Self-care is a very important part of my life. It's what keeps me balanced and allows me to function and show up for my colleagues and team. It makes me a better partner to my wife and friend to those close to me. Honestly, there is no area of my life it doesn't improve.
It's taken me the better part of three decades to learn the importance of self-care, and I'm still working on being better at it.
I'm someone who is always going to burn at both ends of the candle. I have poor impulse control for knowing when to not take on additional work, responsibility and the like. I don't really experience stress emotionally, it express through me physically. This has allowed me to push my limits to places I probably shouldn't and it's allowed me to stay heads down and succeed at work.
In the end, that's who I am, someone who is going to dive headlong into whatever I'm doing a bit recklessly, but that isn't who I should be at all times. It doesn't serve anyone to be that way all the time, especially as we get older. Learning to find moments to take it easy and finding space for self-care has been a hard fought battle, but one that I've started to win, the turning point of which was a hard slam on the brakes my body gave me in 2015.
Life comes at you quick. Around four and a half years ago I had just gotten home from a long day at the office in the middle of what had been a marathon week in an even longer month. I remember feeling exhausted but satisfied with the how things were going.
I was figuring out what I was going to have for dinner when the entire left side of my body went numb. I fell to the floor, thankfully not losing consciousness or injuring myself further. I couldn't move, I was sweating profusely and I felt a chill run through my body in a way I never have before. Even now, years on, I can feel a chill in the back of my neck thinking about it
To make matters worse, neither of my roommates were home, a fact that I became aware of quickly as I attempted to gather myself enough to decide what to do next. After what felt like a lifetime, but was probably more like 10 minutes, I was able to collect myself enough to call an ambulance. Two burly EMTs arrived to find me sitting at the top of the staircase on the second floor of my apartment building, leaning against the wall, pale and a bit vacant. I was alive, breathing, and my heart was beating, but something was clearly wrong. They decided to take me to the hospital to get checked out.
Mercifully, a few close friends were able to come hang out with me (side note: never undervalue a friend who will drop what they are doing late on a Wednesday night to sit in a hospital with you), which made the situation much easier to handle and document the experience (picture right, taken by my buddy Sami). In the end, the found out it was a slight arrhythmia in my heart and that there was no need for further medical intervention. I was discharged at around 3am. Before I left the doctor who had been seeing me told me that I was really lucky, and that I had to slow down, reduce anxiety and curb the caffeine intake (at that point I was probably at 5 cups a day) before this got worse. I told him I would take his words to heart, but could tell from the look on his face he didn't believe me.
This is an extreme example and dramatic in the way it played out, but it was a moment that taught me something: I couldn't keep ignoring my exhaustion and personal needs without there being a cost.
Up to that point, I prided myself in being the person who didn't need self-care, who could do anything and sacrifice any personal need to do more. I loved working any waking hour I could. My father was a man who slept 4-5 hours a night, why couldn't I be as well? Who was to say that I couldn't do it all?
Well, me I guess. My body told me that I couldn't keep this pace up (I would come to learn that I didn't have to, but that's a different story for another day).
So, I listened to that doctor and start shifting my lifestyle.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm not good at self care. Like anything else in life I needed to compartmentalize and work self-care into my routine in a way that worked for me. I needed ritual and teachers that remind me to look after myself. Thankfully there is a lot of help and work out there that I found along my journey to help keep me regulated:
Headspace. As Lyft grew, we became smarter about recognizing the taxing nature of startup culture and we bought everyone subscriptions to Headspace. This offered me an introduction into mindfulness and meditation. I dove in and formed rituals around practicing meditation to start and end my days. These acted as bookends that gave me space from my work and cleared my brain of anything that was weighing on it.
Breath work. Breathing has been a real problem for me during COVID. At times I've experienced the type of anxiety that has left me short of breath, something I attribute to the psychosomatic nature of living through a global pandemic centered on an airborne disease that effects the lungs. Mercifully, TikTok introduced everyone on staff to the concept of breath work and sound healing through Avery Whitmore. For me, this has been an evolution from the benefit and relief that meditation through Headspace offered. It allowed me a physical way to exercise my mind and find clarity. I do sessions that range from 8 minutes to an hour. In the morning, for afternoon breaks and really whenever I want to clear my head. I've yet to go through a session - self guided or by a teacher - without immediately feeling better than before I started and ready for whatever is coming.
Acupuncture. Until recently I was a true sceptic, but after a particularly long week, I was at the end of my rope and in a terrible mood. We'd given the team the rest of the afternoon off starting at around 2pm and my wife had enough, "I've made an appointment for you with my acupuncturist in 20 minutes. You're leaving now." Begrudgingly, I went to Lotus Integrative Medicine. I talked through what was going on with the incomparable Dr. Armm, the warm man who I see weekly now, who took stock of my mental and physical state and plainly put our relationship like this, "You're not the first tech person to come in here. I know what that lifestyle is. I'm here to help keep you going, and make sure you're listening to your body. That's my job." I believe I got 22 needles that first day and relaxed, totally unplugged, for an hour. I left that day feeling better than I had in months. I was feeling so great that I spent the drive home giggling involuntarily.
In some form or other, I do all of this and more (weekly baths, working on a blog etc). to focus on myself and clear my brain so that I can show up for those who need me (family, friends, coworkers). A lot of it is scheduled into my calendar, because that is what works for me. They are the balance and totem I need in my everyday to make sure that I'm respecting my limits, and granting myself the grace to take breaks.
Totems and ritual and balance are how I enter self-care. It's how I've managed to create space to nurture the needs my body has that my mind has trouble accepting. For you or anyone else it might be different, but what I think is most important is that you acknowledge that none is strong enough to not sleep, to not take breaks, to not reflect. You will always be better for finding more balance and finding time to clear your head.
You don't have to take my advice on any of the above self-care pathways/techniques. Chances are your body wont take extreme measures to slow you down like mine did. But I implore you to be introspective enough that if you're finding yourself exhausted or blocked, or even if you just feel fine, you try to change your routine and adding something that's just for you. I think you'll feel better for it.