I have had a lot of people come to me lately with ailments that (on the surface) seem relatively mysterious. Their stomachs hurt, they are noticing an uptick in the amount of migraines they get. They’re constipated. They’re gassy. They have diarrhea. They have no time to cook. Their exercise is falling to the wayside. They’re depressed and they are anxious. They are, essentially both full of guilt and full of physical pain. It’s gotta be a trend right now, something astrological. It suddenly seems like “too busy” is making everyone I know feel literally ill.
And in steps self-care.
Self care is as amorphous and tricky to define as it is necessary to participate in. My good friend Molly is what I would call a self-care whiz, and I was extremely excited when she asked if she could write a little something on treating yourself awesomely for my audience. The below piece resonates with me so deeply (yeah, I need a little self-care, too), and I am seriously hoping it strikes a chord with you, too.
Self-care is vital. We need it. I am giving you permission to go at it like a fucking champion. Below are a bunch of ideas of how to get started:
I’m imagining a world where we all feel unapologetic and unashamed to be who we are, held respect for limits and boundaries of ourselves and others, and believed we were truly worth loving. These ideas seem obvious, right? But I look around and see people completely removed from the simple act of honoring themselves. We need self-care, but oftentimes we don’t know how or where to get it.
The stereotype of self-care is a bunch of things that seem out of reach- expensive spa days, sitting on the beach and meditating, activities that involve money, time, and disruption of the necessary flow of life. We are taught self-care is a luxury afforded by an elite few and I am here to say that this is absolutely not true. Permission, access, and love: These simple guidelines are what you need to take care of yourself in a deep and restorative way. Surprisingly, it’s notoriously difficult to approach ourselves with these intentions. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling selfish, guilty, or lost when it comes to “self-care” and how to do it, you’re not alone.
On some level, showing up for the needs of other people has become more acceptable than showing up for our own needs. But I ask this: If you are really going to be able to give your energy, your thinking, your creativity, and your strength to your projects and communities, is it not essential to recharge and reconnect to yourself? The more you treat yourself well, with love, care, and tenderness, the more you can feel like a whole person who is able to actually make clear decisions for yourself and your life. If we could all do this, and all be whole people meeting other whole people, we would literally transform the world. Self-care enables us to access our minds and to think about why we are in circumstances that deplete us, plus how we can find the energy, consultation, and clarity to change said circumstances.
When I teach people how to practice self-care (and it is very much a practice, starting with 5 minutes a day, all at once or sprinkled throughout), I teach activities that can be done almost anywhere, with any kind of tools or supplies. These things I teach are easy to conceptualize but what seems hard for people is offering themselves permission to actually start. Kindness for yourself around that challenge is also self-care! If you think of something you’d like to do for yourself, but find yourself struggling to begin, offer thanks to yourself for all the protection your stubborn parts are offering. It’s scary to think of opening yourself up to care (even your own). Bodies and brains like homeostasis. And yet, we are always learning and growing. It’s a challenging tension that, if you can recognize it and allow space for that tension to just be, you’ve already offered tender care to the parts of you that are struggling.
With that, here are some inexpensive or free activities you can think about and try- and if you find yourself getting stuck, remember that stuck is a part of your process, too. You’re not trying to get anywhere but to yourself.
Journal about your dreams
Breathe. If you need a template, try breathing in for a count of 4, deep into your diaphragm, thinking “soft”, and out for a count of 4, thinking “belly”. Keep your belly soft, try not to hold tension there. Do this for about 5 minutes, in line at the grocery store, in traffic, when you feel stress, when you need a rest.
Walk slowly mindfully down a street you’re already familiar with, and notice something new
Write and send a postcard to someone you care about, even if you live with them!
Hum to yourself and feel the vibrations in your cheeks
Eat your first bite of food for the day with all of your senses open and aroused. Let it last as long as you can.
