David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Self-Care In A World of Self-Studies

September 24, 2021

September has been self-care month. Did you know that?  If you didn't, you probably need to employ more self-care.

That was the case with me.  Only through an annual Michigan Community College conference (virtual) this week did I realize that the whole month is dedicated to taking care of our selves, to be mindful, a term in and of itself that is oxymoronic: I usually need to get out of my mind to take care of myself. Up until now I thought the American Cancer Society had a corner on the month as I was more familiar with it being Childhood Cancer Month (and perhaps others).

People who know me probably don't know how to judge my self-care. To the casual observer, I remain rather even-keeled, take advantage of racquetball, golf, walks, music, books and online gaming to create a work-life balance; on the other hand, I have three stents now (I did all of the above even before my cardiac arrest in 2017), eat too much, gain weight, and carry the stress of the job as if I am the ancient mariner with his albatross. While I may try to camouflage the bird on my shoulders, the very perceptive can still see it there.

I think one of the things that challenges me for self-care is appreciating the heights for a long enough time as ballast to the valleys that seem to be my daily landscape. I can't help thinking about the freefall from a height as soon as I have achieved it, the next crisis in the valley that will push me closer and closer to complete burnout.

Take the last 48 hours. I needed to respond to a very legitimate complaint at work, one that involved policy (always the combustible starting material), communication challenges (always the oxygen) and money (always an accelerant). Through 24/7 "mindfulness" regarding the issue, lack of sleep, and cautious writing, I managed to respond to the concern in a way that seemed appreciated by the grieved. The person even said so in a response to my explanation, and generally the issue seems settled.

Shouldn't that be an opportunity for my reflection, for basking in the moment of succeeding versus failing? However, the moment dissipated in the furnace of the workday. Is it too much to hope for the appreciation of others included in the conversation? Will only the aggrieved acknowledge my efforts, not others who were in danger of being burned?

To fight off the shadows that were consuming me, I did take a quick walk around campus, something a presenter at the conference this week recommended. I do try to get in 10-minute walks once or twice in a workday, so this wasn't new, but I tried to look at it anew. Could I mindful-ly be engaged only in the present? Given it's a Friday at a campus where 98% of courses are Monday through Thursday, I did not get the reaffirmation from seeing students hanging out on the plaza, tossing frisbees, or sharing food. I did see two faculty members and quickly stopped and chatted. I immediately figured that one probably worried about why I stopped to talk to him (we don't see each other that often on campus); the other had great news to share about his students and his program, so while positive, the conversation was still very much about work. Granted he did ask about something in my personal life, but something that touches upon the always challenging nature of parenting. I am not sure either brief interaction helped me redefine my "mindfulness" at that moment.

I want to self-care. I want. I spent some time this week at FindCenter, a website devoted to providing "a platform for personal development and growth." The site has apparently thousands of resources to help visitors work on self-care to combat (just to name a few of their themes) "aging, anger, anxiety, burnout, death and dying, depression, fear, grief, intergenerational trauma, loneliness, parenting, racial healing, self-limiting beliefs, shame, and work-life balance."  Wow, I feel worse just looking at the list (to be fair, I listed the topics with negative associations, not the ones with positive association, such as "gratitude, inner peace, or mysticism"). The truth of the matter is that I wanted to click on burnout or work-life balance, but then remembered I turn 60 in half a year, and thought maybe it was aging I needed to work on.

Again I want to self-care, but it isn't easy when the self sees other-care as its primary purpose in life. Hell, to some degree, that's why all of us go into education, to help others use education to take care of themselves. I suppose that justified the MCC meeting theme.

Maybe I have learned something about self-care.  I left work an hour early and used the time to get another walk. It's a Friday night and I am sitting with my glass of Glenmorangie. If this ain't self-care, I don't know what is. I am pretty sure scotch isn't on the FindCenter list of recommendations. To each his own.