Proactive Selfcare

Over the years I’ve come to realize there’s a major difference between selfcare as an emergency service and proactive selfcare. When I’m at my best, I’m caring for myself before I need to. When I’m at my worst I’m depleted, and I find life very difficult—which certainly includes selfcare. At my worst, I procrastinate caring for myself and tend to engage in negative behaviors like the ones I previously wrote about https://betterbertie.com/2020/09/17/selfcare-basics/.

I define proactive selfcare as caring for one’s self as a habit, it’s something that’s folded into each day. I have many hobbies, for lack of a better word, that help fill my soul. If I don’t engage in these hobbies enough, I become irritable. Overtime I’ve learned to view feelings of irritation and frustration as a sign that I need to care for myself. Typically, if I’m feeling irritated, I haven’t taken the time to proactively care for myself and I’m in a state of depletion. As a way to mitigate this I try to proactively care for myself with the 10 habits below.

10 Ways I proactively care for myself

Gym
For a long time, I hated working out because I would force myself to do yoga, run long distances, or engage in a circuit workout—all of which I’m not a fan of. When I found lifting everything changed. Lifting alleviated anger and frustration and gave me a specify focus for channeling those feelings. I am particularly fond of going to the gym when there are experienced lifters there, which tends to be after work. Seeing different people’s routines and their intensity forces me to give my all. I find the gym to be restorative and it helps with my mental health. 

Walk
I walk every day. I love to walk, and my dog loves it too. In some of the most difficult moments of my life I’ve gone for walks that have helped me channel my energy. I can’t exactly explain why I need to walk, but I know mentally and emotionally I’m not complete unless I’ve dedicated some part of my day to it. I come home feeling restored and centered.

Hike
Hiking is a hobby that I tend to engage in a once or twice a month. It is a spiritual practice that draws me closer to God. When I’m in nature everything in the world seems beautiful and full of surprises. It has taught me to depend on my body and to push myself mentally. By hiking a few times a month, I’m reminded of all that I can do and the beauty that surrounds me.

Write
What a love-hate relationship. I love to write, but sometimes it becomes chore-like. If I don’t write enough, I become less creative, less interesting, and less interested in the world around me. Writing helps me see the potential in everything, every person, every moment. It has forced me to grow emotionally and to see the gaps in my growth.

Enjoying Food
I love food and I’m always gonna love food. For a long time, I felt a lot of guilt for eating food I labeled “junk.” I found myself in a cycle of restricting “junk” food and then binging because I had restricted. Slowly with time I’ve stopped restricting food and have made it a priority to enjoy the food I eat. Taking care of my body is a very important part of taking care of my mind.

Watching Good Movies
Can anyone say horror? It’s my favorite. I love watching good horror movies, in fact, I love watching bad horror movies. Watching movies has become a big part of my life. They keep me creative and show me the beauty in the world and some of the ugly parts too. I love being able to slip into someone’s mind for 90 minutes. Horror movies have allowed me to experience my fears in a safe space which has helped me overcome a lot of my greatest fears.

Present Who I Am to the World on My Own Terms
This is not a catchy subheading but it’s to the point. Somedays I love to wear makeup and somedays I don’t want to wear any. Some days I like tight fitting clothes and other days, not so much.  Some months my hair is purple and some months my hair is blonde. The only thing that really matters to me is that I choose it because that’s what I wanted for the day. Each day has a different feel for me, with a different purpose, and it’s important to me to dress for that energy. Doing what I want with my appearance allows me to be creative and to feel at home in my own body. If I don’t take care of myself in this way, I find myself becoming bored and I suffer from low self-esteem.

Church
I used to have major qualms with saying I went to church and I believed in God. I thought somehow this made me less scientific or less open to people from different backgrounds. I was wrong. Church is an integral part of managing my whole self. Listening to a sermon that forces me to grow and look inward has been integral to my self-acceptance. If I miss church, I lose track of who I am and the find myself feeling lost. Church allows me to recenter myself before the start of each week.  

