Since it's the weekend when I normally don't blog much anyway, and I've been feeling very introspective since Raven died, and I have this stinking cold, I thought I'd let myself get a little journal-y today. Besides, the Republicans appear to be imploding quite messily on their own, without any help from me, so I'll just let them get on with it and do a little naval-gazing.
A few years ago, I wrote:
As I stood at the counter in the kitchen preparing a beautiful bowl full of range-fed meat, sprinkled with organic green veggies and nutritious supplements for my dogs, it struck me: When was the last time I'd made a meal for myself? Why was it ok for me to live on crackers and cheese, pizza, and microwaved, reheated coffee, but not ok for my animals?
But that doesn't describe me anymore at all. In many ways, I do take as good care of myself as I do of my animals. I have changed the entire way I eat. I have lost over 130 pounds. I have taken up yoga and weight lifting. Even in the midst of absolute crisis, I at least think about whether or not I am taking care of myself, and if I can, I do.
Which brings me to a theory I've had about life for a long time now, that I dubbed "Ergonomic Living." It has nothing to do with designing car interiors so you don't have to lean forward to change the radio station, nor does it have anything to do with having a really good office chair.
No, what I'm suggesting is that instead of approaching every issue in our lives as though we were likely to need to make massive changes to ourselves and our lifestyles in order to become the Person We Were Meant to Be and do the Things We Were Meant to Do, we approach problems with the underlying assumption that most of the things we want to do are fine, and we're mostly fine, too.
I'm not trying to say that most people are perfect. I'm certainly not saying there aren't a few folks who really should be sent back to the factory for a total overhaul, or possibly just recycled as unsalvageable. They're out there. I like to think they aren't reading my blog, however, so for the purposes of Christie's Theory of Ergonomic Living, I'm going to ignore them.
What I mean instead is that we can very easily become so totally overwhelmed by the enormity of the changes we think we have to make in our lives that we don't make ANY changes. We don't bother wiping the top of the toothpaste tube because it just reminds us that our whole bathroom needs cleaning.
We focus on big hard changes, preferably ones involving changing our deepest attitudes and most ingrained habits, rather than accepting ourselves as we are and changing our expectations and the systems we live with instead. We keep yelling at ourselves about the messy pile of newspapers next to the chair, instead of accepting that we're going to put the newspapers there and go buy a nice basket to pile them up in neatly.
We let ourselves get so swept up in the grandiosity of our intentions for ourselves and our lives that we do nothing at all. And on top of that, we suffer terribly over it.
And I think that's where I am with this "I take better care of my dogs than of myself" thing.
Maybe instead of being mad at myself for taking better care of them than I do of me, I could simply accept a few realities, such as:
My dogs are the most important thing in the world to me. They are incredibly motivating. They make me feel loved and needed. They amuse me, inspire me, protect me, get me off my butt on days when I might choose to just vegetate or get lost in computerland, snuggle with me on cold nights, and have been the instrument by which I've learned, changed, and grown the most over the last 20 years. They have been the subject of the work by which I've made my living. They have been the reason I've met my closest friends.
If they give me that much, then why WOULDN'T I want to do things for them that are hard or challenging, that take the last bit of my strength and caring? What is wrong with that? What exactly do I need to change here?
I won't deny that I've harmed myself with some of the things I've done for my dogs. But there are two distinct categories of harm here. One is the unavoidable kind, such as sitting on a cold, hard hospital floor with Raven when she was on oxygen. I knew that sitting there with nothing to lean on for all those hours was going to kill my back. I made the deliberate choice to do it anyway, because I needed to be with her. When I had the choice to sit with her in the regular part of the hospital, where I could sit on a dog bed and lean on a wall, I did that. I took care of myself when I could. I thought about it. It mattered. It just wasn't possible and so I accepted the consequences of my choice.
The other is the kind where you just make a martyr out of yourself for someone or something, where you make a generally unhelpful and unwelcome sacrifice out of an unhealthy need to manipulate a situation, or because you have lost all sense of perspective from lack of sleep or some other crisis-related cause and aren't making good decisions anymore. I hit that wall with Raven, too, when I finally realized that even though she really was better off with me sitting with her, I had to go home and get some rest. (Well, "realized" is not exactly the right word - the vet techs called my vet at home and told her I was having a nervous breakdown in their hospital and she had to get me the hell out of there. Realization on my part came much later.)
But it's not right to categorize all forms of giving, even giving in excess of what is best for your own physical well-being, as putting yourself last or failing to take care of yourself. Nor do we have to become perfect at taking care of ourselves overnight, or ever, for that matter. Sometimes "taking care of ourselves as well as we care for the dogs" translates into accepting that when push comes to shove, the dogs will always win, and making allowances for that. Planning for it. Living with it. Not pretending it's not true, or going to change someday. Even realizing, as I am starting to, that there's actually nothing wrong with it.
Because I really do love them that much. I don't think that's something I have to get over. In fact, I'm beginning to think it may be the single thing that's led to most of the positive changes in my life. And what kind of idiot would want to change that?