What Self-Care Is Not

elaina m. avalos, self-care sunday, elaina avalos, live well be well

At one time in my life, I thought I defined self-care fairly well. I thought I knew what I needed to ensure I was taking care of myself – first. Recently, my therapist (yes, I go to therapy and yes I’m proud to say this) asked me what I did for self-care. I couldn’t answer her question. I found this annoying. Her question wasn’t annoying – the fact that I couldn’t answer the question is what annoyed me. It has been a few weeks since the last time she asked me that. It took me several weeks and a few major realizations to figure out some of those things on my self-care list.

I think we can tend to have rote answers when it comes to defining self-care. But we’re all freaking different as individuals. What works for me, may not work for you. Self-care is not defined for you. You define what that means and what that looks like. You may learn through the experiences of others, but at the end of the day, you have to take the time to sift through the craziness of life, to figure out what it is that works for you.

Before I moved to the town I live in now, my self-care routine was much easier to define. I hiked at least once a week on a nearby trail. I went to the beach about once a week. I cooked awesome meals for myself on the weekend because I adore cooking. I sat on my patio or back deck and enjoyed hours of being outside soaking in the warm or cool air, breezes, and the beauty of my tree-filled yard. I grilled. I walked along the river. I took bubble baths with lights low and candles burning. When I lived in the super quaint downtown – that was the colonial capital of North Carolina, I didn’t have a yard and my condo complex didn’t have grass. So twice a day, I walked the dog along the Neuse River, enjoying the fresh air, spring flowers or the white-capped river during nor-easters. I slowed down enough, that I found delight and joy in the dumbest things. But that was self-care too.

Another way I incorporated a little self-care into my weekly routine was to buy flowers – for myself. This was a weekly ritual. It’s not as easy to do here. This might sound weird, but it’s hard to find fresh flowers here. Unless it’s roses and carnations. Even at our farmer’s markets, they’re few and far between. If I’m lucky, I can get a hold of some sunflowers or zinnias. Last year, I found one farmer that had a ton of wild flowers and I spent a ridiculous amount of money buying up as much as I could. When I lived at home in California, Trader Joe’s and Vons sold daffodil bundles in the spring for $1.50-ish. I bought them every week. At my Joshua Tree farmer’s market, which I walked to from my house, an old hippy sold beautiful bunches of wildflowers. I never left the market without flowers. In the fall, I bought “pumpkin trees” from him. I’ve longed for those every autumn since. The flowers I bought were next to my bed, in my office, and around my home. They brought pops of color and joy to my window sill while I washed dishes. In my cave-like offices in large aircraft hangars where I worked, they were a little bit of the outside (I love being outdoors) brightening my day.

But I can’t get a hold of fresh flowers like the ones I used to. And yesterday I’d decided I had enough. So I drove almost 1.5 hours south, to get what I wanted from Trader Joe’s. Is driving 1.5 hours for fresh flowers weird? Probably, but I’m a happy camper. I bought up a bunch! I will take some time today to put them in bud vases and set them out around my apartment. I’ll take one vase to work with me, tomorrow.

I can tell you what self-care is not. Self-care is not a fill-in-the-blank answer that works for everyone. Self-care may look like manicures and bubble baths. Or it could be weeding in your garden, reading your favorite book again for the millionth time, or not getting out of bed on Sunday and watching your favorite movies all day. I can also tell you that self-care is not always easy to define. But it’s worth the time exploring. We are no good to others and we can’t fully live out our calling in life, in my opinion, if we’re not taking care of ourselves first.

So while it might sound crazy to you, yesterday I drove a total of three hours for flowers. And today, their sweet sent and bright colors are giving me constant joy. That is self-care, to me.

How do you define self-care? Do you do anything random (like drive 1.5 for flowers), that might sound weird to others?

It May Stretch or Tangle

One a blustery afternoon in mid-December, I turned around in the middle of a busy NorCal Trader Joe’s – intending to reach for the olive oil that was behind me. It was the first day in months I’d had a true break. Our busy season stretched from March through early December. And I was reveling in the luxury of wandering. I’d wandered all day. I’d wandered at home – piddling around and doing nothing meaningful. I’d wandered in Target. I’d sat drinking a latte at my favorite coffee shop. And then, I wandered in the grocery store – prepared to spend ridiculous sums of cash at TJ’s.

