I hope you’ve been having a week of self-care victories! As we prepare for the spring session of Self Care 101, I am sharing my everyday struggles and how I use mindful self-care to help me through them.
My hope is that we understand that self-care doesn’t mean a life free from stress, but rather, an increased ability to mindfully navigate conflicts so we can develop greater resilience and compassion.
My struggle and victory from last week came from going to the dentist. Starting in the new year, I joined Micah’s insurance (yay domestic partnership!) and for the first time in memory, I had dental insurance. As soon as I got Jonah established in daycare, I made an appointment.
Despite the rainy day, I showed up to the downtown office in a good mood. I was going to meet a friend for lunch afterward and it felt nice to be out and about, baby-free for a change. I chatted with the dental hygienist about real estate prices in the city. Inside, I felt proud about showing up for my dental health.
That good spirit quickly changed when another dental assistant brought back my x-rays. “Oh yeah, she needs a lot of work,” she said to first assistant, like I wasn’t in the room.
A warm wash of shame rolled through my body. In my prior years of going to the dentist, I’d never needed more than a cavity or two filled. I was used to being praised for my dental hygiene and taking that home, along with a new toothbrush.
But now, I craned my head to see the x-rays. “Oh, do I have a lot of cavities?,” I asked. She smiled at me and said the dentist would be back soon to explain. But first, she wanted to redo an x-ray. As she looked at my teeth, she asked me if I drank a lot of coffee. I responded that I had a cup each morning and she shrugged. Again, that shame feeling came back.
When the dentist came in, she explained how the office and my insurance worked. Then she said I would need ten cavities filled, a new crown and a root canal. Even with my insurance, it would be thousands of dollars. When I told her I had never needed so much dental work, she responded with a non-sequitur about getting kicked in the face during kickboxing.
Then, she asked me if I drank a lot of coffee.
By this time, I was really starting to shame spiral. I felt guilty that I hadn’t gone to the dentist while I was pregnant and I had been spotty in the years before that because I was self-employed. Yes, I flossed each day, but I probably didn’t take enough care while doing it and definitely shouldn’t have used such hippy toothpaste.
Then I stopped myself. I realized that I was having a emotional response to a practical problem.
You see, I think there are two types of self-care issues. The first are practical. These are the things we can take tangible steps and create workable systems to solve.
The other kind are emotional problems. These are the harder aspects of the human experience. They involve relationships, intimacy and the fears we hold about ourselves and our world.
Often, in our self-care attempts, we confuse the two. We try to fix our emotional problems with practical solutions. I see this one a lot in parenting. It’s incredibly vulnerable to love our children as much as we do. The mere thought of something happening to Jonah is almost unbearable to me.
Yet, instead of simply feeling these vulnerabilities and allowing the emotions to come up around them, we think we can practically solve the problem of feeling. We decide the answer is to never let our kids wander out of sight, make sure we feed them the cleanest diets possible, and as they get older, enroll them in all sorts of special courses so they don’t fall behind.
Underneath it all, we probably just need to cry our eyes out at how uncomfortable it is to love another being so much.
Conversely, we can get really emotional about practical issues. The big one for many of us is around our finances. We spend a lot of emotional energy feeling scared or guilty when we even think about our credit card bill, but we rarely take the time to set up workable systems to keep ourselves in financial integrity.
With this in mind, as I sat in the plastic dentist chair with the bib still clipped around my neck, I realized I could take a practical approach. I politely listened to the rest of what the dentist told me and allowed the hygienist to clean my teeth. Then, I met my friend for lunch and vented a bit about all the coffee-drinking comments.
The next day, I reread the Yelp reviews of the dentist (many of which said they overprescribed work) and posted on Facebook that I was looking for an honest second opinion. Along with many great recommendations came the stories of people who had experienced radically different second opinions on dental work. Also, many mothers chimed in that their teeth had changed a lot after having their kids. I really had no idea this could and knowing I wasn’t alone in this potentially big dental change brought me comfort.
I settled on this highly-recommended biological dentist at NIHA and made an appointment for the next week. I called the first dentist and had my x-rays released so I can share them with the new practice.
(Also, a friend reminded me about oil pulling. I used to do this Ayurvedic practice for oral hygiene all the time and had recently fallen off. Now, I am swishing as I type this :)
Of course, getting a second opinion from the dentist is nothing revolutionary for many of us. But for me, who can be so sensitive to outside opinions, it was a important moment of resilience and perspective within a stressful situation.
The best part is that I can save all that emotional energy for open-heartedly loving the people I love and feeling all the inherent grief in being a human being these days. These aren’t easy tasks but endeavoring to be emotionally full in my life helps me feel truly connected to myself and the world around me. The practical stuff just serves this wholeness.
(Follow up: the biological dentist told me I had great oral hygiene and only had three cavities, two of which he filled on the spot. I not only avoided a root canal, but also saved thousands of dollars and left feeling very cared for. Moral of the story: Avoid the dental shame and get yourself a second opinion.)
Now, what about you? Where are you confusing the practical with the emotional? Where can you take a tiny step toward resolving a solvable problem? How can you stay open to all the big emotions that just need to be felt?
While you’re at it, can you give yourself a extra bit of self-care today? A cup of tea or a short chat with a loved one can do wonders to soothe the edges of it all.
If you’re ready for a bigger self-care move, then I’d be delighted if you’d consider joining the Spring Self Care 101 course that starts on April 15th. Read more about it here and fill out an application. It’s a joyful and thorough self-care reconditioning that leads to very big and nourishing life changes. Prepare to get unstuck if you sign up!
Next week, I’ll be back with another real-life self-care victory. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your self-care victories! Please send me a note and share. That inspirational energy is catchy and it’d be a gift to have it from you.
Self Care Inspiration
1. I was very touched by this Endless Thread podcast episode about seed banking throughout the 20th century. It made me think about my own Eastern European roots and the gift of preserving life in many forms.
2. As I mentioned above, oil pulling is a great practice to keep your gums and teeth clean. All you need is food-grade oil and a twenty minutes break from speaking. Some people even say it’s great for naturally whitening your teeth :).
3. Speaking of coffee, this is my favorite espresso blend ever. It’s definitely an MVP in helping me face the day after some tough sleep-training nights.
4. Over this last patch of dry, cold weather, Micah and I have been fighting over my tube of this amazing hand cream. Usually I trade in lotions - which aren’t always so great for your skin - for natural oils. However, oil is no match for this cream. It’s a must for anyone in a cold climate!
5. For giggles, I’m watching Silicon Valley (yeah, I’m usually a few years late on a lot of shows) and it does not disappoint. I don’t think I would have weathered this month of three back-to-back rounds of sickness + sleep training without it.