Pray
I’m in constant dialogue with God all day. If I’m in a conversation and it’s particularly difficult I’m praying about how to respond with kindness. If I’m scared or nervous, I’m praying about that. Through all points in my day I’m asking for courage or strength in some capacity. This has helped me better handle situations that honor who I’d like to be. I find myself behaving in ways I admire and responding instead of reacting. This has helped to boost my confidence and to live in accordance with my values and morals.

Hangout with friends
I have to hangout with friends at least once a week to get outside of my own head—even when I don’t wanna. If left to my own devices I will isolate which is very bad for my spirit. I’ve found that being around friends helps me laugh with ease and reminds me not to take life so seriously. Getting outside of myself is another important part to keeping my spirit healthy.

These are just 10 of the proactive habits I engage in to help me feel centered. I have lots of little micro-habits, which maybe I’ll write about later, that help me feel centered as well. Forcing myself to sit down and write what I need to do proactively to care for myself has been another step toward healing. Let me know what your habits are below so I can add them into my rotation! Thanks for reading!

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

Anger, the catch-all emotion

I’ve spent many hours trying to understand my emotions. As a child, I learned that being angry was easier than being sad. If I was angry, I didn’t need to feel bad about myself. Anger filled me with entitlement while sadness filled me with, well, sadness.

Sadness felt like an anvil tied to my heart. With each new event that hurt me, weight was added to the anvil. There was no bottom for the anvil to hit. The weight just tugged each day at my heart, becoming heavier and heavier. Eventually it became too heavy and the weight unbearable. To save my heart I became angry. Anger felt like an internal punk rock band which was more bearable than the weight of an anvil.

Anger was so much easier, so it became a catch-all emotion. All of a sudden, the things that made me feel sad shifted to anger. I slid the anvil to the back of my heart and used it as a stage for my punk rock band. It became the root of my anger. The platform for anger to stand on. I would still add to it from time-to-time, but at least I didn’t have to consciously deal with it. At the time, it was what I needed to cope and to stay safe. This is probably not surprising, but it’s no longer helpful.

I’ve been trying to learn to break down what anger means to me. When I first started, I was so scared of my emotions that I would poke at the anger and run away. Slowly, I realized that it couldn’t harm me. It wasn’t going to attack me. I was able to calm the punk rock band down and they handed me a chisel and hammer. Over time, I’ve chipped away at the sadness. However, anger still seems to be an emotion that often fills the space of other emotions. It’s a complex emotion that means something completely different. 

For example, it could mean:

  • I’m tired
  • I’m hungry
  • I’m sad
  • I’ve had too much caffeine
  • I’ve had too much sugar
  • I haven’t had enough alone time
  • I’ve had too much alone time
  • I haven’t had enough physical activity
  • I’m lonely
  • And more…

I noticed that one thing that consistently triggered anger was lack of selfcare. If I spent too much time with someone, even if I enjoyed the time, I would become angry. I would find myself becoming easily frustrated with people I loved, but I felt so much guilt about prioritizing myself over them. I would constantly go back-and-forth between what the right decision was. I would eventually become so tired that I would just succumb to whatever decision was easiest.

I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to make decisions when it came to selfcare. So, I sat down and came up with a solution. I wrote myself a triangle to help clarify the right decision. When I’m looking at my day, week, or month I always make plans in the top two tiers first. If someone asks me to do something and I’m having difficulty saying no, I always refer back to my triangle. I consciously explain to myself that I prioritize selfcare and made that commitment to do so.

I dedicate this process to building trust with myself. It forces me to be honest. If I’m not honest with myself, my internal life becomes off kilter and I begin to feel groggy—almost as if I’m living in a haze. Life begins to move quickly and slowly at the same time. Through the use of this triangle, selfcare is no longer a choice—it’s a commitment. I’ve begun to feel less guilty about caring for myself and making the decisions that are right for me.

