How to be Unwell

brene brown, talk to yourself as you would someone you love, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our own needs first, so that we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of.

Jennifer Louden

When I re-launched this blog a while back, I wanted to focus on wellness (alongside my fiction). It has been interesting to see where this wellness journey has taken me. I thought I’d figured some things out. But I learn the hard way. Oh how I learn the hard way. God made me a fighter. I don’t give up easily. Lordy, I do not give up.

This is a beautiful thing – to be so dedicated, to love so much, to care so much – that I fight until there’s a win. I don’t hate that about me. I’m proud of it. It’s also the bane of my existence. Hahaha. This penchant to stick to it until there’s change – until I’ve exhausted all resources – also sometimes means it is hard to learn lessons I desperately need to learn. I am a smart woman. But apparently, I’m sort of thick headed too. I was learning about wellness and what that means. I was working on it. But it hadn’t settled deep down into my bones.

I wrote in August about my health deteriorating. It is actually worse than I expected. I saw it coming. It’s like watching a hurricane, off our coast, in the Atlantic hurricane season. You watch that thing turn and turn as it gets closer to you, when you live in a hurricane zone. You know it’s coming. You do your best to brace for impact, but even still you can be caught unaware.

I have, even recently, feared what I wrote here. Even after promising myself I wouldn’t. But that’s pointless. If I can’t get a job because I’m a person who lives authentically and shares that, it’s not the place for me. If I write openly and if people somehow view me as less than or weak – because I write what I’m compelled to write, so be it.

It’s like a mother, when the baby is crying, she picks up the baby and she holds the baby tenderly in her arms. Your pain, your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, to recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get a relief.

Thich Nhat Hanh


I’ve just finished Danielle Walker‘s new memoir, Food Saved Me. What I didn’t expect as I read this book, was to feel seen, hopeful, and also terribly fearful that it will take me longer than I can stand to think about – to find the solution to what’s happening with my health. But one thing the book convinced me of, was that I felt instant community with someone (Danielle) that I haven’t met. She wrote things about God, that I could have written. I felt less alone in this crazy mess, as I read.

As I finished the book the other night, I felt compelled to walk through this journey here – when I can. I’m working through the potential that I have new diagnoses that may come my way, or perhaps an incorrect diagnosis, leading me to be treated for the wrong thing for five or more years. I have three specialist appointments coming up at Duke – as I search for answers. I have things I’m changing in my “diet” and in how I manage the day to day at work and home. Thankfully, at work, I have some new help which is creating some space to reset.

But I believe we are whole persons. To treat one part of us when we’re sick (our bodies alone), I think we will ultimately fail. We are complex beings and I believe, spiritual beings, first and foremost.

I found a modicum of physical wellness in years past. But it didn’t seep into other places. I didn’t care for myself as I could have or should have. This last year and a half, on the heels of losing my son, was too much. The avalanche was too much – without caring for myself as a whole person – that is. There are some of you that know exactly what I mean. Right? You care for everything and everyone – except yourself.

Talk to yourself as you would someone you love.

Brene Brown


What does it mean to care for yourself? Self-care has come to mean bubble baths, dark chocolate, and a pedicure. It could be that. But that often grazes the surface, at least for me. Self- care means strong, deep boundaries. It means being protective of our time, our life, our home, and our hearts. It means leaving work at work. While my job requires interruptions at home, it cannot be as bad as it has for eleven years. I’ve allowed too much seepage. I care too much. More specifically, I care too much what people think. When I should watch and guard my time and well-being, I place others above myself to my detriment. Why? Good question. Why do you do it? Answering that question for ourselves is healing. For me, I’ve also allowed abusive behavior of individuals – one of whom even defined himself as a “snake” – to deeply impact my responses to things and to cloud my view of myself, my calling, and what I know to be true about myself, my expertise, and God’s call on my life.

Friend, I have shit to do. I have a calling. I have books to write, people to love, and hopefully a family waiting in the wings. I can’t get any sicker than I am in this moment. This is the end of the road on that front. But we are whole persons. So it can’t just be about physical healing. If you’re in a similar boat – whether you’re just starting out on a wellness journey, or you’re well on your way – the one thing I hope for you is that you will work on your heart and soul as you work toward physical healing.

I’ve learned in a painful way how great the fall is – when we fail that part of our lives. So where do we begin? Here are a few areas I failed in. Hahaha. These failures are where there’s goodness in our journey to wellness (if we do the opposite) though.

How to be unwell:
– Eat food-like substances, instead of actual food
– Move your body less & less
– Let other people’s opinions of you deeply impact how you view yourself
– Work late into the evening
– Work on the weekends
– Let abusive individuals impact you so deeply that you literally wither away into a person you don’t recognize
– Stop advocating for yourself
– If you’re a woman, letting men disrespect you without calling them out (not kidding – this is soul-crushing – terribly soul-crushing)
– Sleep less & less
– Don’t drink enough water
– Drink more alcohol
– Let the world cloud your vision of a God that loves you
– Don’t listen to your mama when she tells you to take better care of yourself
– Tell other people how to take care of themselves & then absolutely do not practice what you preach

That’s a pretty good list. But I’m sure we could add to it. What would you add? Next time I’ll share some of the steps I’m taking on the food front. But before I got to that, I felt the need to share this. If you’re reading along and you feel like sharing a few “things not to do,” I’d love to hear from you.

Take care of yourself this weekend. Outside of two errands tomorrow, it’s a weekend in bed for me. If your life won’t allow for that, I hope you will find some small way to invest in yourself – as you seek wellness.

Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

Dr. Rick Hanson, Being Well, Wellness, Elaina Avalos, Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

If you’re pursuing wellness, particularly wellness as it pertains to your mental health, this is a great podcast to check out. While I don’t agree with everything I hear on the podcast (some doesn’t fit certain areas of my faith), I have found that much of what Dr. Hanson (and his son Forrest) discuss on the podcast, is immensely helpful. What I think is most helpful is what I have come to see as Dr. Hanson’s emphasis on our ability to control and impact our well-being, thinking, and ultimately emotions. This is a great episode. Click HERE to check it out. This podcast is one of my favorite things.

I Wrote a Novel

elaina m avalos, chasing hope, beaufort nc

I wrote a novel. In June of 2017, my novel Chasing Hope was published. As I approach the four-year anniversary, I thought I would share a bit about the book. You can find it here in Kindle and print format. There is a preview available on Amazon. You can also sign up for my newsletter to read the first chapter for free! You can do that, by clicking here or here. You can also view what some of my readers have written about the book, here.

Here is the book blurb, from the back of the book:

Dr. Ava Cooper has it all. Scratch that – she had it all. The day she buried her daughter was the beginning of the end. With one fell swoop her ex-husband took what was left of the life they created together. All that is left is a demanding boxer, her worldly possessions, and the SUV she bought as a first year resident. With nothing left of the old life, Ava heads south to help out and old friend. In the small and quirky coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina – a tiny hamlet situated on the Southern Outer Banks – Ava quickly learns that her plan to quietly fade into the background to find some semblance of normalcy is not on her new neighbor’s and staff’s agenda for her. As she settles into southern small-town living, she meets a family and a baby in the foster care system that threaten to break through her grief-stricken and heart. Will Ava be able to let hope in long enough to get back the life she desperately longs for?

This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons – mainly because it’s the first complete novel I’ve written. It’s also one that took me way too long to write. The process was daunting, to be honest. I let so many things distract me and get in the way (like my day job). Rather than be single-minded in my focus on accomplishing my dreams and using the gifts God has given me, I focused far too much on the job that paid the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, I didn’t put enough emphasis on my dreams or writing what I believe I’m meant to write. I let work take over my life. I mean, take over.

I worried too much about what people would think. I shied away from writing content on my blog (I had a different blog that had a larger audience and community at one time). Overall, I just let my writing wither away under the weight of what other people would think. That’s just dumb. In years past, I was part of multiple writer communities online. Many of the people I have known in these circles over the years have gotten literary agents, publishing deals, and are cranking out books with traditional publishing houses.

It’s not arrogant to say I think that I could be in their shoes too. The only difference is, I didn’t work for it. Phew, what a sucky realization that was when I first woke up to it. It was all my fault and all of my own choosing. But one day I came to terms with this and decided I wouldn’t let my life go unlived. I wouldn’t let the books go unwritten. And I certainly wouldn’t ignore the dreams I’ve long held in my heart.

Today isn’t Monday Motivation – but we’ll call it Tuesday Truths. The only thing standing in the way of you accomplishing your dreams and goals? It’s you. It’s me. We can make all the excuses we want. But at the end of the day, we are own worst enemy when it comes to going after what we want. I just refuse to live that way anymore. So whatever it is . . . go get it, friends.

You can check out a few excerpts here, here, here, and here. To read a bit about Beaufort, North Carolina – the Southern Outer Banks town where the book is set, here are a few posts about my Beaufort adventures (I lived there for a bit, too!):
https://elaina-avalos.com/2017/08/17/beaufort-by-the-sea/
https://elaina-avalos.com/2016/04/28/beaufort-wine-food-weekend-wine-bread-and-cheese-seminar/
https://elaina-avalos.com/2017/09/03/more-from-beaufort-north-carolina/

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?

Being Strong

Sometimes being strong is not what it’s cracked up to be. I am a strong woman. I happen to think I’m brave. I’ve been through a lot in my 45 years and I’m proud of my strength, determination, and perseverance. I’ve lived on my own for far longer than I’d prefer. I’ve moved cross country by myself. I was raising a child by myself and faced circumstances with him, that I prayed I’d never have to. I did it by myself. I could go on and on. But the thing is, I don’t want to be strong right now. I don’t want to be the steady one. I want to be the one that’s reassured. I want to lean on someone else for a change. And slightly off topic but connected, I want to be the one to be pursued. I don’t think I have the ability to step out first right now – when it comes to opening the door to a relationship.

I’ve come to believe that being strong can be detrimental to one’s well-being (sometimes). Sure, there’s something to be said for being resilient and able to cope with what life throws at you. But there’s another side to that. The more capable you are, and the more accustomed you are to managing on your own, or being the strong one that’s holding others up – the harder it can be to reach out for help when you need it. There’s a quote you’ve probably seen that goes something along the lines of “Check on your strong friends.” There’s a reason for that. I think there are people all around us, sometimes the most capable in fact, that are hurting. Quite often, they (we) simply don’t know how to ask for help.

Check on your strong friend, friends. If you’re tempted to think that your strongest friends don’t need you, maybe ask. Maybe say “How are you doing…really? No, really.” If you already know they’re going through something at work, with their family – or maybe they’re battling an illness or new diagnosis – even if it’s just a “random” text letting them know you’re thinking about them – it can make a tremendous difference. Don’t assume the strong ones don’t need you. They do.

And if you’re the strong one, it truly is okay to tell the people that care about you, that you need help. I promise.

Check on your strong friends.