A month ago, I wrote a reflection paper for my adult development course. I recently re-potted my plants. Finally, I had an epiphany about self-care while I was out for a walk. All of this is connected; trust me, it will make sense in a minute.
The History of the Colour of my Thumb
First, it is important to know that until recently, I’ve had a pretty black thumb. I come by it honestly. My mom has an art piece in her garden that says “I tried, but it died” on it. It was gifted to her by a close friend who knows her well. I had a small bamboo plant during my undergrad years that literally only needed to have water in its jar that died. With water in the jar.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I used our generous wedding gifts to re-vamp our apartment. I decided to risk it and get a new plant. Two years later, it’s three times its size. I had to re-pot it last summer into a larger pot. So this year, I bought four new plants – aloe, a succulent, a bonsai, and a bigger bamboo. All was going well, until a couple of weeks ago.
My aloe plant’s soil had started growing algae. I think it might have been because of the way I had it potted (glass vase, cute rocks at the bottom, and then soil). I thought that if I left off watering it for a while it might dry out the algae (Sciencey people – if this makes me sounds like an idiot, suspend judgement. Science is not my forté. Also, refer to above about my black thumb). Alas, it didn’t work. And my aloe started to go brown at the edges. I couldn’t be sure if this was a side-effect of the algae-y soil, or the lack of water, or some combination of the two. Either way, the roots were also starting to reach into the rock part of the vase, so I knew I would need to re-pot it. My black thumb and I at least know that much.
So, off I went to Home Depot to get more potting soil. Home I returned to begin operation re-pot in the bathtub (another problem with apartment living – nowhere good to garden!). Once I had carefully extracted the aloe from the dreaded algae death vase, I aggressively cleaned and dried the vase, took out, cleaned, and put away the rocks, and put soil only in the vase and then re-potted the aloe. I put a bit of new topsoil in all my plant pots, and watered everything as usual. The next day, my aloe had almost entirely magically transformed from brown to green, and all my other plants were thriving happily. It was then that I had the epiphany. To put it all together, let’s go back to the paper.
Life Metaphor: The Car
For the first section, I was tasked with coming up with a metaphor for my life, based on an exercise in Norman Amundson’s The Physics of Living. At the time, I was dealing with the beginnings of a new (probably stress-related) chronic illness, was working full-time, and was concurrently enrolled in 11 university credits in 6 weeks. The metaphor I came up with was ‘a car that is running out of gas speeding down a deserted road with no signs of civilization.’
My life then amounted to waking up in the morning, heading to work, coming home, doing readings and homework, going to sleep, and repeating. Weekends were all homework and no play. I did manage to get some readings done at the beach, sand in my binders and all. However, self-care was at a minimum. I was burning the candle at both ends, running out of gas with no way and no place to fill up. Unsurprising that this blog was left neglected.
Life Metaphor: Self-Care
The next task of the reflection paper (and Amundson’s above-mentioned text) was to rework that metaphor into something more positive. It was then that the flower metaphor sprouted (sorry not sorry). Here I transformed my sputtering car into a flower, sitting in a sunless room, with drooping petals and dry soil. What’s the difference?
A car is perpetually using gas. When my tank has less than 60km left in it, the warning light comes on, and I fill it up. But that’s easy and reliable; humans aren’t like that. There isn’t a day when a warning light will come on in my brain to tell me that I need to fill up. And ‘filling up’ is not as easy as stopping at a gas station. Rather than filling up with gas every now and again, flowers, like people, need much more nuanced care. They can’t get too much sun, or too little; too much water, or too little. They need careful, constant observation and care that is catered to their needs. They need a thoughtful, intelligent, and caring helper.
Like tending to flowers, self-care is a constant process for humans, and it involves lots of different, smaller processes, like enough sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, spirituality, connections with others, and activities to relax you and bring you joy.
Through this exercise, I learned that I need to take the time each day to tune into what it is that I need to nourish myself (plenty of soil and regular watering). I need to place myself in the best possible environment for my happiness and health (in a room with sunlight away from toxins). Nourishment – with good food, regular sleep, joyful and relaxing activities, connections with others, spirituality, and exercise – is essential. I can also place myself in environments that make me feel more nourished and supported.
I can take myself out of the library and the office, and head out for a hike in the forest or watch the sunset on the beach. Placing myself in a lower-intensity environment with less obligations will be helpful. I need to practice self-care not only by adding free-time to my schedule, but by removing obligations. If I am going to continue to my Masters and stay working full-time, three and four classes at once is too much. I cannot stop exercising because I feel like I don’t have the time. It is important to focus on feeding myself quality nutrients and not what is easy and fast. I need to take the time to relax and enjoy life, and not let it go speeding by me as I focus on the next achievement I want to conquer and unwittingly run out of gas.
Although that was an epiphany in itself (which I’m sure my husband and parents are cheering about, because they’ve been trying to shove it into my brain for years), I had another one, right after re-potting my aloe.
Seemingly at the same time, I have learned to be an effective apartment gardener, shedding my black thumb for one of the slightly greener variety, and I’ve learned to take care of myself. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? What flipped a switch in my mind that helped me realize I wasn’t practicing self-care? What prompted the more intuitive response to my plants in addition to my body? The introspective work I was doing during my illness and through my courses? Learning to care for my plants? I’m not sure I’ll come to a positive conclusion on that question; I think it might be a bit of both. But at the moment I don’t care; I’m just enjoying spending the last two weeks of my summer using all of my energy to care for myself.