Go to a natural place, like a yard, an urban park, or if you can, a wilderness area. Notice the smell of the grass. Touch a tree with both palms and hold yourself there for 30 seconds. Stop and stay a while. You may start to notice some of your physical stressors start to evaporate, as you remember: You are interconnected with the world around you, and your care for yourself extends to caring for this world. Trees are bad-fucking-ass, and you are too.
What do you do to recalibrate, slow down, and recharge your strength and offer care to yourself?
Molly Merson, MFT is a psychotherapist in Berkeley CA who offers relational psychotherapy for people learning how to love and understand themselves. She also hosts a “Self-care Staycation,” a half-day experiential retreat for a small group of folks wanting to kickstart or deepen their self-care opportunities. She makes sure people leave with tools and resources that can be used long after the retreat is over.
Some time ago, I wrote about my time as an ex-vegan.
For those who missed it, I will give you the recap: in a nutshell, I was having a lot of stomach issues, and all vegan protein sources seemed to exacerbate the problem. After months of persistent gas, bloating, diarrhea, and general bullshit feelings coming from my intestines, I slowly started to cut out various ingredients from my diet with the goal of feeling well. Gluten was first, then grains, then beans. I tried to lower my nut and seed intake and- what do you know?- I was fucking starving. With each ingredient cut, my stomach would briefly feel better, then eventually end up right where I had begin.
I needed help, and I needed it badly. I went to a general practitioner, an acupuncturist, a naturopath, and a gastroenterologist. No one had any real information or solutions for me, aside from an IBS diagnosis, which is honestly not super helpful. In an effort to stop the triggering action of subtracting more and more and more foods, I decided I needed to start to add. After some research I determined that my addition to my diet would be pasture raised eggs.
I ate eggs for nine months, and indeed, my stomach did get better during that time. Recently, I heard through the grapevine that my admission of that fact has lead some to believe that I (or they) think that eggs cured my IBS.
Aint that some shit.
I have been vegan-again for about two years now. In my time as a re-vegan, I have enjoyed pretty excellent stomach health, at least for me. Sure, I fart now and again with too many raw vegetables or a dash of extra beans. But most of the time, when my stomach is upset I know exactly why and its manageable. It isn’t something that takes over my days. That’s pretty much all I could have hoped for, and while I do believe that my time eating eggs was helpful for that, I don’t believe that this animal product was a panacea for me or that another animal product will be a panacea for somebody else.
Let me break it down:
It is my belief that my stomach was inflamed from the amount of fiber that I was eating. To an extent, eliminating gluten and grains and beans made sense given that theory, but things would often get back to a place of discomfort after each elimination because when I got rid of one fibrous thing in my diet, I eventually replaced it with another. When I added eggs instead of subtracting another vegan food, I was replacing things that were full of fiber (grains and beans) with an item that was essentially fiberless (eggs.) Once my stomach was not in a state of pure chaos, I could eliminate eggs again and add grains and beans (of the sprouted variety) back in. My stomach strengthened with less stress on it. Of course, I only realized this retrospectively. Too much fiber is a really simple problem, but not one that most Americans have. None of my practitioners mentioned it to me as an option.
(Please understand that this whole fiber thing is a theory, one that I cultivated because something was definitely wrong, but no one could really tell me what. I think it’s important to note that situational evidence isn’t, like, science. But it does have merit, at least for me personally.)
There are so many ideas about animal products as saving graces, and it bugs me to think that my egg story could be a part of that dialogue. I think it’s important to say that had I known that fiber was what was irritating my stomach, I think I could have replaced tempeh and brown rice and raw kale with tofu and white rice and avocado and had the same result without compromising my ethics and values. I am glad my stomach feels better, but I don’t believe animal products are what fixed it. At this point, I wish I had done it another way.
There is no reason to believe that eggs did something for me that another fiber-less food couldn’t have.
