It was a chance encounter but one that began an amazing journey of meaning. I was returning from a walk when I met into my neighbor. I asked him how he was and he mentioned that it was somewhat gloomy in his household, as his son had unexpectedly suffered the death of his small, cute dog. The conversation moved on to grief, stress and its impact on different people when he unexpectedly shared a story from his own life. “I was dealing with a lot of stress helping people I work with deal with major life challenges when I found myself sitting in my office weeping uncontrollably. I decided I had to leave my job.”
In itself this was a beautiful sharing particularly between men who are not generally noted for emotional availability. What made it even more remarkable was that at the age of thirty-four, the same thing had happened to me. So I shared my experience too. I had been under intense pressure trying to save the company I was managing from going into receivership (chapter eleven).
By a bizarre stroke of fate I had become the “last man standing” in a fragile organization that I had occasionally referred to as a “ship of fools” due to some of the crazy decisions I had observed. The bank had lost confidence in the organization and the President had asked me to find a way out. I had worked for fifteen days straight starting at 6.00 am and often not finishing until long into the night. My days were filled with meetings with lawyers, accountants and the like. Finally on a Saturday morning at about 7:00 am I became convinced that I could not succeed.
Suddenly uncontrollable weeping convulsed my body and I could do nothing about it. I thought I must have been having a nervous breakdown. Fortunately my MD was also a friend so I telephoned him at home. His wife told me that he was on call at the hospital. I did not leave a message but she was sufficiently concerned to contact him. He tracked me down to the office and between sobs I shared my concerns. He was amazingly reassuring and told me that this was the best thing that could happen. The tears were the releasing of the immense amount of stress I had internalized and I would eventually feel much better.
Following this discussion with my neighbor, I was catching up with a dear female friend who told me she was under an immense amount of stress and recently broken down into floods of uncontrollable tears. While empathizing with her, it seemed natural to share my earlier conversation with my neighbor. As I concluded she exclaimed, “do you see the amazing synchronicity this is?” In the moment it had not fully sunk in but as she wanted to go and journal her thoughts and feelings, I let it go.
The next day I took a long walk by the Fraser River and the full immensity of the coincidence sank in. I found it significant that both men immediately took steps to leave the situation that had caused the stress. My friend however had no plans to exit. I wondered if this was perhaps because men are so much more uncomfortable about tears than women however, I felt convinced that regardless both of us had taken care of ourselves in a healthy way.
I knew my friend could not just walk away from her life but it encouraged me to ask her the question, “what is your self-care plan?” She clearly had given this much thought and understood “that running from one thing to the other stresses me out and overwhelms me.” She realized that finding more space in her life was essential.
This exchange led me to begin an exploration of what a Self Care plan could look like. I try to remember to ask myself a simple question, “did I live a balanced life today?” I then examine the aspects of the body, the mind, the emotions and my Spirit or Soul. I do not beat myself up if I have not but I do attempt to stay fully conscious of what is going on in my life. I graphic way to envision this kind of approach could look like this:
For my body I like to either stretch, go to the gym and to take a walk every day. I test my mind through writing, Sudoku, and brain games. Emotionally I will try and make intimate contact with at least one friend as well as engage in something that may move me. As far as feeding the Soul, I listen to sacred music, read and learn poetry (also good for the brain), and meditate. Spirit I see as more collective than personal – my current understanding of what I call “The Mystery. ‘Play’ is a recent addition to my enquiry; I think it is important and can be overlooked. Recently a friend of mine had an amazing dream where her blonde self was prominent. Her exploration of the meaning of this symbol became clear, it was the reminder to play.
I think the most critical thing is to bring consciousness to how we are living our lives. I do not think there is any one self-care plan that can be adopted. As Carl Jung once said, “ the shoe that fits one person pinches another, there is no recipe for living that fits all cases.” However it’s always worth asking ourselves the question, “does mama need a new pair of shoes?”
Post Script: Sharing with a friend this morning she mused whether woman generally find it more difficult making major moves in their lives. She likened changing her life to shifting the course of the Titanic, a degree at a time. She wondered of the sense of responsibility many woman feel and perhaps a tendency to enable others makes self care more challenging. One just has to hope the course correction is sufficient to avoid the oncoming iceberg.