Instead of saying “no,” I used to find myself making excuses. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m able to say, “I’d love to, but I have plans.” Eventually, I’d like to say, “I’d love to, but today is a selfcare day.” I want to take time to normalize selfcare for those around me and for myself…so we’re all healthy and happy.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

Selfcare Basics

It’s always been difficult to care for myself because I’ve never really known what that means. I know enough about selfcare to have the basics down. I’ve really mastered showering and brushing my teeth. So that’s pretty good. Outside of that, I’ve really struggled with knowing exactly what selfcare means to me. As it turns out, it does not mean watching hours of SNL skits, Between Two Ferns, or comedy specials on YouTube. 

Best I can figure, selfcare means treating myself like a child. Hear me out. Much like a little kid, I can be temperamental. I often find myself getting obstinate or grumpy. Sometimes I have to bribe myself with treats–if you fold those clothes you can watch one YouTube video. Inevitably, I end up watching too many YouTube videos. I’ve come to understand that if I’m engaging in certain behaviors, I haven’t properly cared for myself. So, I’ve allowed myself to become grumpy and temperamental. 

Here are some of the behaviors I engage in when I haven’t properly cared for myself:

  • Watching YouTube
  • Binge Eating
  • Watching too much t.v.
  • Social media (in any capacity)
  • Avoiding reading books
  • Playing with random apps on my phone (I have no games on my phone, so I end up compulsively checking the weather or looking at my Fitbit app)

It’s not a surprise to me that I become grumpy. To a certain degree, I think it’s a very natural urge to avoid doing a hard task.  When I find myself avoiding selfcare or becoming overwhelmed, I ask myself these questions:

  • Have I fed myself with nutritious food I enjoy eating?
  • Have I had enough water?
  • Have I played in a way that’s fulfilling?
  • Am I dressed in an outfit that makes me happy?
  • Have I slept enough?

Just the basic stuff at first. If the answer is no to any of these, then I remedy the issue. I’ve come to realize that I need more selfcare than most of the other people I know. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who didn’t take care of themselves. My parents would often insist nothing was wrong when something was clearly wrong. Sometimes as a way to cope with issues, they’d overindulge in alcohol which just put off dealing with the problem. I never really had a great role model for selfcare. I let taking care of myself slide for so long that I have to play catch-up.

I thought doing things for myself would make me self-involved. I used to think doing anything with my outward appearance was haughty. I thought taking time to stop and enjoy my surroundings was a waste of time. I’ve come to the understanding that it’s important to feel comfortable in my own skin…to really understand who I am at a deep level…to prioritize a relationship with myself. Selfcare has come to make me less resentful and more fully myself. It has allowed me to be a more authentic person. It has taught me who I am and what I need. This makes me better able to be there for others.

Throughout my professional career I’ve used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I apply it to myself. That’s where a lot of the aforementioned questions I ask myself stem from. Through my growth in therapy, I’ve learned to view myself as my primary caregiver.  I depend on myself and I care for myself. It is a cyclical relationship.

Read about the theory here: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Typically, this triangle is used in education to assess whether a child is ready to learn. It can be used in tons of fields for a variety of ages. According to Maslow’s theory, each tier must be met before moving to the next tier. When I’m having a particularly difficult day, I remind myself that selfcare is grounded in science; if I learned one thing from Bill Nye, “[s]cience is the key to our future.” It is also the key to taking care of myself. I can’t argue with science.

Although I can find the cyclical nature of this relationship tiring and tedious, I’ve learned to prioritize selfcare. This has allowed me to begin trusting myself again. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, but I constantly feel like it’s not enough. It’s like there’s a well without a bottom–no matter how successful I am, it’s never enough. Caring for myself has started to create a bottom for the well. I plan on using the foundation of selfcare to finally appreciate all I’ve done. I trust that I’ll get there, but it’s going to take some time.

