Category Archives: Self Care

Self Care and Activism: What I Learned The Hard Way

selfcareOkay, so the election happen. Suddenly I have clients coming out of the woodwork needing help at a time when I am not doing so well myself.  While I would like to blame that on post-election anxiety, that is not my problem.

Some of my close friends know that that I am not exactly neurotypical. Even when things are flowing smoothly, daily life taxes me.  I also have genetic chronic health issues. I know how to handle it, but it is super frustrating to have to work twice as hard to accomplish anything- including sticking to a regimen.

It has its upside though, I believe that my own struggles make me especially good at helping my clients adopt strategies.   If I can do it, anyone can.  Unfortunately that doesn’t mean I don’t stumble.  Everyone stumbles…

One of my problems is that I am by nature one of those people who needs to do something about the problems I see in the world.  I tend to jump into activism and helping others, often at the expense of my own wellness.  I know that a lot of my friends are the same.

As we move into days when more of us are going to take up the role of activist,  I want to share a story with you.  There are a lot of articles that talk about this on a “how to” level times, but I want to talk about “why?” So here it is — a very personal story that hopefully serves to establish why self-care is a necessity.

My husband and I threw ourselves into the Occupy movement with a fervor. I had some basic teach-ins on avoiding hypothermia and warding off illness in tight quarters, but none of the occupiers really embraced  the importance of self-care to the sustainability of the movement.

We learned that lesson the hard way.  We lived through tragedy and dealt with disappointments by burning out or turning to shitty coping mechanisms and bad decision making. Recovering from that took awhile for both my husband and I— and a shit ton of  therapy.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always let up to give you time to heal.  The last couple of years has been tough on my family.  It seems like just when we got through one crisis, another one popped up. I  was so busy taking care of everyone else, taking care of me slipped through the cracks.

The smallest thing can be your undoing.  For me,  it was a broken tooth and a round of antibiotics that threw me off  my game so far that symptoms started cropping up. I fell behind on work because sitting in a chair for too long hurts. Everything I write  sounds like crap because my brain is foggy due to lack of sleep and constant pain.  RIght now, I am so overwhelmed, fighting with the Internet company to come out and fix my broken e-mail seems like it is just too much to handle.

All of this is just a very long way of saying, it is easier to stay healthy than it is to get well.

When you work as a clinician, it can be a weird emotional dynamic to admit that in this moment; your illness has the best of you. It is embarrassing.  It seems like a shortcoming, or possibly even a marketing liability which is ridiculous.   I found myself worrying that someone would let me go from an assignment if they found out I was struggling.  So, I chose to keep quiet about it until now.

But pretending to be okay when you aren’t, isn’t setting a very good example.

I will get back on track. I’ve managed my physical condition for most of my adult life with little input from physicians or other herbal clinicians.   Before this fall, the last time I had to work briefly with physicians was after a trip to the ER in 2012.   I am focusing on me now and I’ve got this.  But like any protocol, I won’t be better overnight.

And this time I vow to do that without feeling guilty about putting myself first.   It isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity. It can be the difference between being able to participate in creating the change that needs to happen, or not.  I found the quote above and I plan on living it.

I am thinking lot about how I can better guide my clients towards healthy outcomes, too.  We need new approaches that are inexpensive and accessible–especially as it seems least possible that the country will be taking giant steps backward in regards to healthcare access.

Don’t worry I don’t want to talk about politics…yet.

I want to use my story as an example.  I want to urge my clinician friends to really engage in radical self-care, right now.

Our  communities are going to need us to be at our best.  Remember that your first responsibility in the hard days that may follow is to care for yourself.

It is also important to encourage others to care for themselves.  Reach out to those  clients you think might be in danger of burning out. Insist that your apprentices and students make time for themselves. At Goddard we were required to show that we were engaging in self-care in order to get our degree.

Be wary of groups who don’t encourage their members to take breaks and make themselves and their family a priority.  Know that there are activist groups out there whose leadership will burn through  their volunteers’ spirits and leave them quite literally for dead.

I guess what I am saying is look out for one another, please.  I love you all.

How to Properly Draw an Herbal Bath

Herbal baths are an ancient practice.  Both Dioscorides  and Galen prescribed aromatic baths for various disorders and injuries.    Medicinal baths are also mentioned frequently in Irish mythology.  Diancecht and his children: Miach, Airmid and Octruil, and were regarded as the deities who presided over healing. They are given credit for turning the tide in one battle due to their ability to make “a bath of healing, with every sort of healing plant or herb in it.” (1)  Cormac’s glossaries mention the fact that forthrucud (medicinal baths) were used to treat leprosy. (2)   Herbal baths are mentioned in curing the wounds or warriors.  Cuchulainn was cured of his fits of feverish rage by bathing in  Ius Cuchulainn (meadowsweet).   Conchobhar’s physician Fingen was said to have mended his wounds by making up a bath of herbs and marrow.

it is a good method of delivering herbal constituents. The heat from the bath helps the herbs absorb through the skin. I think they are particularly useful in cases where digestion may be impaired.

