This week I’m concerned about a lot of things with the potential to impact many lives. These include politics, poverty, and privilege. I’m feeling as if I’ve been punched in the stomach – the Sucker-Punch type that’s unexpected – my gut refuses to relax, my shallow breathing and spinning head make it worse.
You would think in our culture in the U.S.A. it would be humbling to learn of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an extraordinary woman who touched so many lives in such significant ways. I would think that we would all respect the loss. That we would take time to quit in-fighting and come together to talk about how she made things better for all people, but particularly women. I would think we’d find ways to work together to keep from slipping into either totalitarianism or anarchy (depending on one’s political perspective).
Somehow, that is not happening. Some people cackle in joy (believing, mistakenly, Justice Ginsburg created Roe v. Wade) while others weep inconsolably (believing the court and democracy will be irreparably broken with a patriarchal-loving replacement). The volume is cranked up so high we can’t hear one another. Frankly, that’s probably a good thing: I’m sick of the lies, name-calling, and back-biting.
We’re better off financially and educationally and in many other ways than most of the world’s population, yet we bickered ourselves into a vicious corner.
In so doing, we changed the culture. Scientists and even smart kids suddenly aren’t respected as they once were. Belligerence and conspiracy theories out-shout reason. Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color face the same challenges they have struggled with for over 400 years – and some people rejoice in that disgrace. Economies, from the personal to our national, flounder. People who believe in the “right to life” often neglect to cherish the lives of those locked up at our borders, death row inmates, children living in poverty, and people without health insurance. Even if you don’t work part-time as a crisis counselor, you know our shared pain, so I’ll stop with those reminders.
We have to face it, though. Life today carries a lot of extra stress on top of the daily stressors we always juggled. We’ve all been gut-punched, some harder than others.
Fat people face even more stigma. (By the way, I prefer the word “fat” to other terms and define this group of people to include those who, in CDC language, “are overweight” and those “with obesity.” Fat folks make up more than two-thirds of the population in the USA.) (Yes, we are the majority.) Dedicated health professionals and journalists tie “obesity” repeatedly to Covid-19, though I haven’t found well documented studies or hard data to explain why this is so.[i] Our national assumption that fat kills, I assume, plays into this.[ii]
After a quick glance at the numbers online, my very rough guess is that up to 70% of us in the U.S. have at least one risk factor while many have more.[iii] While that may sound upsetting, and while I acknowledge the numbers are very rough estimates, it’s clear we’re all in this together. We need to start behaving as if we understand this.
And to get through this dilemma, we all need to practice rigorous self-care. I can name a half-dozen ways I’ve ignored self-care this past week. Skipping meals. Sleeping less. Blowing off morning meditation. Not responding to friends. Not asking for help. Not taking breaks. My problem, once I quit focusing on my needs, is that things spiral out of control. When things get out of hand, I go Lizard-Brain.
For me, that means collapsing too frequently into that flight-flight-freeze zone (hello, amygdala!) that served our ancestors so well but doesn’t make for effective civilized interaction. I participated in a melt-down with a 7-year-old over homework (as if the sky will fall because of dilly-dallying) and burst into tears when a 5-year-old told me to move out (the comment accidentally pushed an old trauma-related button). I started to catastrophize. I’m so good at it I could give Stephen King and Dean Koontz advice about worst case scenarios! 😉
The thing about this? I know this happens when I don’t care for myself. I knew I wasn’t caring for myself. Duh. My go-to move when I’m drifting into catastrophizing has been to stop and recite my gratitude list (I’m grateful for a bed to sleep in, the color of the late night sky outside my window…) or to repeat I am safe. I am healthy, happy, and strong. I am at ease. Last week I shrugged them off. Each day that passed, I kicked myself and added a bit more to my To-Do list instead of kicking back and taking things off the list. And, as expected, each day felt more challenging.
