Self-Care Amidst COVID-19

This time in our history with COVID-19 and this time in my life with my husband’s illness help me to remember the important things. When we were first married, my husband would say, “If money can fix it, it’s not a problem.” I argued that we didn’t have any money, so it was a problem. (We were so poor all those 37 years ago, but we had love.) Yet, with years and experience comes wisdom. I have learned that priceless things such as health are so much more important than wealth. And, so I want to focus today’s blog/discussion on focusing on the priceless.

We are separated as a society with social distancing, and my husband and I are separated by his illness as he is hospitalized. With things the way they are, he can’t have visitors. I continue to argue that I’m not a visitor I’m his wife. But, to the community, I am a visitor. I understand, and I get it, but it doesn’t make the pain any less. So, I’m reminded to focus on the good things in life: my healthy children and grandchildren, our jobs that continue to support us, the support of friends, etc. because we can’t give from an empty bucket. And, it’s so important to be able to give as one can’t help others without helping themselves.

To laugh often and much.

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others. To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition. To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words are even more significant today to remind us to focus on the priceless as we fill our buckets. My hope is that you can remember to take care of yourself as we continue to care for others with this social distancing. Practice some informal self-care strategies:

* Enjoy times full of laughter, ice cream and good times

* Write a journal

* Take a bubble bath

* Take time for appreciating or creating art

* Watch a sunset

* Read for leisure

* Gardening

* Yoga (active relaxation)

* Hug someone

* Listen to music (singing along with the radio in the car works wonders)

* Listen to soft music in combination with deep breathing exercises

* Watch movies (Save the heavy dramas for when life isn’t already full of dramas)

* Go for a walk

* Dance

* Eat one piece of chocolate

* Reduce clutter/Get more organized so that the details of everyday life don’t add to stress

* Take a weekend retreat or a day trip

* Meditate/Listen to a guided imagery tape

* Practice mindfulness

* Get a massage

* Begin the day with gratitude and continue to practice it throughout the day

* Pray

Building Children

While we are doing this repair work for ourselves, we can help our teenagers do it right for the first time. It is much easier to build a child than to repair an adult!

Consider Marilyn Monroe for a minute. Today’s society would consider her “plus-size” as she was a size fourteen. But, in her day, she (along with a very good agent) was able to convince the rest of society that she was THE most beautiful. Everybody tried to look like Marilyn – right down to the bleached blonde hair and “full figure”. Here again, perception rules! The tragedy happens when we look deeper to see the personal perception that Marilyn had of herself. She did not think of herself as beautiful or successful. Whether you believe that she committed suicide or was murdered, the fact remains indisputable that she was unhappy. She was always reaching to fit into that “Beautiful People” group or the “Success Regime”. The sad fact was that she has already arrived. Still, she didn’t see it. She had reached the brass ring, but then she felt she need to gold-plate it. 

We can think of several such figures throughout history and within the modern day society. Princess Diana appeared as if she had the world by the tail when she married Prince Charles, but we watched her struggles within the media and the paparazzi. And, several movie stars have literally fallen apart right before our eyes as their stories are told within the press. The sad truth is that even if you have a near-perfect body, you may not be able to appreciate it. One example is from Figi. Ellen Goodman (1999) writes of the “Joy of Fat” in this remote country. The women greet each other with cheerful exchanges of ritual compliments of “You look wonderful! You’ve put on weight!” Sounds like dialogue from Fantasy Island? But, this Western fantasy was a South Pacific way of life. In Fiji, before 1995, big was beautiful and bigger was more beautiful – and people really did flatter each other with exclamations about weight gain. In this island paradise, food was not only love, it was a cultural imperative. Eating and overeating were rites of mutual hospitality. Everyone worried about losing weight – but not the way we do in America. “Going thin” was considered to be a sign of some social problem – a worrisome indication the person wasn’t getting enough to eat. But, something happened in 1995. A Western mirror was shoved into the face of the Fijian people. Television came to the island. 

Suddenly, the girls of rural coastal villages were watching the girls of “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills 90210”, not to mention “Seinfeld” and the soap operas. Within 38 months, the number of teens at risk for eating disorders more than doubled to 29 percent. The number of high school girls who vomited for weight control went up five times to 15 percent. Worse yet, 74 percent of the Fiji teens in the study said they felt “too big or fat” at least some of the time, and 62 percent said they had dieted in the past month. (Goodman, 1999) 

While a direct causal link between television, magazines, advertisements and eating disorder cannot be provem, this is certainly a good argument. The beautiful starlet does not cause anorexia. Nor does the pencil thin fashion magazine model cause bulimia. Nevertheless, you don’t get a much better lab experiment than this. In just 38 months, a television-free culture that defined a fat person as robust has become a television culture that sees robust as, well, repulsive. 

Think about the models from the sixteenth century. In their day, they were considered the ultimate of perfection beauty. Yet, they would have been a size sixteen in today’s society. Consider the ladies with their parasols at the turn of the 19th century. Fair skin was the rage. As tan face and body meant you had to work. Now, we all risk skin cancer for that same tan skin. Once again, perception rules!

References

Goodman, E. (May 1999).  The Joy of Fat.  The Courier Journal.  Louisville, Kentucky.

The Self-Image War: The Beauty Battle

Most of us have been watching others participate as well as participating ourselves in the “beauty war”. In our grief of “ugliness”, we compare ourselves to Barbie look-a-likes, the Marilyn Monroe ideal, or the current model of the day, and other such examples of beauty shoved at us from “perfect” models in the latest fashion magazines. But, we must remember that it is all in our perception. I have often said that I wish I could see myself through the eyes of those who love me. But, are we not to love ourselves as well? If we don’t take care of ourselves, then there is nothing left to give others, says the old adage.

Just as every little thing is beautiful in its own way, so are all of us. Each house with its unique structure is lived in and wanted by someone. Each flower with its special blossom smells sweet and appears beautiful to someone. (Even dandelions are enjoyed by children!) Each animal with its distinguished character and look is cherished by someone. (Even Pumba, the warthog, is cute in his own way. And, he teaches a wonderful lesson in “Akuna Matata”. Just listen to the words.) Each perfume, with its distinctive smell is purchased, worn and appreciated by someone. Each unique profession, career, or vocation is chosen and valued by someone. And so on …

We don’t want all of our houses looking the same. Some of us prefer a Cape Cod, while others prefer a two story, while others prefer a different architecture altogether. All structures have their own specific positive characteristic! And, so do we as human structures. We need to grab on to that positive characteristic, hold on tight, play it up as much as possible, and convince ourselves that what we have is beauty. The world believes the notions that we put out. If we love ourselves, the world loves us. If we hate ourselves, then we become insecure, angry people that the world has difficulty loving as well.

We need to accept ourselves so that our adolescents can accept themselves. I learned a valuable lesson one day from one of my students. I have fought a weight issue all my life, and usually use the defense mechanism of self-deprecation and humor to handle it. In my middle school English classroom one day, I made yet another off-hand comment about my weight. One of the girls came up to me after class and said, “Please don’t say those things about yourself. I’m about your size, and it makes me feel bad.” Wow! I had never thought about how my own personal feelings affected others. That was powerful for me. Then, I connected that back to my own children, who were still in elementary school at the time. They, of course, look like me. They carry my genes. I learned that day to try to remember to transmit positive vibes about myself, not only for me but especially for those that love me.