My two major takeaways from this:

1. If I’m engaging in an avoidant or destructive behavior, I haven’t properly cared for myself.

2. I am responsible for caring for myself. If I do not properly care for myself, I will feel unsafe and I’ll be unable to focus on much else.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

Characterizing Mother

When I was about to leave for the Peace Corps, my mother would call and read me rape and murder statistics. I find this funny now, but at that time, not so much. Now I understand that it’s because she was scared and didn’t want me to go. If I didn’t leave the country, then nothing bad could happen to me. Flawed logic at best.

When I think of my ideal mother, I most certainly do not think of someone reading rape and murder statistics. I wish that situation would have been handled differently. I wish I could have told her I was already scared to go, but I had to go because if I didn’t, I knew I would live the rest of my life regretting it. However, emotions that relayed any kind of vulnerability were always seen as a way to undermine my decisions. I knew I couldn’t tell her I was scared. So, I didn’t, and I went.

This story stayed pinned in my mind as I spoke to my therapist. I didn’t talk to her about it, but instead about how chaotic and lonely my childhood was. I found myself downplaying how difficult my childhood had been. How unstable it had been. Now, I realize the difficulty came from adults downplaying traumatic events throughout my childhood. Whether it was the many partners I was introduced to by my parents, domestic violence, or the nights I spent alone. The “this is really bad and scary” feeling was always there, but I was told it wasn’t a big deal. I learned to push that feeling into the back of my mind and eventually, I stopped hearing my own voice.

I couldn’t remember parts of my childhood because of how traumatic they had been. After a few months of therapy, I was finally able to trust my therapist. I got to a place where I was willing to explore the trauma in my childhood. The trauma felt like dark corners where monsters lurked. I came to realize that the things in the dark were not monsters. They were beasts that had gotten trapped in the dark. They were scared too and now; I had the tools to lead us both to the light. To say goodbye to them or to learn how to live with them. To slowly heal them. To befriend them.

I wanted to move on, and I wanted to heal. In some ways, I was scared to let go. These feelings had been with me since I was little, so it was like saying goodbye to good friends. Dysfunctional friends, but very reliable friends. They always showed up. If I healed these traumas, who knows what I’d feel. Who knows what would show up.

So began the process of “remothering.” I had no idea what this was. Luckily, the blogging community is great and my therapist recommended a helpful resource: https://www.anniewright.com/mean-remother-critical-growth-women/.

I started by thinking about what I was provided as a child. What were the good things I was given? This way I’d have something to hold onto if I felt out of control. I could ground myself in the things I was given. Here are a few examples:

  • I always had a roof over my head
  • I always had food
  • Religious freedom
  • Material goods

The important thing was to make a true list of what I did have in childhood. What I was given.

Then, I began defining what a mother was to me. This is what I wrote:

  • Calm
  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Safe
  • Playful
  • Proud
  • Patient
  • Protective
  • Caring
  • Spend time together
  • Stable
  • Freedom
  • Guiding
  • Well-rooted in relationships and community
  • Not always talking about themselves
  • Listens

This is my personal list of what I would like out of a mother. Slowly, through therapy, some of my anger towards my mother started to melt away. Looking at this list now, I realize it’s my job to fulfill myself in these ways and not my mother’s. Perhaps part of the reason I remained angry for so long was to avoid giving myself what I needed. That seems like a lot of work.


As I’m in therapy talking about the anger that’s always seemed to be there, my therapist says, “sometimes we’re afraid to let go of an emotion because it ties us to people.” That’s partially it. I am afraid to let go of my anger because it ties me to my mother, but also because it ties me to my former self. Somehow it feels like a betrayal of my younger self to heal. To forgive. Letting go of the anger I’ve had since I was small feels like I’m telling myself those feelings aren’t valid.

