Take Care of Yourself

I haven’t been very good at taking care of myself, lately.

It’s because I have so much to do, and I’m so stressed about it all. This month is the worst. March should be a little better, and April should be better still. And then the summer should be all right.

The thing is, I’m trying to change my life, and that’s a difficult thing to do. But three months from now, my life should be significantly different, and six months from now, it should be even more so. It should be better, and more filled with possibilities.

In the meantime, I have to remember to take care of myself. I think this is something writers have to remind themselves to do. I’m not sure why writers aren’t very good at taking care of themselves, but they’re not. I started thinking about this issue because Tobias Buckell wrote a blog post called “How I lost 30 pounds while eating a donut every day,” and Elizabeth Bear wrote a blog post called “you might be surprised at how far she’d get with her feet on the ground.” They were both about diet and exercise, and I want to talk about more than that, but those issues are important as well. They are two-thirds of the equation. You know I like breaking ideas into threes, so I’m going to talk about staying healthy in three ways: eating, moving, resting.

Eating

We all know how to eat well, I think. Whole grains, low-fat proteins, fruits and vegetables. Small portions. Plenty of water. My problem is that I don’t have the time to eat regularly. For breakfast, I grabbed two pieces of whole-wheat toast and two low-fat Baby Bell cheeses and ate them in the car on the way to the university. I had meetings all morning. For lunch, I bought a small ham sub with veggies on whole wheat and a bag of Sun Chips. I managed to eat the Sun Chips, then had to teach. Then meetings. Then finally, at around 4:00 p.m., I had time to eat the sub. For the trip home, I bought a Kashi cereal bar. Dinner was a small vegan pizza on a whole-wheat crust and Manhattan clam chowder, eaten – well, honestly, I’m eating it now. Dessert will be a coconut milk ice cream, which has no actual dairy in it. The flavor is pomegranate chip. So, whole wheat, low-fat protein, veggies. No fruits, unless you count the pomegranate, and you shouldn’t. Too much sugar in the cereal bar and ice cream, but otherwise not terrible. I just wish I had time to sit down and eat a proper meal.

What about calories? I stay between 1600 and 1800 a day, which keeps me at 120-125 pounds. I write that because both of the other posts discussed calories, and like Toby and Bear, I count calories every day. It’s the only way to make sure not only that I’m not eating too much, which always makes me feel ill, but also that I’m eating regularly throughout the day. Otherwise, I will eat too much without thinking about it, or eat too little (less frequently, but a distinct possibility on busy days). I’m used to writing down calories before meals, so it’s not a bother. And it means that I never feel guilty about treats, because they’re simply calculated into the daily total. One day a week, I don’t bother and simply eat whatever I want, which is also like Toby and Bear. I’m comfortable with my weight, although I prefer to be on the 120 end rather than the 125, which feels too heavy. If that seems low to you, remember that I’m only 5’4″, and I have a very small frame. A weight that would be perfectly normal on someone taller and larger than I am is too much on me. And I believe we all have to find the weight that feels most comfortable on us.

I think that’s really all there is to eating. Healthy food, in the right amount. And hopefully eaten in a more relaxed way than I’ve been able to eat lately.

Moving

We all need exercise.

Having written that, can I confess that I absolutely hate anything we usually consider exercise? Anything that involves repetitive, monotonous motion? Anything one might do in a gym? I think there are three types of exercise I need to do, to stay healthy: move, strengthen, and stretch. I find that I move quite a lot, actually. Most writers sit and write for hours at a time. I’m fortunate in that in addition to the writing, I also have a teaching schedule that keeps me active for most of the day. My office is up five flights of stairs, one of my classes is also up five flights of stairs. I’m on my feet all day long, walking around campus. So I don’t bother with aerobic exercise. I figure that as long as I can run up five flights of stairs, I’m fine. To strengthen, I do pilades. To stretch, I do yoga. I do wish I could do more – I would love to take a dance class again.

The issue right now is that the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts is in March, and it’s in Orlando, and there’s a pool. And I’ve bought a swimsuit. So I’m going to try to get in shape. That means more pilades, basically. I don’t think anything is as good for getting toned.

