The best advice I got during the past twelve months wasn’t directed at me. And it arrived through an unlikely source, a Goodreads question and answer session.
I don’t usually follow or sign up for these sorts of things. I think the author’s work normally speaks for itself. But I made an exception this one time. When Anne Lamott, the author of “Help! Thanks! Wow!” among other hilarious, heartfelt and honest books, accepted a stint on the Featured Author Chat over at Goodreads, I jumped on board eager to pick up some writerly advice and a few laughs.
The directness in Anne’s writing reminds me of my best friend who passed away early this year. They both have a no-holds-barred approach to communication. Say it like it is. Don’t worry about offending anyone. Speak truth. Let it all fall where it ought to.
Feels like I get an infusion of new oxygen in my blood after reading Anne’s books. I figured I’d more than enjoy reading what she has to say in a different medium.
Little did I know how helpful it would be.
Sure, she answered queries about writing and about her personal life. But then, a surprise question and an even more surprising answer came through.
In response to a reader’s question about how to deal with depression and discouragement, Anne Lamott’s answer jumped out at me as if it’d been highlighted with fluorescent green marker.
“Depressed and discouraged is really hard, and plenty to deal with. My response, if it was me, was to practice radical self-care, by being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself, exactly as I would be with a friend. Love and gentleness are always the answer. “ – Anne Lamott, from a Goodreads discussion 12/12/13
“Practice radical self-care.”
I’ve said that to myself over and over ever since I read it. Even more so since a funeral and burial and the ensuing grief that’s hovered all year.
So we’ve all heard that “self-care” part of the equation over the years, right? But “radical?” And how do you care for yourself in a radical way?
I turn to my usual sources. I like the third Merriam-Webster definition of radical.
“Radical: very different from the usual or traditional : extreme.”
So I’ve looked at how I normally care for myself and I attempt to do the opposite, or at least a ninety degree shift.
Sounds difficult. But I’ve given it a try anyway.
So how do I “practice radical self-care”?
- Letting myself ignore all my lists occasionally and the usual side of guilt they’re served with
- I say “not right now” instead of “sure, anytime, anything”
- Simply sitting and letting my mind go blank, often
- Crying when the tears want to leak out
- Laughing even if it goes against all reason or feels wrong
- Planning something unprecedented, like getting a manicure, or a spur of the moment trip
- Saying “No”
- Reminding MSH that I’m not depressed, just grieving
- Practicing my depression treatment steps, just in case
- Accepting that sorrow and faith can coexist in the same brain
- Journaling, several times a day if necessary, letting words carry some of the weight
- Napping, earlier bedtimes, later wake times
- Talking about how I’m feeling
The other part of what Anne said, I’d applied in situations involving others, but rarely with myself.
“Being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself.“
The key word there: “exquisitely,” as in “acutely perceptive, discriminating, intense.”
So I try again and again. And I remind myself again, as Anne said, “Love and gentleness are always the answer.”
I get radical. I care for myself. Practice exquisite patience and gentleness. I apply the concepts of love and kindness to myself. Kind of extreme ideas for me.
I owe big thanks for such unusually worded advice from someone who’s been there to someone still wandering the path toward a new normal.