Journeys to the softer, slower, gentler and better balanced side of life!

This is a guest post by my friend Deb Thompson:

Hey sportsfans

Well here I type with rather tender legs, finally getting to write my first race report…

Toronto Waterfront Marathon September 30, 2007

Leading up to this race, my first marathon, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about what it would be like, especially during all those hours running out on Highway 2. I looked forward to the happy buzzy atmosphere I have loved at shorter races, and feared an attack of the legs o’lead in the last miles. I worried if injury or illness would prevent me from participating or finishing. I started noting endorphin-induced epiphanies for this race report or the See Jane Tri retreat weekend about life lessons from sport.

What I had not anticipated was how recently re-entering training to become fully certified as an Integral Coach would plunge me into questioning many of my choices in life, including whether or not to go to the marathon. In the three weeks prior to the race, being coached had brought me face to face with my propensity to over-cram my life, and called me to examine my many choices that have brought me once again to this point of burn out. My probing extended to all corners of my life, into the role of my hobbies and habits, including long distance running and racing. Was this just another addiction, under the guise of ‘health’? Was running a restorative relaxing practice I loved? Was I escaping my life and its demands through running? Did running bring certain blessings? Did running so much close out other good things? Was it a fab way for me to stay fit and well (and get to eat cinnamon rolls and stay thin)? Was doing a marathon my “go big or go home” way again? Did running bring some great relationships to my life? Was I unwise to go ahead with the marathon given my exhaustion and overwhelmedness? Could I drive myself bonkers trying to figure this out? Read More

Tips for busy times #1

First, I would like to thank those of you who have visited the blog and emailed me with comments and feedback. Community, sharing ideas and supporting one another is really the number one compassion fatigue solution. I invite you all to post a comment with a self care idea, if there is one that you would like to share with our community.

The best test of all these self care ideas is when you are really having to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” and this week is one of those for me: I had a wonderful weekend away with my family, went up to the Laurentian mountains (or hills for those of you out West, I’m sure you would fall over laughing at the size of these little bumps but they are aged mountains to us Quebeckers, used to be huge but are really old and worn down and we love them!). The Fall colours were wonderful and we could hear the Canada Geese flying overhead. But a weekend away means that there is no time for preparing the week, and all the grocery stores were closed when we got home! Hence, a rather hectic start to a very busy week.

So, tips for planning a busy work week will follow.

I will label this post “Tips for Busy Times” and will archive it accordingly, and will add tips for busy times at a later date.

Tip #1: Make sleep and exercise your top priorities
If you have a lot on your plate for the coming work week, is it realistic/a good idea to clean out your messy kitchen drawers/make the world’s coolest children’s lunches/put away your summer clothes? I find that when I have a lot going on, I am not always the best judge of what take priority. So, contrary to logic, what I did yesterday when we got home from our long drive was go for a run. Yes, I went for a run, I didn’t unpack the bags, clean the fridge or vacuum the house (although it sorely needed it). I went for a run to go over in my mind the week ahead and best ways to take care of myself. Second thing I did was go to bed early (after watching my favourite TV show, Intelligence. It’s a CBC show about the undercover world of the Canadian mafia and police that is wonderful as it’s full of intrigue but very little violence or trauma content. A rare thing.)

A quiet little buddhist sandwich

Today, I would like to talk to you about food and how I see it as a key compassion fatigue solution. (Sceptics, please read on – really, just a few more lines…).

Those of you who know me personally will already know that food is a very big part of my life: I own an embarrassingly large cookbook collection, I love to talk about, read about and plan meals. I carry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my briefcase “just in case” I need food asap (ok that’s partly because I’m hypoglycemic and I get very weird when my sugar levels crash but it’s also because I always need to know where my next meal is going to be).

My favourite thing to plan and think about in the food realm are simple everyday meals, not dinner parties (in fact, I cook the same thing every time I host a dinner, just so I don’t have to worry about things not turning out. I jokingly call it my “kraft dinner” meal although it’s actually quite a delicious meal of salmon with coriander and caper sauce, mushroom risotto and asparagus).

No, the meals I love to plan don’t have to be very complicated, in fact I tend to favour the simple and rustic vs the rich and fussy: homemade bread and soup, tomatoes and basil, fresh from the garden, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and baby mozzarella, grilled chicken rubbed with rosemary & garlic … plain fare with the best ingredients.

In fact, as a teenager, after letting go of the dream of becoming a journalist (as it didn’t turn out to be the idealistic job I had imagined…), I toyed with the idea of becoming a Chef. In hindsight, I am very glad that I did not in fact become a chef now that I know more about the gruelling pace they keep (read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential if you’re curious). I did work briefly in a restaurant as a teen, which is a story that I tell in its entirety during my CF workshops as it caused my very first case of work-related burnout.

Before having kids, a typical Sunday in my household looked like this: Get up around 8:30am, read entire newspaper (which, when we lived in NYC and subscribed to the Sunday New York Times took about 6 hours! thank goodness we moved – think of the hours I’ve gained). Then I would make bread and soup and while soup was cooking and bread was rising, I would go for a long run. Then, I would come back from my run, bake the bread, read or nap while bread was baking, then eat soup and bread and feel completely blissed out.

Needless to say, having kids threw a rather major wrench in this idyllic routine, but I’m starting to get a few more hours back to myself on weekends, since children grow and time passes and all good things eventually return (I’m an optimist which is another great CF tool).

