dealing with each.

In the first situation where I made a careless mistake in the costing and lost the big job. There was and is a temptation to really beat myself up and for my inner self talk to be critical and even self abusive.

Many expressions such as ‘you stupid idiot’ came into my mind when I realised what I had done. However I now know that I can let these thoughts arise as they do, and that I don’t have to make a big massive 5 course meal of them and develop them into deeper or more prolonged self criticism. There is no point in prolonging negative inner dialogue, it solves nothing, and just leads to unnecessary suffering.

So I quickly faced where I had gone wrong. I don’t want to make the same mistake again of course. I felt compassion for myself. It didnt take much justification to feel self compassion, I have a lot on my plate. I am running quite a big business all on my own and there are times when I don’t do it perfectly. I forgive myself for making this mistake. And then I move on. There will be other projects for us, and I focus on finding those.

The negative self judgemental thoughts still arise as the days go by, and I see them, say, ‘yes I hear you’, and let them go. A light touch. Not denying the thoughts or trying to suppress them but seeing them, and I let go and let go soon after they are recognised. No lingering. No developing into another thought and another. As soon as the first one is seen, its ‘hello self judgement thought’ and goodbye. No pushing or pulling, just allowing it to pass away as they always do. Like the old phrase goes, keep the front door open and the back door open too, so when a thought arrives, just don’t invite it to tea. Let it in and let it out the back.

The death of the old friend was a blow, as it always is for someone to die and suddenly stop being around when it is an unexpected death like his was. There was my loss and the bigger loss of his family who I am very close to, his wife and children to deal with. This weekend was the funeral rituals in church, the crematorium and the after gathering. So again holding myself in self compassion and sending compassion out to everyone involved. Spent the time giving out as much care and love as I could. And I will look after his dear wife and spend much quality time with her in the weeks and months to come.

The conflict with the staff member. I had started regaining trust in him, and I saw that he had started trying to take advantage of this and this resulted in a loss of trust. I find conflict with people stressful, and I am concerned that I do the right and fair thing in these situations. I know in these situations that I do not want to act on any hostility that arises, which it does. It makes my thoughts race around the situation, going over and over it in my head. It sets off adrenaline which alerts the body’s ‘defend yourself’ and ‘attack’ systems. It can be a train that is hard to get off once the biological chemistry is set into motion and stress hormones are coursing through the body.

This sort of experience happens quite often, when something triggers my threat detection system. When this happens I know it will not create a beneficial outcome if I act on the feelings that arise, so I give myself some space.

I focus first on calming the body down. It is something I do a lot even when I haven’t been triggered by stressful situations. My daily morning swim is a method I employ to keep my average state more balanced and relaxed. It is kind to my body to give it exercise, as it wants to move around. I set myself small goals to achieve to help motivate against any inertia that can arise. This week I increased the length I swim and pushed myself a bit more. It felt good and was helpful.

The daily nature walks too are a big help with stress. To find oneself surrounded by trees, birds, walking by a river, smelling the air, feeling it on ones skin. It brings me into the present and out of my head and its swirling thought storms.

I did some mindfulness walking too, which involves walking super slowly, so slowly that you almost lose balance. This is against the inner flight fight stress impulses and can be difficult to start with. But once you accept that you will walk really really slowly, say from from this tree to that tree, you just do it. Then you start noticing what is actually happening right in the moment. The breeze that you feel on the skin, the ground under your feet, the smell of autumn, the sounds near and distant. It all opens up in sharp relief, the present moment. And in the present we are safe. It is what it is. No desire to change it, just sink into it fully.

The drama goes, the death of the friend, the difficult family member, none of it exists in that moment. The present moment is a refuge. I ask, what is real right now, this very second? Not what my mind is chewing over endlessly. That is not real, those are thoughts, stories, interpretations of events, that have happened or may happen. What is happening right this second?

Right this second I am warm enough, I am safe enough. I feel the seat I am sitting on, I see the screen in front of me. I notice the breath is going in and out. The dog is sleeping. This is what is real right now.

The family member is a tricky one.  I don’t feel very comfortable around her. Even last night there was a gleeful look as she hinted she could expose a secret from my past. Its nothing big, just experimental stuff I did while young that my mum would be confused about if she heard.

I am still working hard here to comfort myself and to find a way to rest in compassion and love when she is there. I have many thought streams arising about her that are defence and attack focused and that are not how I genuinely feel towards her. I am always slightly on edge when she is around, and thankfully she doesn’t visit very often.

Even just writing about this, stress arises, thoughts arise, judgements, interpretations. So back to the present again. What is happening right now? I am sitting typing feeling the keys on my fingertips. The dog is lying beside me. I can hear my son packing for his return to Spain. Music in the background, the light in the room changing as the clouds pass the sun. This is the now. It is where life happens. Events arise and they disappear continually, and we can remain in the present.

I forgive myself for having negative judgemental thoughts about anybody including myself.

The dog. She is old and her time to go is near. A decision and an event that I dread. Adding to this is that I am having to stand up to the vet who sees it as an opportunity to try and play on my emotions and carry out unnecessary and expensive interventions. I deal with this assertively and with as much gentleness as I can. I am also cleaning up a lot of vomit every week as her system starts to fail. This is hard work too.

How to be with this? Well as sadness arises, I allow it. There is no escaping that my dog friend will be leaving soon and this is sad, but right now she is here. What I am doing and can do is enjoy each and every moment with her, cherish her and give her the best quality of life I can. And send myself compassion. It is hard watching a friend’s health decline. And feel compassion for others out there who are looking after ailing loved ones. I am not alone in this state. There are people out there looking after husbands, wives, partners, children who are sick, many of them and I send them a loving thought of compassion. I am not getting into how my suffering compares to anyone else’s suffering, it just is suffering in its different levels of intensity.

Life has its inbreathing and outbreathing cycles just like our breath. There are times of rising and times of declining, day and night expansion and contraction. There is a place of stillness in me which I can, when I choose to, remember and sit in.

It is not a place that stops me experiencing the rising and falling cycles, I still experience everything fully and intensely but with increasing equilibrium despite the changing scenery of life’s experiences. I can recognise times of increase and I can recognise times of decrease. I can heal my own wounds using self compassion, and I can calm and look after myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. I can sooth myself when I am hurting by being gentle and using self compassion. I can remember that I am not alone in my suffering, that many others are also suffering in the world too.

Its times like this that I remember what nurtures me. I read inspiring material that focuses on the positive and not what is wrong with the world. I take myself to places nearby which are beautiful, quiet and soothing.  I eat consciously and well, and watch out for the tendency to comfort eat. I listen to music that uplifts. I choose the company I keep carefully.

Last but not least, I return to remembering all that I have in my life that holds and nurtures me, and all that I feel grateful for. It is a very long list and I have found that gratitude is a feeling that brings a gentleness with it, a humility, and it reacquaints me with what is real and how well supported I am. I say thank you inside to my family, to my neighbours, to the dog, to this house, to my staff, to my clients, to this beautiful neighbourhood. I move outwards to saying thanks to this wonderful city, to the sunshine, the sunsets, the country I live in and all the people who live in it and work hard to make it a great and safe place to live. Even further outwards I say thanks to the people and the countries which give me such amazing food to eat. Doing this makes me realise how well supported I really am.

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