I imagine we all receive from time to time little stories that circulate from one friend to another. A few weeks ago, I received the following story:
A man went to the store to pick up just a few groceries. As always happens, more and more items ended up in his cart, and at check-out, he found himself with 6 full grocery bags. Since he had not intended to do a big shopping, he had not taken with him the cloth bags he usually shopped with, and ended up with the plastic bags provided by the store. Stepping out of the store he intended to hail a cab, even though he lived just a few blocks away, since the bags were kind of heavy. Waiting at the curb with no taxi in sight, he decided to walk. After all he was not that old, and it was not so far. So, he walked in the scorching heat, and the bags became heavier and heavier for him to carry. In fact, the handles started to cut into his hands, and the bags were threatening to burst. People were passing by, and some even offered to help, but he was too proud to accept. By the time he got home and threw the bags to the floor, he was ready to collapse. Drinking a whole liter of water, he did not even attempt to put away the groceries.
The moral of the story?
You can look at it from many different angles. The main one from my point of view: do not fill your bags to the point that they will be too heavy for you to carry. We often take on tasks of helping others, or postpone things to the last minute so that they pile up and we end up having taken on way too much without taking care of ourselves. And when it gets too heavy, we forget to sit down and rest. It is OK to put down the bags, sit down and gather one’s strength.
The other angle would be self-care. Let the store deliver your bags. In other words, you do not need to do everything yourself. Make sure to take time and sort out the stuff in your bags. When I look at my day, I realize that there are some tasks that only I can do, like swim, work with a client or supervisee, but if this is a grocery day as well, I can call the store and give them a list to deliver. I did that when we were on lockdown, why not continue now when going out to the store would add an unnecessary burden to my day? If you do not have time or if you do not feel like cooking, have take-out, or a simple tuna salad meal, or whatever you like. For me an omelet will do.
When I re-read the story, I decided that now was the time to put down the bags and pick up baggage, not emotional or psychological baggage, but the kind you carry in the airplane when you travel and leave your worries behind. An illusion? Indeed. You always carry some of your emotional, personal, and even professional baggage with you. However, if you learn to sort and discard unnecessary items, your bags tend to be easier to carry. By the way, they do not weigh this kind of baggage when you board a plane, only the suitcases filled with mostly unnecessary items like 4 pairs of shoes, half a dozen dresses, a few presents, different-colored pants, matching tops, extra underwear, etc. etc. etc. And I do not understand how it could weigh so much.
The past 2 years have been a real lesson in the need for self-care. We were constantly bombarded with new regulations of isolation, lockdown, and the need to keep distance from family and friends in order to prevent getting infected by COVID. Even when we were doubly vaccinated, masks were the order of the day in closed spaces and in many cases, we were prevented from seeing even family members face to face. New skills had to be learned. On-line platforms flourished and provided opportunities for community get-togethers, lectures, workshops, supervision, and therapy sessions. You either loved the new ways of communicating or hated them. As with any situation there are advantages and disadvantages, and it very much depends on the individual circumstances. People with small children who had to work from home and on top of that ensure their children did their schooling on line, needed tools to help them stay sane. Older adults, and especially ones living alone, felt the burden of loneliness and lack of companionship. Zoom lectures, community gatherings, and free entertainment became so available and popular, that some people preferred to stay home and connect via Zoom even when it was permissible already to meet in community centers and attend classes. For health care providers and teachers, the stress level mounted and their bags became fuller and heavier. Self-care workshops and tutorials sprang up like mushrooms after the rain. I must admit that even I gave a few art therapy self-care workshops on Zoom with participants from around the world. Truth be told, it is of utmost importance to practice self-care if you want to be able to care for others. So, I took my own advice, decided to change scenes, and travelled half way around the world in order to reconnect in person with my children and grandchildren in Canada. For the first time in my long history of flight I took the self-care idea seriously and flew business class. No more tight seats, with no room to move. You get your own pod, with an adjustable firm or soft mattress, and a seat adjustable to different positions, including that of a full bed.
3 Washrooms for 16 people! A large pillow and a duvet. Even champagne if you care for it. After 2 movies and a good night’s sleep, the 12-hour flight does not feel like torture. I do not think I will ever be able to fly any other way. Forgive me, my children, for spending your inheritance, but blame the trend for self-care. We are all exploring different ways of coping and becoming more flexible. We do not have a crystal ball to tell us if and when the pandemic will disappear. I suspect that we will never go back to the ways we did things before. I think the advantages of using online media are too valuable to consider discarding it. Being able to participate in a class given by world renowned experts in your field from the comfort of your own home, without having to travel, is a great advantage – both from the point of view of expense and time-savings. I would like to keep the advantages of both ways of communication. I would like to be able to pick and chose what to carry with me and what I can access on-line without the burden of being weighed down. Self-care, for me, means also self-aware.