There is a trick to making an herbal bath though that is often overlooked. The herbs have to be immersed in boiling water in order to break down cell walls and release their constituents.  Your average bath water is just not hot enough to do the job, effectively.

While essential oils can replace some aromatic herbs, many herbs which do not have aromatic qualities have soothing properties and should be considered when blending bath teas.   Valerian root and kava root are two examples that come to mind.  Furthermore essential oils are expensive and do not represent the range of constituents present in a particular herb which limits their potential benefits.

I used to make tub tea the same way I make an infusion, but while flowers floating in your tub are pretty it isn’t all that practical.   As  sealable tea bags have become more widely available, I have taken to making tub tea bags.   My husband is a fan because all the loose herbal material isn’t going down the drain and clogging up the pipes. I have added a link to the bags I used to make these to my Amazon store.

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To get the most out of your tub tea blend, pour boiling water over them and let them steep in a covered container, for a good long time. The same way you would make a medicinal infusion. The water in the container should take on the color of the herbs like this:

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When it is time for a bath, pour the contents of your container into the tub.

Using this method to make an herbal bath, should increase the benefits of whatever herb blend you are using.  My tub tea mix includes Epsom salts and various herbs known to have relaxing qualities including lavender, heather and monarda.

References:
1.Gregory, L. (1905). Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha de Danaan . London: John Murray

2. Ellis, P. B. (1995). The Druids. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Erdmans Publishing Company.

Salt for Spiritual Self-Care

Herbal Bath SaltsI suppose it makes sense that if things are going great in some areas of your life, something somewhere has to suck.

School is intense and challenging but I like that way.  Career-wise things are awesome.  I’ve been confirmed to teach at two conferences next year and more will follow.  I have a student waiting list, all of whom are content with waiting until my self-imposed sabbatical is done.  I really couldn’t be happier with the way all of that is going.

As far as my personal life goes,  this last week has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.    It was a week when people just seemed to want to pick arguments with me which has  included,  but hasn’t  been limited to,  people swearing at me in text messages and trying to start arguments via Facebook messages.  I think I miss the good ‘ole days when I could ignore someone by just not picking up the phone.    I am starting to benefit from the wisdom of my years,  I guess.  I have learned not to engage.   Listening to someone’s very long diatribe on your many failures as a human being,   in order to try to defend yourself  afterward,  is pointless.   Maybe I just grew out of my ego.   Walking away or hitting the delete button without a response, was not something I was  very good at in my impetuous youth.

Regardless of how well you handle negativity,  it still lingers and kind of just messes with the way your daily life proceeds.   I haven’t found uplifting flowery scents to be particularly helpful the way other people do, so I decided to go a different route.

Salt has been used in cleansing rituals since ancient times. Sprinkling with sea-water or coagulated sea-water (theorized to mean sea salt) was used in Greek purification rituals as far back the Chaldean Oracles. (Tanaseanu-Döbler, 2013, p. 30) The priests of Apollo were said to use cold sea water as means of purifying themselves before “performing the works of fire.” (Tanaseanu-Döbler, 2013, p. 242) These practices seemed to spread throughout Europe with the pervasiveness of all things Greek. Celtic mythology is full of references to the use of salt for protective purposes. The aes sídhe (fairies) are said to be particularly repelled by salt. In Healing Threads, Mary Beith relays a story of a ceremony, thought to prevent abduction by the aes sídhe, which included three tablespoons of salt being added to the tub in which a newborn infant was bathed. (Beith, 2004, p. 99) On the eve of Samhain when the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins in such a way that the spirits of the dead are able to freely roam the night to cavort with the aes sídhe, humans who were brave enough to wander out often carried salt or iron with them for protection. (Monaghan, 2004, p. 406)

Aside from the using salt in baths for esoteric purposes,  baths were a large part of Irish hospitality. You would have been considered a poor host for not offering a guest the opportunity to clean themselves. In medieval literature the following advice is given to young pages:

“”If your lord wishes to bathe and wash his body clean, hang sheets round the roof, every one full of flowers and sweet green herbs, and have five or six sponges to sit or lean upon, and see that you have one big sponge to sit upon, and a sheet over so that he may bathe there for a while, and have a sponge also for his feet, if there be any to spare, and always be careful that the door is shut. Have a basin full of hot fresh herbs and wash his body with a soft sponge, rinse him with fair warm rose-water, and throw it over him…” (How the Wise Man Taught his Son, 2000, p. 34)

According to Āyurvedic practitioner Dr. Chetali Samant, saindhava salt is “believed to be dominant in Sattva guna which promotes positive attitude and purity of mind.” (Chetali, 2013) She goes on to recommend salt scrubs as being healthful for many skin problems. So regardless of  which tradition of herbalism you ascribe to, preparations made from salt have a history of beneficial use.   Since I’ve been running into this type of information in my research lately,  I  decided to put together a few self-care concoctions which utilize salt.