There’s a special problem that writers have, and I’m starting to get it too: muscle pain from typing. I’m not sure what to do about that, except stretch and massage. So more yoga and pilades. That’s the agenda for the next month.

Resting

Oh, I’m terrible at this one. I’ve been getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night, which I know perfectly well is nowhere near enough. The problem is stress. I can’t seem to sleep well at all. I’m not sure what to do about this, except finish the work I need to finish, which will get rid of the stress.

I do try to make sure I’m doing things other than working, when I can. For example, today I had about half an hour, so I went into one of my favorite thrift stores. I came out with an adorable table and pottery bowl. Here they are while I’m standing in line to pay ($10.68):

And here they are in my room, cleaned up (sorry, the lighting is low):

And here is one of the table legs (I thought the legs had such an interesting shape):

And here is the bowl on top of the table:

There’s something relaxing about taking a half hour off, once in a while. Just to go look at things, or buy something small. I should take more time off just to rest, to read stories for instance. But there doesn’t seem to be enough time.  And I don’t seem to have the concentration I need.

Most of the time, I have to admit, I’m very, very tired.

So what to do with all this? I meant to write a post about taking care of yourself, but it’s ended up being about how I don’t take very good care of myself. But I’m trying, and I suppose what I’m saying here is that you should try too. Taking care of yourself is a part of valuing yourself. We all need to figure out how to take care of ourselves in our own ways, figure out what will make us feel best, most productive, and of course most cared for.

In my former apartment, one way I cared for myself was taking a bubble bath every night, in Whole Foods lavender body wash, in the claw-foot tub. It was enormous and held a great deal of very hot water, and very bubbly bubbles. In this house, there is no claw-foot tub. I can’t take bubble baths.

Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning. Six months. I’m going to change my life. As much as I possibly can. Just wait and see.

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5 Responses to Take Care of Yourself

  1. Maery Rose says:

    Funny, I had just written about the same thing – trying to take better care of myself and not just sit and work and write all day. What I need more of is mental emotional care as the topic I’m writing on is emotionally draining and difficult. I need lightness and laughter breaks. Something else to add to the list of self care.

  2. Emily Gilman says:

    Thank you for posting this, and for linking to other entries. I’m terrible about taking care of myself, but eating is the one of those three things I know the least about. I’m actually in the same weight range you are, though it looks rather different on me since I’m four inches shorter. I also have the… not problem, really, because I generally like how I look, but complication of being built curvy on a very small frame. And there’s a history of Type II diabetes on one side of my family. So, y’know, I love how I look at 120, but by 125 I start worrying about carrying extra weight, and I suspect if I ever went back down to 115 I’d feel I looked too skinny. Not too difficult to keep to that range, but it means a couple pounds can make a noticeable difference, and finding a way to count calories without it feeling like a lot of work would probably help me be a lot healthier about it.

  3. Tim Pratt says:

    I’ve been tracking calories, too, but only for a couple of months so far. It’s working well. It makes me stop and think before I eat, which is usually all it takes to get me to put down the pint of ice cream or the bag of cheese crunchies or the last slices of pizza. (Or, you know, only eat a quarter of it, instead of the whole thing.) It’s been effective. Of course, at my heaviest I weighed as much as two of you, Dora, so dropping ten or twelve pounds isn’t *that* dramatic on me!

    My own exercise is largely limited to long walks, but I can usually only manage that three times a week or so. Still trying to figure out how to manage that part of the equation better. But, generally, mindfulness seems to be helping. I tend to eat compulsively (or at least mindlessly), and calorie counting has stopped that.

  4. ebear says:

    Lovely post.

  5. Yes,I honestly find that the calorie counting is really important. It’s information, you know? Emily, at one point I looked up how many calories different foods I was likely to eat were, and I wrote that information down on index cards. At this point I just have some things memorized: an apple is 60, for example. But it also gave me a really good sense of how to think about food in general. Like, I really could only have a small amount of chocolate, while I could basically eat a whole bag of broccoli if I wanted to. I think it just taught me to think about food in a whole different way . . . (I realized, too, that proteins were generally lower calorie than carbs, so I ended up eating more low-fat cheeses and meats. And I think that was really good for me.)

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