On Family & Self Care
As many of you know, early morning on July 8th, my grandfather lost his three-year battle with leukemia.
The last month of his life spiraled quickly. I spent over a week with him after his fourth fall, the one that required surgery for his crushed vertebrae. In the strange circle of life, I was taking care of the man who had once taken care of my sister and I. I was picking out his clothes, shaving him, and helping him into his wheelchair after harassing him to join me for dinner every night. Of course, he expected his cigar and manhattan waiting for him at the table once we got him outside on the patio. Somethings never change.
After I had been there for about 5 days, my father arrived to help. And took one look at me and made me book a flight back to New York.
I was barely sleeping, I wasn't eating well (my grandfather believes in meat and potatoes. The only greens on his plate are either fried or a garnish), and I was burnt out from stress, concern, and grief. To make matters worse, my grandfather's wifi was nonexistent. I couldn't get any of my work done unless it could be done on my phone, which meant emails and notes, but not much else. Combined with having given up working shifts to be with him, I was staring down the barrel of a financial crunch.
I didn't fight. I eventually went home. But instead of resting, I threw myself into work avoiding the impending financial trouble I was going to be flirting with shortly. I rescheduled meetings I had postponed, I gave myself a hard week deadline of redoing and relaunching my website, I wrote and submitted articles to magazines, I picked up shifts where I could, I started courses and my outline for my new business innovation, hired a graphic designer, and decluttered my life and workspace. I put together a large basket of things to sell to make ends meet. I continued calling my family every few days. I did not let myself stop.
Less than two weeks after I had left, he suffered a stroke and never regained consciousness. He was gone in less than 18 hours.
My dad was a mess and alone in sorting out the funeral arrangements. From my part-time job on the west side, I wrote the obituary, contacted our side of the family, contacted the head of my grandfather's end of life plan, and reached out to my father's friends to let them know. I booked my flight back down.
Family is always complicated and death of the patriarch always brings out the best and the worst of what we have to offer to both the world and each other.
Suffice it to say, it was a draining and exhausting week of arrangements and settling affairs.
And I came home planning to do the same as before. Dive back into productivity. I had lists of people to network and outreach, I had to do lists miles long, I had books and blogs to write, I couldn't afford to rest.
Except hours into my first day back it became clear, I couldn't afford not to rest. I was overtired, nauseous from the stress, and my state of mind was clearly affecting my work. Re-reading my writing made it clear that I was not capable of coherent communication, and absolutely not in a good place to start building new networks and relationships.
So I did what probably everyone reading this post has already been thinking. I decided to give myself a few days to recover and just try and relax.
And promptly collapsed and got sick. Like delirious, vaguely hallucinating sick. I had fever dreams that probably rival LSD trips.
Thank God for friends and chicken soup on delivery service.
But as a result, I'm learning to adjust my definition of self-care, or rather, how I allow myself to care for myself.
I fully believe that self-care is not bubble baths and mani-pedis (though they can be nice), self-care is being your own parent, getting yourself out of bed, going to that workout session, sending that email, eating that meal, getting those 500 words a day written, and getting shit done.
But between my experience with my family's high standards, plus my own, I also forgot that self-parenting also means writing that excuse note for a mental health day, seeing a doctor when you need to, taking a vacation, stepping back from the digital world, forcing yourself to stay in bed and get the rest you need, AND NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT.
I am very bad at this last part. I beat myself up for every bit of time wasted. I look at the 20 minutes I spent reading an article for pleasure as 20 minutes I could have been cleaning, working on these several books I think I'm writing, submitting work, reading something more productive, doing yoga, learning Hindi, calling family, or anything that might actually be pushing me closer to the goals I want to achieve.
And while this drive is definitely an asset and is a part of why I have had so many exciting adventures while still being so young, it is also a terrifyingly dangerous liability and will be how I wind up burnt out and in a padded cell before I hit 30.
Self-care is a trending, hot topic these days. And there is a balance between being the kick-in-the-ass parent you need and taking the time to spoil yourself and unwind. Too much spoiling and you lose that momentum and drive, you become too soft and sensitive to the world but too much productive, but forced, growth will drive you into the ground.
I'm working on it. While you won't see me in a spa any day soon, I'm slowing down this week to give myself a chance to breathe and let my mind slow down before it flies off the rails altogether.
Besides, mental breakdowns never look good on anyone.