By the way, I know that store like the back of my hand. I had just grabbed some of my favorite soups from the shelf in front of me and turned quickly, before realizing there was someone behind me. I crashed into him. Now let me tell you something about running into someone when you’re not paying attention. First, there’s total embarrassment. Then, there’s terror – because it’s 2021 and people are gigantic and horrific arseholes. And then, when your brain catches up with your body, there’s a thing that happens when you’re a me. If you’re a me, you realize you’ve just run into the man you’ve spent years of your life loving {and then missing}.

It’s hard to explain the confusion that filled my entire being in that moment. I turned – red-hot, flustery, embarrassed – in an instant. The last time I’d laid eyes on that beautiful man, it was thousands of miles and a lifetime ago. I’d walked away from him and the fatigue of fighting for us, alone. I’d been certain I’d never see his face again. When I ran into him, literally, it wasn’t his face I saw. It was the back of his head. In case you’re wondering if you’d ever be able to pick out the love of your life based on the back of his head, I can promise you – you can. He said, “Uh, helllloooo? Pay attention to where you’re going.”

I replied in the only way I know how. “I never did have a good sense of direction.” He froze – mid-motion and turned around. Not that I’d doubted my skill at identifying the backside and/or head of the man I’d burn down the world for, but there he was, looking hotter than ever – standing in my freaking Trader Joe’s.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world…” I said. He smiled. It’s the smile I’ve spent a lifetime waiting for. And it’s the smile I have loved without reservation, for far too long. But it’s not exactly a smile I expected to see in the olive oil and soup section of my Monterey, California – Trader Joe’s.

The day I walked away from him I was willing to accept that I might spend the rest of my days alone. I was somehow okay with that. I mean, not okay. But like, sort of okay. I’d found the soul I thought I was created for. It was his – it was his soul. He’d been the one. He will always be the one. But when I watched the foundation we’d built – crumble, I wasn’t sure it would ever be in the cards for me to find someone else.

There were times when we’d talk – for hours on end as if time didn’t exist or we’d argue over the stupidest things – or laugh in the simple joy of learning another human being – that I’d come to believe that I’d literally been formed, from the foundations of time, to love him.

Stupid. That sounds stupid. And yet, I can’t escape this thought. There’s an old Chinese proverb that I’ve come to understand as being beautifully and restoratively true. The proverb is, “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” It may stretch or tangle, but it’s never gonna break.

We – this beautiful man and I – standing in a noisy and busy Trader Joe’s – thousands of miles from where we fell in love – are proof positive. His eyes lock with mine and his smile widens. I tilt my head a little and smile back. I don’t need to wonder if I should let him know how terribly I’ve missed him. “I’ve missed you,” I mouth. But I choose not to speak these words out into the open, as if it’ll break the spell. But I can’t help myself, I want him to know, in-spite-of-it-all, I’ve missed him. He looks down at the floor. And then, when he looks up at me, I know. The intensity in his gaze is almost too much for me to manage, here in front of the olive oil at TJ’s. We are tied to each other with a red thread. It has stretched and tangled. Oh, how it’s stretched and tangled. I’ve wondered at times if the tie would sever. It hasn’t. It’s never gonna break.

Seeing him now, standing in this brightly lit bastion of American overabundance, I’m certain of it. I won’t give up on him. And I know, seeing him here tonight, he won’t give up on me either. We don’t make a lot of sense to others looking in. Maybe we never will. In the unruly way our hearts connect and are tied to each other, I hope we never lose that. I’d happily not make sense with him, for all of the rest of my days.

You can’t tame wild things or wild hearts.

Dealing with Anxiety

anxiety, panic attacks

I highly recommend this podcast “Unwinding Anxiety. Breaking the Habit of Worry and Fear,” if you’re a person that is dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, or fear/worry. It’s super interesting and helpful.

If the link doesn’t work, try this: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/untangle/id1073460738?i=1000513281784.