Books, Spoons, and Baking Shows: Self-care 2021-style.

It has come to my attention that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself.

I gained weight last year. I think almost everyone did. Our races were cancelled, we stopped walking to work, and comfort food became VERY appealing. While fumbling our way through the strange new normal of work from home, we soothed ourselves with chips. So very many chips. And candy. Dan figured out how to make cake in the crock pot (our oven broke in November 2019 and we have yet to replace it) and gave me WAY too much white chocolate for Christmas.

Sometime around New Years I realized that my “baggy” leggings were feeling, well, not very baggy. The past few years have been hard for me, when it comes to food. I’m a long distance runner. 10k, 20k, 30k, 50k…I’ve run them all. I used to be GOOD at managing my intake to support my energy needs. After I suffered a TBI in 2017, things changed. It got harder to say no to treats. And I didn’t want to say no. The concussion specialist who treated me said the area of my brain that controls cravings was damaged, but I know it was emotional too. When my symptoms were acting up, all I wanted was comfort food. The ambient stress of the past year made things worse. Long story short, I knew just deciding to change wouldn’t be enough. This time, I decided, I would bribe myself. With books! I established a food and exercise plan. I made it flexible, gave myself free days, and used check-boxes to keep track of everything. Check all my boxes for two weeks, I get a new book. Seven weeks and three new books in, my “baggy” legging are baggy again, and I’m on track for the holy grail, my old pre-TBI jeans. And on the plus side, NEW BOOKS. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:

I returned to work in May 2020 after two years off on disability. It was meant to be a gradual return with the complexity and quantity of work ramping up slowly to allow me to rebuild my cognitive endurance. Between the pandemic, challenges with work-from-home, and some other lovely complications specific to my organization, it was anything but. I realized that while I can write all day (not edit, just write) without triggering my TBI symptoms, complex analytical tasks in a fast-paced environment rife with constant interruption and competing urgencies KILL MY BRAIN. The past four months have been…challenging. Lots of headaches. Lots of crashing on the couch by 3:30 pm so tired I barely have energy to eat, let alone drag myself through my exercises to earn my check-boxes. Long story short, I haven’t been managing my spoons well. Now I’ve got my eating planned out, it’s time of turn my attention to another aspect of self care; taking more breaks and pushing back on tasks that do not fall within my accommodations. In other words, learning how to say ‘NO’ and/or ‘Yes, but not now’.

Finally, I’ve realized there’s a lot to be said for being unproductive. Trying to be productive all the time doesn’t let your brain rest. When you have an injured brain like mine, that means it doesn’t heal. Pushing myself too hard after my injury is probably why I still have symptoms now. I never gave my brain a chance to get better and hurt myself more in the process. With lockdown forcing the whole family to spend more time inside, we’ve discovered the joy of calm, fluffy TV. TV that doesn’t take energy to understand or demand your constant attention. We’ve discovered baking shows. When I’m feeling on the edge of crashing — too tired to read, too tired to play a board game, too tired to even have a decent conversation without losing the flow — I put on a baking show and veg. I might even close my eyes and let the dulcet discussions of sponge and frosting sooth me off to sleep under my new, weighted couch-blanket.

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