I remember what is was like to be angry and to have no one listen. To be lonely and to have no one comfort me. To be surrounded by adults that don’t have their shit together. Mostly, I remember what it feels like to see adults make toxic decisions that negatively impacted me as a child. I didn’t understand why they ignored the impact of these decisions on my life. Now, I realize my parents refused to address their negative choices because they had difficulty addressing the root causes. How could they accept the added layer of hurting their child? And you know what? I no longer have to think about it. I realize that their decisions are on them. The reasons they made those negative choices has to do with their own trauma—generational traumas cascading down from generation to generation unhealed—not my character. I’m just in charge of cleaning up the emotional wreckage and trauma in my own life to prevent transmitting it to the people I love; to heal fully and to finally feel at home in my own skin.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

Early Days Of Therapy

The thought of booking a therapist was emotionally overwhelming. Just the thought alone. Let alone the act. I knew I needed to, but I was already so tired. It felt as if I was being dragged down. I tried to use logic to reason with myself, but it was an illogical predicament. I was too emotionally drained to call a therapist, but I’d never feel better if I didn’t call a therapist. It came down to one thing: I wanted change more than I wanted to stay the same. So, I sat down and went on my insurance portal. I printed out all of the therapists accepting new patients within a 20-mile radius.

I started calling. I wanted a therapist immediately. I had many people call me back to tell me my schedule didn’t work with theirs’. Some told me they couldn’t help me. I spent a fair amount of time crying in my car because of the rejection. I was frustrated with our healthcare system. I needed help. I thought calling would get me help in a timely manner. I was wrong. The appointment I booked was three weeks out. When you’re trying not to drown, three weeks feels like an awfully long time to try and stay afloat.  

In the time before therapy, I focused on caring for myself in ways I could. I had depleted so much of myself trying to care for my partner that I didn’t know where to start. My partner and I separated. I guess, that was a starting point. I figured there had to be a book about my situation. Someone must have had a similar experience to me. Combing the internet, I found many books, but I wanted something that had self-reflective exercises. I started reading Melody Beattie’s Codependency No More and How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.

During this time, I forced myself to read and complete the exercises in Codependency No More. It was hard. It was scary. But it was helpful. I often found myself shutting down during exercises because of the pain. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. In one of the exercises I was asked to examine how I feel about change. Below is what I wrote, unedited (except I removed the name of my partner):

“I’m really nervous about changing, but I would really like to. As of right now, I promised myself I would stay separated from [my partner] for 1 month to try and figure out what I want and what I’m going to do. I struggle with keeping this commitment because I miss having someone pay attention to me. I’m also extremely worried that I’m going to want a divorce and that’s really difficult for me.

I’m committed to changing so I’ll become a better more open person. I want to be in a healthy relationship with myself where I can trust myself. In order to do that I need to stay committed to change even though I’m scared. I have everything to lose by not changing. I’m not pleased with how out of control I feel a lot of the time which leads to bad behaviors.”

I wrote this for myself. It’s not well written, but it’s honest. This helped me realize that therapy was the only way I was going to get better. What I was doing wasn’t working and I didn’t have the tools to change. So, I needed to do something different. I needed someone to give me the tools to change in the ways I wanted. If a construction site didn’t have the equipment needed to complete a job, the foreman would go out and get the equipment. I was basically a foreman, but also the construction site… and a mess of one too. I didn’t want to look like a demolished 1970’s kitchen anymore with drab mustard yellow wallpaper and broken appliances.

I didn’t know how to give myself what I needed because I had lost track of my voice. The voice I heard in my head was destructive. It often told me that wanting, and needing were the same. I wanted to be with my partner, but that’s certainly not what I needed. I wanted to eat 1,000 peanut butter cups, but again, that’s definitely not what I needed. Although, I think I could have made a pretty convincing argument for the latter.

Eventually, the day of the appointment came. Fortuitously, I was placed with a therapist who specialized in addiction, trauma, and helping spouses of addicts. Many of my initial appointments were filled with frustration. I would babble on about all of my partner’s wrongdoings. At the time, I needed this. Everything felt confusing. I didn’t know what role I had played, I felt responsible for my partner’s addiction, and I didn’t know what the future would look like. Slowly, with each session, I began having small breakthroughs. Things began to shift and to become clear. I kept track of a few of those breakthroughs on a doc:

  • I have no control over whether [my partner] does the things I need [my partner] to do to be in a relationship. I can only control what I need to do on my end.
  • Until [my partner] is in therapy trying to have a discussion with [my partner] will result in the same end.
  • I feel uncomfortable for large parts of the day. I have an urge to seek out immediate comfort like calling [my partner] or going on YouTube. I have fantasies of [my partner] giving me a hug
  • I think a large part of my codependency comes from my childhood.