Ok, what is my point? My point is several-fold:

-One: food is important to self care. Good quality food, made either by yourself or by someone you trust and care (that could be your mom, your husband/wife/life partner, your local caterer or whoever else, I just happen to like cooking). Good quality food is essential to fueling your body as you work in this incredibly demanding field. I don’t know about you, but if I have a really challenging morning clinic, where I’m working with people who are really struggling with difficult painful stories, knowing that midway through my day there is an amazing sandwich made with foccacia bread from our local Italian deli makes a difference to me.

And when I sit down to eat that great sandwich I am doing several things:
1) I actually am taking lunch – how many helpers skip lunch altogether?
2) I am eating something healthy and nutritious
3) I am mindfully eating the sandwich, taking a few minutes to put everything aside and making it a meditative, quiet little buddhist sandwich.

The point being that I think that as helpers, we need to take stock of the ways in which we fuel ourselves and food is the first obvious area to investigate.

The second point is that eating well does not necessarily have to mean that you are letting go of health considerations. You have seen the soaring obesity rates in our society: It comes from eating on the run, skipping breakfast, grabbing a donut for lunch, pizza for dinner, eating without really processing that we are eating. Many helpers who attend my workshops confess that they often eat in the car, while driving, on their way from one client to another. If you would like to make some changes but aren’t sure where to start, take a look at Chatelaine magazine and Canadian Living’s websites. They both have a large collection of quick and healthy online recipes that can be done in 30 minutes or less. Have a look at the slow food movement (www.slowfood.com) for more information on eating well and staying healthy.

Thirdly, (hey this is my blog I can make as many points as I want, let’s see how many I end up with!), thirdly, eating well does not have to mean spending tons of time on food preparation. It does require some planning ahead however. This can be a quick affair: you surf the web sites I mention above, decide on four meals you and your family will have next week and make your grocery list. You can even double up and eat the same supper every other day. This can be done in 10 minutes or less.

Fourthly, eating well saves money!

By the way, if you’re curious, my favourite cookbooks are:
-Anything at all by Nigel Lawson (a male British chef – not the gorgeous, voluptuous Nigella of the same name although her cookbooks are pretty good too, and she’s not hard on the eyes) – Nigel Lawson’s recipes are great and the food photography is out of this world
-Bonnie Stern’s Heart Smart cookbooks, I don’t know how she did it, but she manages to offer low fat recipes that taste phenomenal
-Delia Smith’s Summer Recipes for simple and easy meals when you are entertaining

Two interesting time saving cookbooks are:
1) Cook once a week, eat well every day: make-ahead meals that transform your suppertime circus into relaxing family time by Theresa Albert
2) “Frankly I’d rather be with the kids” from www.moretimemoms.com

Self Care and the teeny wrench

The concept of Self care is a funny thing, particularly for people such as us Westerners who live in such an achievement-oriented society. I don’t believe that you can take a diploma in self care, post the certificate on your wall and voila, you’re done, onward and forward…

You see, in my opinion, we are never “done” with self care, it’s not like painting our living room or some other chore on our to-do list, in fact, I would say it’s more akin to making sure you eat more vegetables every day. Gobbling down three pounds of broccoli on Monday does not mean you have met your needs for folacin and all the other lovely nutritional requirements for the week does it now? (Alas)

No, self care, in my mind, is something that we continually have to check in with, have conversations with and tweak. Hence, the lovely image I carry with me about self care is a teeny tiny wrench. I tinker with self care as lovingly as the guy who works on his 1983 Fiat Spider (that’s a car for those of you who aren’t fans) and who never really wants it to be fixed. In fact, that’s not really his goal at all. He just loves the process.

The Ideal Schedule

I think of my work schedule that way. Every week on Sundays, I sit at my laptop with a nice big latte and take a look at the upcoming week. My first question is: where can I fit in physical exercise? (I’ll write more on this later), and so I take my daytimer and write in exercise time everywhere that I possibly can (the goal is to get out for a run/fitness class at least three times during the work week). The second thing that I do is look at scheduling something fun and restorative. Something to look forward to. This can be a small as “rent such and such movie on Thursday night” or “plan dinner party” or going to book club, scrapbooking club or curling. It has to be something restorative that you self-define as fun. For some of us, working as helpers mean that we need to be “off” duty to unwind and the most appealing fun and restorative activity is to watch a seinfeld rerun in our pjs with the phone off the hook. That’s ok.

The second process with my work schedule is to look at the coming few weeks or even the next couple of months and pre-book some down time, plan ahead that if I’m going to be travelling or presenting a workshop on a Thursday, I need to have blocked off the Wednesday to prepare the workshop, get photocopies made, review my material, pre-cook a few meals for the kids, etc. This may seem totally obvious to some of you, but I know some people who are continually surprised and overwhelmed by the weeks they face. I have a friend who often says “I have a week to week planner, so I often say yes to something without looking at the following week and then when I do peek at the coming week, I realise I’ve booked myself to go out of town three times in 7 days and then I feel unbelievably stressed and overwhelmed.”

Collect Ideas from others
A friend just emailed me to say that she has finally figured out how to fit in a run in her schedule every other day. My immediate reply back to her was “good for you! How did you manage to fit that in? What is your best time or what strategy did you use to make that happen?” When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a journalist, (or so I thought until I found out what it’s really about). What I really loved was researching and collecting information (hence my first Degree in history). When my first born was about to begin school, you would have found me in the playground, interviewing friends with older children about their best strategies for making lunches, homework, best times for swimming lessons etc. This was not driven by anxiety or apprehension on my part, but rather a total curiosity about what others do to make things run more efficiently (the quest being, let’s remember, optimal self care, which is never truly attainable).

Now that I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of helping professionals in my consulting and counselling work, I have a veritable treasure trove of ideas for the ideal schedule.