Following a cancer diagnosis in 2017, I’ve probably spent more time than most thinking about my health, and taking care of my body.
But the more I come to think about the rituals which I consider ‘self care’, the more I realise that all I’m actually doing is paying closer attention to the subtle messages that my body gives me about not just the food I eat; but the people I spend time with; the environments I like to be in; and the amount of rest and sleep I need.
This is a unique prescription and finally I have the courage and conviction to administer it.
It’s obvious to say that eating and drinking healthily, getting enough sleep and managing stress is going some way in taking care of ourselves, but how much do we really pay attention?
And when do we ever really give ourselves the opportunity to take stock – to prioritise ourselves as though our lives depend on it?
Because as it turns out, and as I fully appreciate; they do.
In November 2017, I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer.
Leading up to this point I considered myself ‘healthy’. I’m a yoga teacher, I’m about 80% vegan, I cook from scratch and grow my own veg.
The week before my diagnosis I ran 10K!
There is no family history of cancer.
I was 38 with two children aged 7 & 9.
The diagnosis was devastating, but following surgery, I’m pleased to say I am in the all clear and have been for 14 months now.
It’s been the most profound and productive 14 months of my life, and probably the happiest, too.
What I perceived to be self-care prior to my diagnosis, was really just a box-ticking exercise based on what I’d read in magazines and watched on Netflix documentaries.
It really had nothing to do with how I actually felt.
Self care requires self-awareness
Our bodies have a deeply instinctive way of letting us know what is nourishing and what is depleting for us.
However, being able to read the signs can take a great deal of self-awareness, and for me carving out enough time to be present for myself in order to process what was going on, before I could act on my own behalf, was vital.
It’s easy to follow advice – to ‘do the right thing’ – but to understand the nuances of our own psychology and physiology is something altogether different.
We are unique, we are all tolerant and intolerant of different: food, people, experiences and situations.
We have varying levels of patience, compassion, love and joy.
We have different DNA and different upbringings. Our morals and values vary according to those experiences, and so do our expectations of life.
Cancer is a complex disease for all of these reasons.
In order to establish a self-care routine which could see me through the emotional landscape I was facing and beyond; the surgery, the possibility of chemotherapy, the possibility of death, the possibility of living with the disease or surviving the disease.
I had to be present for myself, listening deeply to the needs of my body.
I came to meditation and I sat with myself, experiencing myself for, what felt like, the first time in my life.
As I paid attention to the thoughts and emotions I was now experiencing, I felt my own murderous rage and had to forgive myself. I had to find the courage to want to live through the dreadful self-doubt and bitter, cold fear.
I had to lean-hard-in to the fog of depression and the pain of anxiety. I met my own shadow and chose to lean-in even deeper.
The more I leant-in to my own discomfort, the more I understood myself as a lost, lonely, tired and insecure child.
Once I pushed through the fear, all I could find was self-compassion and love for my own discomfort.
All I wanted to do was take care of myself.
I felt as though I had been left alone with the new baby for the first time, but this time it was me.
The difference, as I’ve come to realise, is that this baby grows up fast. I could have abandoned her multiple times for the ingrained habits I’d come to find comfort in, but instead I stuck with her.
It took, and still takes a daily commitment to being present for myself, this is my self-care.
Sometimes I’m tired and need an afternoon nap.
Sometimes I’m depressed and sink in to the sofa with a feel good movie.
Sometimes I’m bursting with vitality and this is where I make plans and commitments to my business, friends or family.
Self-care is about accepting ourselves in all our glory, about embracing the full range of our physical, mental and emotional capacity, and exercising and resting it accordingly.
Self-care, for me, is primarily about self-awareness, self-acceptance and ultimately holding myself with compassion every single day.
Routines and Rituals I have come to love for my Body, Mind and Soul:
- Morning hot lemon is expansive and refreshing.
- Morning green juice, loaded with vitamins and minerals.
- Three wholesome meals, evenly spaced leaving at least 12 hours between my evening meal and morning meal.
- Daily walks with my dogs in nature. I live by the river and close to common land, sometimes I need the woods, sometimes I need the flow of the water. At different times both soothe and uplift me.
- Daily movement on my yoga mat, taking my body through a range of stretches and restorative poses gives me a sense of spaciousness and a place to ‘let go’ of the tension that inevitably builds up in daily life.
- Writing a journal, particularly focusing on gratitude and writing my blog helps me to explore and share what I’m feeling and is an exercise in connecting with myself.
- No-compromise-honesty with my husband; taking time to talk to each other about what we’re feeling, our resentments as well as our hopes & dreams keeps us connected.
- Girl-time: walking and regular lunches with like-minded friends; the kind you can share your darkest thoughts and fantasies with, and who can laugh and say ‘me too’ is refreshing, uplifting and connects us all to our own capacity for self acceptance.
- Exploring my sense of purpose in daily life. Whether it’s the greater benefits of loading the dishwasher, random acts of kindness or developing my career in a way which feels nourishing.
- Nana Naps & Yoga Nidra. I take 20 minutes in the afternoon, usually before I collect the kids from school and play a guided yoga Nidra. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s a truly refreshing pick me up.
- Bedtime baths with magnesium help me to unwind for bed. And I definitely sleep better if I haven’t had a Netflix binge. Although sometimes Netflix wins and that’s ok too!
- And always paying attention to negative thoughts or feelings, and recognising them as a call for more love, more rest, more space or time rather than denying them and allowing them to accumulate.
If we’re brave enough to allow our lives to guide us, and our emotional barometers to lead us to rest, to cry, and to call for help, then we will always find our way back to our joy.
Visit Lauren’s website blackdogliving.com to discover healthy recipes and yet more powerful writing about her journey.