My brain felt so hazy that it was often difficult for me to see the ways in which I had grown. However, this practice of tracking my realizations allowed me to see growth in concrete ways.  When I would have a hazy day, I’d look back at this word doc and feel a sense purpose. At the time, I didn’t realize I’d be taking a deep dive into my childhood…that I’d be committing future appointments to healing traumas that had existed since childhood. Fun right?

I won’t lie and say that therapy is easy because it’s not. It has never been easy for me to allow myself to feel my emotions. They have always been scary to me and overwhelming. However, I look forward to a day when I know it’s safe to feel without being told I’m wrong. To having the strength to know my feelings are valid and so is my viewpoint. Lately, this seems less farfetched.

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…

A Return to Therapy

We were standing in my parents’ dining room. They were away on a weekend trip and we were staying at their place. We were in a heated argument about our past and simultaneously our future. It wasn’t going well. In anger, my partner yelled, “you need to go to therapy!” It clicked. I did need to go to therapy. Not as a punishment, but to figure out how I got here.  

When I started seeing my therapist, I assumed I would calmly explain why my partner was out of control and why I had absolutely no responsibility. I wasn’t forcing my partner to drink, therefore the feelings I felt were on him. It was a simple logic puzzle. He drank. I felt. His fault.

I gave this a valiant try. It was not fulfilling. It was, in fact, the opposite of fulfilling. My sessions, much like my thoughts, were taken up completely by my partner’s behavior. I hated that my thoughts were consumed by someone that I had absolutely no control over. It was as if a news ticker was lodged in my brain; a constant feedback loop of negative self-talk involving my partner. This constant loop began creating a haze filled with thoughts like:

  • If I was loved enough, my partner would stop drinking and lying.
  • If I was respected, my partner wouldn’t lie.
  • I must be a bad person because my partner has a drinking problem.
  • My partner is drinking to escape me.

It seems silly written down, but I truly believed these thoughts. I believed these thoughts because society tells us “love heals all.” So, in my mind it was a simple solution: Problem + Love= Healing/ Solution. If we love the broken people around us enough then our love will heal them.It’s just not true. What I find to be more fruitful is: Problem + Selflove & Respect= A Healing Solution. But it’s just simply more complex than that. People have to choose to love themselves. That’s the hardest thing to do for most of us.

The thoughts that racked my brain were negative and unrelenting. I knew I could fix the situation if I just figured it out. I knew that my partner would stop if I was just better.  Yes, my partner was engaging in destructive behaviors that began eroding our marriage. However, so was I. The more we secluded ourselves from the world, the bleaker our outlook became. The more I wanted our marriage to work and the more I fixated on it, the worse I became.

I felt completely alone, and worst of all, I lost myself. I was so busy worrying about my partner, I never stopped to worry about me. I’m not sure when, but eventually I began to realize I was in charge of the negative news ticker. I had allowed the haze to form in my brain. Not my partner. So maybe it was actually my problem to fix after all. I started analyzing my thought pattern.  

I wasn’t purposefully thinking these negative thoughts. It just sorta happened. I thought I was very self-confident and in some ways I was. However, I was willing to accept someone treating me poorly. I was willing to accept my negative thought patterns. And I was willing to behave in ways I didn’t admire. So, all of these realizations lead me to reexamine where I came from.

What did I do to help deconstruct these thoughts? Therapy. I’ll get more into that and the specific tools I used to get just a little bit better in later posts.  

Next week on Better Bertie:

  • Will I get just a little bit better?
  • Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?

Tune in to find out…