And furthermore, if we want to get specific…
I don’t believe that bone broth is the only way to fix inflammation, strengthen your immune system, or soothe digestion. Turmeric, ginger, probiotics, & Oregon grape extract are all awesome ways to help yourself if you have the desire to stay vegan.
I don’t believe a steady diet of chicken is the way to weight loss. Try big salads, gorgeous smoothies, stevia-sweetened chia puddings, and low-oil tofu and veggie stir fries for nutritious and humane leaning out processes.
I don’t believe ghee is is a perfect food for energy and satiation or as a condiment in your coffee. My opinion is that actual FOOD is best for breakfast, that coconut milk gives wonderful fat and that greens provide excellent energy. Chlorella! Spirulina! Nuts! Avocado! The world is yours.
What I am trying to say is this:
I wish that I had connected the dots between stomach trouble and fiber sooner, and in a different way. To me, adding eggs to my diet was helpful, and also a mistake- because ultimately I believe that even consuming the most humane eggs possible sets itself as an example; a statement that I think eating eggs is okay. For me, I don’t believe that statement to be true. This is for ME, in My body, and My life.
If you are vegan and you no longer want to eat a diet free of animal products, I believe it is completely okay to say that is the case. But if you are vegan and are deeply struggling to maintain your diet while you feel your health is failing, that is entirely another.
I want to offer myself as a resource to those on the cusp of leaving a vegan diet if they want to stay (because ultimately, the choice is absolutely theirs and has nothing to do with me or my opinion). I don’t offer myself because I hate ex-vegans, or even because I hate myself for my time identifying as one. I want to offer myself as a resource, because I believe knowing a person who had struggled with my issues and solved them on a vegan diet would have been extraordinarily helpful to me. I wouldn’t have to look at that nine month period of my life with eggs and feel a little disappointed.
Animal products are not the magic bullet. I consider my time away from veganism to be a supreme bummer. If you want to stick around, I will help you. And if you don’t, I support you in finding your health how you need to. Your life, your rules, right? I am just one vegan with some interesting experiences.
This is not a judgement, or a winning or losing game.
This is you finding out the best way to live the richest and most compassionate life possible, and me doing the same.
We’ve got this.
I am motivated by women and I am motivated by queer people. I am motivated by the struggle I had growing up identifying as both, how sad and stupid and small I felt for many many years, months, weeks and days, until at some point I put a barbell into my hands and I said no. No more. I am confident and I am big and I am smart. I am more than what I have learned that I can be.
I am motivated by the idea that I am a part of a paradigm shift. I am a part of the not-so-radical idea that I am strong in my biologically female vegan body. I do not need a dick and I do not need a steak.
I am motivated by teenagers. By watching them awkwardly navigate their changing bodies and by hearing them apologize for themselves and by watching their tenacity. I build my body up and nourish it properly because-lo and behold- at 31 I am adult enough to realize that teens are always watching. Whether or not I realize it, I am an example. I take the position seriously.
I am motivated by watching my muscles pop. By hard work and early wake ups and calloused hands and then the visual result of such action. Hello traps. Hello visible crease between my hamstrings and my glutes, hello so many back muscles I never fucking knew existed. Nice to meet you.
I am motivated by the low hum of a completely clear brain after a metabolic conditioner. By being out of breath, finished and on my back, staring at the ceiling, with no thoughts at all. It’s quite a contrast to my constantly racing brain and it is serene in a way I haven’t found elsewhere.
I am motivated by the memory of myself at less than 100 pounds, on a frame that needs far more to survive. I am motivated by thoughts of the years I spent with my head in a toilet wondering how I could be doing this. I am motivated by love and compassion for that person. By constant affection and care-taking for that soul that felt so lost, by the promise that those things will never happen again. I made big mistakes and I made them for a long time, but I’ve got myself now.
I think of that person and I tell her I love her.
That I will only grow stronger and smarter and more compassionate with myself.
That above all, I can trust myself to take my own hand.