Extreme Self Care (Guest Post)

Today’s post is written by entrepreneur Glenda Waterworth (she and her husband own and run the stamp shop Chocolate Baroque, in England). When she told me about her take on extreme self care, I knew I had to share her ideas (and her art journal) with you.
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The last couple of years have been “difficult” for my husband and me. That’s an understatement, but that’s what I do – I put a brave face on it, smile and tell everyone I’m coping just fine. The reality would take too long to go into, but let’s just say it’s been a time of endings and loss and deep emotional pain.

I look back on the worst of that time now and see it as a storm. We had to turn and face into the wind with our heads down, battling against the obstacles churned up and thrown at us. During the storm, all you want is for it to stop. You think your problems will be over when the storm ends, but what actually happens is that the storm unearths and uproots anything that isn’t securely nailed down.

For me, the debris that was left in the wake of our storm – the issues I hadn’t previously “nailed down” turned out to be my own health. I was so busy being the tower of strength for those around me that I had neglected my own physical health and once exposed, it demanded attention.

I have lots of journals on the go, most without a specific theme, but this January I started a “health” journal and stuck in the words “Healthy, strong and active” as one of my goals for 2012.  The journal then sat around for months, untouched.

In April I went through a few weeks of intense pain that eventually resulted in me being given a shot of morphine and admitted to hospital.

I disagreed with the doctor’s preliminary diagnosis and discharged myself rather than go through a battery of tests that I just didn’t believe was right. My own doctor ran some simpler tests to rule out the biggies (cancer) and encouraged me not to cancel our forthcoming holiday.

So a few days later I endured a grueling 400 mile, two day journey to northern Scotland for our first proper holiday in five years and it was there that my real healing began. I rested and reveled in the silence and wild beauty and wrote in my journal about banishing pain from my body.

We drove to remote, windswept beaches and I would load up with painkillers and heat pads and walk as far as I could manage, even if it was just a few minutes.

Ten days into the holiday I woke up without pain for the first time in about five weeks. I wrote about that too, wanting to capture the feeling of ordinariness and the gratitude for it.

I apologized to my body and promised to look after it better in the future. I made a commitment to practice “extreme self care”.

When I got home, I came across my health journal and I realised the word ‘health’ was limiting and had been holding me back from using this journal.  I now call it my Extreme Self Care journal which covers so much more than physical health, though obviously that is a key part of the mix.

Based on some of the writing I had done on holiday, I wrote the mission statement. (Above, left).

I then revisited my ‘healthy strong and active’ page with a favourite journaling technique:

Hold a question, problem or a phrase (as in this case) in your mind then harvest old magazines for words and phrases that call out to you.

Cut them out and put them all onto a large clean piece of paper. Play around with them and see what words come together, what sentences you can form.

Sometimes I find words that I incorporate with my own writing, using the cut out words for emphasis, and that is what I did here to document my experience of fighting pain.

Other times I make a whole sentence from the words such as this example here. I may add my own writing or images to this page later –picking up on phrases that resonate at the time.

As 2012 draws to a close, we know that our storm is over and the bruises are healing, there’s still a little debris to tidy up, but now we can see we are facing a new landscape, washed clean and full of possibilities.  Extreme self care is now part of my life and my mindset and the journal, like me, is a work in progress.
Glenda Waterworth describes herself as “not perfect, never finished, always experimenting and endlessly curious”.  A desire for a more colourful life led her to quit her career in computing in her mid 30s and start her own creative business.  She now runs a stamp company called Chocolate Baroque from the historic market town of Barnard Castle in England with her husband, Adrian.

[Quinn’s note: Visit Glenda’s blog and her online stamp company and you’ll see that’s she’s another art instigator.]

Learning to Wait

Waiting is hard. Waiting for something to happen is harder. Waiting while knowing that something has to happen, but not knowing when it will is worst. This afternoon I spent a few hours in the emergency room with someone else. This sure didn’t look like any episode of ER I’d ever seen. The pace was so slow, I saw glaciers whizzing by. Time began to move backwards.

In the face of emergency, I am unfailingly polite. I know nurses work hard. I am sure they have a lot of patients to take care of. But when the patient accidentally unplugged one of the EEG lines and the red lights began blinking and beeping, the only way it stopped was when I went into the hallway seven minutes later, and asked a technician to turn off the machine. And this was in the emergency room.Thank goodness it wasn’t a real emergency.

When I asked one of the nurses if she could give me an overview of what would happen next, she said, seriously, “Well, as soon as I finish typing in these notes, I’m going to have to catch up on my paperwork. After that, I’m going to eat lunch, and then I have a meeting.” When I rephrased my sentence to ask specifically what actions would be taken on the patient’s behalf, when a doctor would give us information she said, “I have no idea. You’ll just have to wait.”

And wait we did. I canceled appointments for the afternoon, and later, for the next day. The hospitalist (doctor who does admittings) came in four hours after we came in the emergency room. He said the patient would be admitted. They then rolled the bed into the hall, where the patient lay, without pain medication, for an additional 40 minutes, waiting for someone to move the bed upstairs. I volunteered to do it myself, but no, the official bed pusher had to arrive. Meanwhile people strolled by, sick and well, looking at the half-naked patient in a too-small hospital gown.

I’m bad at waiting. I think of all the times I was pressed to stay, to work last minute, to rush in my jobs. This afternoon, I saw a lot of people chatting about personal business, doing school homework, waiting for the coffee to be done. I read a book, I answered emails, I worked on being calm and letting life unfold on its own.

I hate being a health-care consumer. I want to be a patient. I’m so glad that the patient wasn’t there alone, and I hated being the squeaky wheel–even though I was a polite squeaky wheel. Nothing happened without my asking for it–no bedpan, no pain medication, no water, no blanket. I had to ask twice for everything. It’s hard to remain polite when you hear “Right away,” and then, 40 minutes later, have to ask again. If I ran my business this way, I’d be out of work in a week.

No one was rude, no one was short-tempered, but the general idea was that if you were in a hospital, your job was to wait. So now it’s night. The patient was admitted, but no specialist was ever called. The patient has received pain medication for almost 12 hours, but except for the ER doctor,  medical specialist has stopped by. The administrator did, though.

I think there is a better way. There must be something better in healthcare. I don’t live in some forgotten backwater, and I have insurance that costs me the same as my mortgage per month. But I’m saying right now, I’m scared of getting older in a society that turned us into healthcare consumers, but has no customer service center.