From age 2 until I married and moved out, my parents reminded me every day my job was to take care of and protect my younger brother. And from there, it was such an easy step into taking care of lots of others, most of whom behaved badly. Just before he died (at age 38), my brother told me, “You know, it was never your job to take care of me. I always knew, but I don’t know if you did.” I cried buckets. Before his funeral, my mom remarked, “I don’t know why you always thought it was your job to take care of him.” I glared at her, shocked, and she shrugged and chuckled. “Oh,” she said, “I guess we let you think it was your job.”
Those two huge messages were heard, but their enormity didn’t move me to slow my care-taking.
Fast forward too-many years, during which time I learned the high price I pay for ignoring self-care. It took some pain, recognizing that taking time for myself and meeting my own needs is not selfish, and making those choices. In fact, self-care leaves me feeling healthier, more authentic, and, coincidentally, I seem to take better care of those around me without behaving like a doormat.
Unsolicited Advice: Figure out what you need and want, then do your best to give it to yourself. Start with the basics.
Eat as if you know your body is smart and important. For me, Intuitive Eating gave me skills and a solid foundation that work for me. I recognize hunger and satisfaction, know ignoring my body around these works against me because doing so in the past always ended in an eating make-up session. (When it does happen, it’s okay. These days make-up sessions fall far short of binges and make sense to me.) IE is not about feeling like a failure when something seems to go wrong. Analyze. Adjust. Move forward.
Get enough sleep. From the book Say Good Night to Insomnia, I learned that my goal of 8 hours of sleep each night probably isn’t realistic. From 7 to 9 hours are “average,” but people who get 7 hours of sleep actually outlive people who sleep 8 hours. The research (thanks to my local public library!) helped me re-set my goal to increase my normal 6-ish hours to work toward 7 most nights.
Keep learning. Since childhood I’ve been curious and therefore committed to lifelong learning. Now I’m focused on anti-racism since it’s critically important to developing the kind of safe, inclusive, fair society I’d like my grandsons to grow up in. The free training, a 30-day challenge (2 hours/day) is through www.theantiracisttable.com.
Make space for growth and healing. For me, taking time outside daily soothes; watching movies (generally, comedies because I’m needing upbeat endings) relaxes me; learning new things energizes me; time in a pool or near large bodies of water invigorates me; exercising silliness with my grandsons uplifts me; travel opens me; and reading informs and entertains me. Know what works for you and take time for yourself.[iv]
It’s hard being a human in this world right now. There’s a lot to worry about. Take time for yourself first. Everyone uses the old in-flight oxygen-mask safety briefing to make this point because it’s true. You can’t give to others (or save their lives by putting on their masks) if you don’t first take care of yourself. Mask-up and enjoy the week!
[i] The CDC website does mention obesity as a factor, though it didn’t, the last time I checked, note any studies that implicated obesity. Note that obesity is considered by the CDC to be a “disease” since the AMA declared it so. The AMA decision went against the recommendations of the panel of experts who studied the measure, but gave carte blanche to bill for “treatment” during office visits and moved expensive bariatric surgery from the “elective surgery” category to billable to insurance companies.
[ii] Studies do show that stigma kills. Some studies also report that fat people avoid medical care or wait until symptoms are more serious before seeking medical attention because they’re so disillusioned about the way they were treated in the past based on negative/moralistic judgments assigned to size.
[iii] By the time you add up BIPOC (25.5% of the population, including Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Biracial, and people claiming “Other” race), elders (ages 65 and better)(16.4%), fat people (31.8% overweight and 39.8% “have obesity”), those living in poverty (10.5%), people living without health insurance (9.4%), and people with coronary heart disease (~5%, this excludes the 24% with high blood pressure) or diabetes (6%). Even considering a generous portion of these categories may overlap, 70% is not unreasonable. (Data sources for these facts are: data.census.gov, hopkinsmedicine.org, and cdc.gov).
[iv] Currently reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, Say Good Night to Insomnia by Gregg D. Jacobs, PhD, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, PhD, and on my Kindle just downloaded The Old Girls’ Network by Janet Leigh. Variety is good.