Cleansing Salt Scrub

You can using your favorite purifying or protective herbs for this blend. My particular blend is a stimulating blend that works well as a shower scrub. You could easily substitute more relaxing herbs, but I like this as something that you can enjoy during part of a busy morning routine. To begin: put ½ cup dried herb in your mortar and pestle and grind it finely. I used juniper for the jar in the picture above. I then stirred the ground juniper into two cups sea salt. Through a process of trial-and-error, I deduced that you can add up to ¼ cup of infused oil without worrying about dissolving the salt. I used 2 tablespoons each of sage, mugwort and St. John’s wort oils. To use this I simply scoop out a handful and use it like any commercially prepared body scrub.

Epsom Salt Bath Salts

To make these I decided to use a mix of salts which included: 2 cups Epsom salt, 1 cup coarse Celtic sea salt and a bit saindhava salt. After mixing them together I added some lavender and clary sage essential oils.  To use these bath salts I add ½ cup of the blend when I begin running the tub.

Herbal Bath Infusion

I decided that for the sake of the plumbing I would use a bath tea bag to prepare my herbal bath, although I easily could have tied these herbs up to in some cheesecloth. The bag contains a couple of tablespoons of sea salt as well as some of my favorite herbs for bathing: goldenrod, sage and white willow bark. To use this I place the tea bag in a pan of water and bring it to a boil. I remove the pan from the heat and cover it, letting it steep for three hours before I use the sponge to bath my body with the blend.

I plan to use these as part of my self-care routine one at times like this week, when I am feeling bombarded by negative energy. As you can see, I even got myself a big sponge.

A much needed sick day…

Grandma's  TeacupIn what seems to be an annual event for me lately, some sort of viral something or other snuck up on me post holiday madness.

I stumbled out of bed yesterday morning after being woken by a strange noise that I soon realized was myself; trying to breathe.

I went to the closet, pulled out  some of my ‘sick day bath salts’ , threw them in the bottom of the tub and proceeded to take a hot steamy shower while the fumes from the essential oils wafted up from the tub floor.   That  was enough to clear my head long enough to bid farewell to my daughter and the grandbaby, who were heading back home after their holiday visit.    But soon after they  left, the familiar chills hit and I knew the rest of the day was going to be spent in bed.   I got out the steamer,  slathered myself with chest rub, burned some pine and juniper in my room and then put up a pot of elderflower-peppermint-hibiscus infusion.

Sometimes  I feel a slight defeat when I come down with something.  Like I shouldn’t get sick because I am an “herbalist”.      Honestly, when I am on my game,  I rarely “catch cold”.      But in each illness there is a lesson to be learned.  In my case, it is usually a lesson about taking care of yourself.    In the holiday rush, I had neglected to make my bone broth, sleep enough hours in the night and take my daily Vitamin D.   My diet wasn’t what it should be-too much sugar and not nearly enough greens.   So I wasn’t too surprised , when my nose started running and my head began to ache.

It was actually a lovely, restful day.  I made my bedside table up prettily, curled up under the blankets, read a little on my kindle and napped. My littlest guy lay in the bed next to me watching the Avengers cartoon on my computer because he didn’t want me to be lonely.  I took a long soak in an Epsom salt bath before dinner.   My husband made me Italian wedding soup and squash risotto.    The fever took hold and I was pretty much out until the morning.

Succumbing to an illness is a message from your body to slow down, rest and maybe even pamper yourself, a bit.  Our bodies have an amazing capacity to make us well, if we listen to them.

I woke up  feeling better; glad that I had not tried to power through yesterday.    I wish more people would do themselves this kindness when they are ill.   It always makes me sad to see people dosing up with OTC  meds;  suppressing the symptoms of healthy immune function.  It is my firm belief that we could cut secondary infections dramatically if people just let viral infections run their course.

Of course, my method of caring for illness isn’t one that always works in today’s fast-paced society.   It certainly isn’t “take this little white pill every four hours and you should be able to stagger around in some sort of zombified productive state.”   The more I look at today’s society, the more I see that the way people live is making them sick- chronically sick-in ways that a nap and a good pot of soup are not going to help.     I think that is something I am going to be thinking about and looking into a lot while finishing my degree.