Self Care

I was at the gym a bit ago and exercising next to an older lady. For some reason, we really hit it off. I saw her a second time, and, again, we had a good chat.

She shared how her husband, a partner at a law firm, had a heart attack at age 36. This was during the “Mad Men” era.

He had martini lunches with clients, smoked, and, when he got home, drank more alcohol to escape the stress of his job. Back then, she wasn’t his spouse. She was an Associate on one of his teams.

The heart attack completely changed his life. He ended up divorcing his first wife and changing his lifestyle. And, he and the Associate later became a couple, and that union has been strong over many decades.

She and I then talked about “self care.” I don’t recall when I first heard of that phrase. But, I liberally use it in conversations with my children and friends.

You see, I’m hearing more and more about people going through tough times as they get older. Children are nearly always out of the house, work is stressful, and, at times, divorce is at-hand.

So, here are my thoughts on self care:

  • It’s essential for everyone. I think self care is that activity that feels restorative and creates “flow.” I think it’s about dopamine (prior post here), that feel-good neurotransmitter that we all crave. It is a major part of why alcohol, drugs and nicotine are so alluring. Everyone needs dopamine. We will attain it by any means necessary, even if it means drinking, smoking or injecting it.
  • It’s different for everyone. For me, reliable (and, huge) dopamine doses come from fly fishing and public speaking. Smaller doses are via day-to-day things like exercise, podcasts, reading, writing blog posts, friends, and prayer. My job offers dopamine, too, but VC is an up-and-down business and you never in the morning know what your day will be like. So, it’s a source of unreliable dopamine, which I suspect is true for you and your job. For Mrs. T., it’s gardening and her art. For one of our children, it is being outside. For another child, it is music.
  • You’re on your own road. When we’re younger, we tend to be overly reliant on a love interest. But, then you realize that person has his/her own issues and needs. So, you go from being dependent on that person for your happiness to being inter-dependent (or, IMO, the marriage becomes unhappy or ends). So, you’re both together in a way whereby each of you is strong rather than needy. I think relying on other people for your self care is a huge mistake. No one can care for you in the way that you need and at the moment you want it. Moreover, they deserve to be their own persons.
  • Self-care patterns are set early. I encourage my older kids to think about how they’re going to manage stress in college. I tell them that the #1 way people in college do so is through alcohol, and those habits and rituals eventually become quite ingrained and hard to undo. So, I ask them to be mindful and proactive.

So, those are my thoughts. It makes me wonder about which topic this older gym friend and I are going to discuss when we meet for the third time!

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