Self-Care Doesn’t Mean Self-Importance

Taking proper care of yourself is one of life’s top priorities. This is true for any person, but especially true for someone suffering from Type-1 Diabetes. Although you can certainly find medical practitioners to help you navigate the complicated labyrinth of medications, treatments and methodologies required to properly balance your Diabetes, the ownership of your care ultimately falls to you. And even when people are fully aware of this, they very rarely recognize and acknowledge it.

In order to be healthy, you need to be happy. In order to be happy, you need to be healthy. As Sensei would say, these two go hand-in-hand and it’s very difficult to truly have one without the other. Over the years, I’ve found myself sacrificing my wellbeing for the betterment of others, often going as far as damaging my health, exhausting myself and/or making myself sick. Although sometimes duty, honour and obligation requires it, it’s pretty difficult helping others if you first don’t help yourself.

So what does self-care look like? I don’t necessarily mean taking your medications or frequently testing your blood, although these are every important. I mean the self-care that includes one’s mental wellbeing as well as the physical. For example, did you know that if you’re tired in the middle of the day and decide you want a nap, you really don’t need to explain yourself to anyone? (Unless you’re at work, in which case I don’t recommend trying it. And if you do, please don’t name drop me…)

In order to illustrate my point I’ll provide two examples from my personal life, which took place some years ago. The first is work. I don’t think I need to to explain that work is a necessary part of modern life. Unless you happen to have been born into a wealthy family, most of us are forced to punch a clock and usually contribute somewhere in the range of 2,100 hours a year to help line someone else’s pocket. When I used to work for a certain popular franchise, who shall remain nameless for liability reasons, I let myself fall victim to my attempts at being an all-star.

Although not always the case, most employers are not only more than happy when an employee goes above and beyond, they come to expect it without any form of additional remuneration or praise. If you happen to be a prospective go-getter, this plays havoc with your health. This was me, up until a little over a decade ago. I would never miss a shift, driving in dangerous, inclement weather, going in to work when I felt ill and even going as far as passing out twice on the job, to be brought to the hospital for diagnosis, only to return the next day.

Despite the fact I was in management (and in light of that fact), it really gave me no benefit to be sacrificing myself this way. I ignored critically low blood sugars, worked through bleeding polyps and even did the work of two people when I was short and couldn’t replace them. And it wasn’t until I finally put my foot down and tried to call in sick that I got the ever-popular retort from my boss. I’m sure you’ve all experienced it; it was a dialogue that went a little something like this:

ME: “I won’t be coming in today. I’ve been ill all morning…”
BOSS: “Well, just how sick are you? I need you for tonight’s shift.”
ME: “Sick enough that I don’t feel I should be coming in to work…” (Bearing in mind that Canadian Labour laws take a dim view of an employer asking about ANY medical condition, my answer was more accommodation than was required)
BOSS: “Alright, fine. I’ll see if I can replace your shift. I’ll call you and let you know.”
ME: “Let me know what?”
BOSS: “Whether I can replace your shift or not!”
ME: “Why do I need to know that?”
BOSS: “Because if I can’t replace your shift, I need you to come in…”
ME: “Maybe I’m not being clear. I’m calling in sick. I won’t be in tonight.”
BOSS: “Well, if you’re going to be like that, you’ll have to bring me a doctor’s note.” (Also against the Labour Code)
ME: “I’m not going to a hospital! I just need to get some rest and I’ll probably feel better tomorrow. THAT part, I will let you know…”
BOSS: “If you aren’t sick enough to go to the hospital or see a doctor, then you aren’t sick enough to miss your shift.” (Also not a permissible statement, unless you HAPPEN to have “M.D.” after your name, but what do I know)

Any of my readers or followers from back home can probably guess at what employer this was and would likely be nodding their heads furiously right now. But given my propensity for picking my battles, I would foolishly go into work despite feeling like absolute shit. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve worked through a shift with frequent trips to the washroom where I would accommodate either end of my anatomy (Enjoy getting THAT image out of your head). Was it worth it? Definitely not. It didn’t result in a pay increase or any advancement to my career. All it did was cause damage to an already damaged body. Not smart, on my part.

The next story is about relationships. For the most part, relationships on their own can be rough and challenging waters to navigate, especially when dealing with someone who has little concern or understanding for your wellbeing. This brings me back to my earlier comment about napping. You all know that I’m a big fan of napping, but for this story, I’m referring to the need for actual sleep.

You see, as an adult, there really isn’t any reason why you should have to explain yourself, should you decide you’re tired and want to go to bed. Tired means tired, and is about the farthest thing from selfish that I can think of; next to needing rest from illness. But this was something of an alien concept to the woman I will identify simply as “Ex” (my ex-wife).

Ex had a nice, cushy daytime job, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. I worked shift work, which often included overnights. This is not to say that she didn’t work hard AT her job, the issue mostly arose from her time at home. The scenario would involve working overnight and getting off work at 6 a.m. By the time I’d get home, it would be closer to 7 a.m. and I would sneak carefully into bed as to not wake Ex. But one’s circadian rhythm can be a bitch, and she’d often wake up less than an hour later, despite being on a day off.

Now, one would be inclined to think that any reasonable person would understand that someone who’s worked throughout the night would need more than an hour or two’s sleep. Not Ex. She’d wake me shortly after she’d have breakfast in order to “get the day started.” When I’d argue that I needed a solid period of proper sleep because I had to work overnight again that night, it would be met with argument, including but not limited to the fact that I “was not to waste her entire day off sleeping.” Nice, eh? There’s a reason WHY she’s an ex.

I’ve provided both these scenarios, not because I wanted to complain about these two negative aspects of years past (despite the fact that venting about it was kind of nice), but to point out that both these scenarios wreaked havoc on my health, my blood sugar levels and even my mental wellbeing. The stress and anxiety associated with always having to explain yourself for things that should be an understandable requirement of physiological survival can have permanent repercussions on your sense of self-worth, value and confidence.

That’s why it’s important to take time for yourself and do things that are uniquely for yourself. Have that nap. Run out to grab a coffee. Take an hour a day to meditate or work out. None of that makes you selfish, it simply guarantees that you’ll be in a better state of health and a better state of mind to help take care of the daily grind, whether that includes family, work or whatever. And should you encounter an obstacle in your life that prevents your self-care, whether work or personal, that makes them a cancerous cyst that you need to down a shot of whiskey and quickly slice off in one quick swipe. You’ll be all the better for it. Surround yourself with people who will not only accept your needs, but will encourage them, as well. I know I did. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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