Change is gonna do ya…

July 31, 2018

One barrier to taking excellent care of myself is the expectation that I can plan or routinize the way I nurture myself. This expectation gets in my way because, like everything else, my needs are always changing.

Case in point: for twelve years, I lived in Brooklyn, NY, and found extreme comfort in solitude to counter my sensory experience- and interaction-filled days. One of my favorite rituals was to leave work on a Friday and go to a nearby deli to load up on grape leaves, spinach pies, labneh, and muhummara before my hour-long commute home. After schlepping my (always multiple) bags home from the train, I would get out a (peaceful, inspiring) book or two and my journal, make myself a buffet, and spend the entire evening at home with the curtains drawn. I would wake up on Saturday morning feeling refreshed and smoothed–and sometimes, even then, I would opt out of the opportunities beyond my door to spend much of Saturday silently cleaning out the fridge, sorting mail, or staring at the ceiling.

This ritual is called a silence fast, and it is recommended for gathering scattered energy: you take special care with what you are sensing–hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing, touching–to allow your senses to let go and, ideally, enjoy. Even a silence fast lasting half an hour can refresh the system, but I struggle with moderation (Sun in Sagittarius), so I aimed for four to twenty-four hours.

A few months ago, I was feeling distressed and generally off. I realized I hadn’t had my solitude bath/silence fast since moving to Milwaukee, and I set myself up for an extended one-person date. The next morning, I felt more depressed and distinctly lonely. After venturing outside and interacting with a few dogs on walks, I felt better, and it clicked: a silence fast didn’t work the same for me in Milwaukee as it did in Brooklyn. I had to revamp my care menu and create some new routines that would fulfill my new needs.

Making space for the fact that everything changes has helped me find comfort even in moments of upheaval. Specifically, through this move, I have relearned how to pay attention to myself in a way that allows me to identify my current needs instead of defaulting to fulfilling needs I had this time last year. Here in Milwaukee, we have more access to trees and to water than we ever did in Brooklyn. This has opened up a daily desire to be outside that I almost never felt in Brooklyn. On the other hand, our life in Milwaukee doesn’t feel so inundated with human interaction, so I have learned to seek it out by walking to a cafe to read instead of sitting on my couch. The background noise of humans and their accompanying humanity is a need I hadn’t noticed until I left Brooklyn.

Steve in car
Steve surviving. (Update: he is now thriving.)

Six months ago today, Kellen and I drove away from our home in Brooklyn with our sedated and miserable cat, hope and sadness competing for places in our hearts. As excited as we were to arrive in Milwaukee and begin to create our home here, we felt heartbroken to leave our home, our community, our comfort zone. I lived in Brooklyn longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, and, though I am pretty skilled when it comes to leaving places, this departure felt heavy and scary; it felt final in a way I didn’t recognize. I knew, though, (and Kellen kept reminding me) that the learning and growing we did in Brooklyn we would bring with us, and that it would support the life–and the healing–ahead.

Since arriving in Wisconsin, we have received so much encouragement and welcome, and we have found connections that make it evident: Milwaukee is our new home. Though I still miss my friends (and my muhummara), living through the transition has reminded me that, as long as I am honest about what brings me comfort–and what doesn’t–I can feel at home.

This week, no matter where you are in developing your self-care routines and rituals, try taking stock each day of where you find comfort and where you find discomfort. If you make a brief (two to three items in each column) list each evening, you will certainly gain fresh insight to your needs and desires, which is the first step in fulfilling them.

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