Remember my last post about life and therapy lessons from gardening? Gardening seems effortless to me in spring and summer. Being in the garden is a joy when things are growing and the weather is fine. Late fall in Chicago is certainly a less exciting time in the garden. Garden time now is all about cleaning up, stowing away and preparing for the long winter ahead.
Why bother, I might even think, as I remove dead plant material and rake leaves? If I garden to relax and feel joy, why spend time on the tasks that are not giving me immediate pleasure pay offs?
I am able to remind myself, from many years of gardening experience, that the work I do now will pay off next spring. Perennials thrive best when the old growth and layers of soggy old leaves are cleared away. It is all connected; what I do now impacts my enjoyment of the garden come spring.
Thinking about my garden in the fall and winter reminds me that life and therapy are all about cycles: sometimes progress is readily visible, sometimes all sorts of things are going on underneath the surface even when it looks like nothing is happening.
As I put my garden to bed this fall, I am also thinking about self-care (again). There are quite a range of behaviors we can put under the self-care umbrella. Many of them are pleasurable and are meant to be so: a massage, a bubble bath, time with loved ones. These things feel good and are good for us.
But what about the self-care behaviors that do not come as easily? Or the things you do now to benefit yourself later? I do not know many people who enjoy dentist visits, for example. But we know it is part of taking care of our physical bodies and selves to do this regularly.
For some trauma survivors, any self-care feels unmanageable. In the stabilization phase of therapy, I often help clients brainstorm a list of self-soothing behaviors. Some struggle with coming up with any. Some have trouble with the very things I listed as pleasurable, for everyone is unique and trauma can twist things we might otherwise have enjoyed. Others may hear the conversation about self-care as a message that others don’t care about you. If this is the case for you, do not feel hopeless. Change happens in increments. You can learn to do things now that will pay off later.
Regular sleep, eating, physical activity may all be unfamiliar and challenging for trauma survivors. Yet being able to do these things will benefit you physically and emotionally. Therapy too, may fall under the heading of things that sometimes feel like a chore! You may be tempted to skip a session (or drop out altogether) when the going gets rough or you find yourself dreading a session. Showing up even when it is a challenge (and talking about what you are feeling) will usually benefit you tremendously in the long run. You may in fact learn something valuable about yourself and your healing process by continuing to show up when it is challenging.
As I garden this fall, I will choose to see it as an opportunity not a chore. I will allow myself to be mindful of this lesson about self-care: It isn’t always fun or easy, but the benefits are worth it.
What kind of self-care activities are challenging for you? How do you approach them? Do some feel like chores? Do some feel fun and immediately rewarding?