One year ago, I was the Keynote Speaker at an Atlanta event for women. The theme was “self-care,” the practice of conscious activities designed to nurture one’s physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. Self-care has been identified as vital toward building the resilience and strength necessary to deal with stress, especially when that stress is unescapable.
What a difference a year makes! And how little we knew or could even imagine last February about the stress and challenges of the year that lay ahead. Fast forward (and I wish we could have) to early March 2021, which finds us now weeks before its one-year anniversary of the Pandemic.
In February 2020, I spoke about the priority of self-care in our daily lives and pointed out that, rather than see it as a luxury, we should make it a priority. To take care of others such as our children, partners, and aging parents, we must first focus on our own well-being without feeling guilty or putting ourselves last. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you are overwhelmed with caring for others. When my 19-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor ten years ago, and he and our entire family were thrown into shock. I was consumed with caring for him and it was all I could do to find time and energy for self-care activities like exercise, reading, and writing. I did the best I could, and three years later, I sat down to write the story of Jack’s journey with cancer. That journey and my own as his caregiver are chronicled in my creative nonfiction book, All the Above: My Son’s Battle With Brain Cancer.
The protagonist in my next novel, a thriller set in the 1990s, moves with her family from Atlanta to a Midwestern town that, she later discovers, has a sinister, dark secret. If you have ever moved to a new city, to a different region, or to another country, you know it takes some time to adjust. Some even say it takes an entire year to feel like you really live in a new place. You have to experience all four seasons, each holiday on the calendar, and all of your annual important dates. When the second anniversary of each rolls around, you have memories of the first, and with them, a growing sense of permanency. We may not have moved houses, but we’ve all been living in this quite unwelcome “new place” for a year now, and we certainly don’t wish that we’re here to stay or that it’s permanent.
Spring of 2021 is almost upon us, and it will be a different spring than the one we faced in 2020. In my view, there’s a sense of optimism with vaccines becoming available, kids hopefully going back to school, and life returning to normal, even if that will take time.
Each chapter in my book about Jack begins with a quote. One is attributed to 17th century English philosopher Francis Bacon: “Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.” Ironically perhaps, Bacon is credited with developing the scientific method. We had hope—but maybe not much more—last spring. Now we have a lot more than hope. We have a plan and a path ahead. And I dare say we’re a lot more resilient and stronger now. Another quote in the book is by the late musician and songwriter Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
The story about my son’s journey with cancer is an inspiring one. During it, he said, “Resilience is a wonderful thing. Sometimes something great happens when all feels lost.” Resilience is something we build, and when times are darkest, we carry on. Another time when it was difficult to care for myself was when my family faced a different type of challenge. During that period, I put my own health last. A year later, it was over, and I focused on diet and exercise, using apps on my phone to help me track my progress. I wish I’d done that much sooner, but over the next thirteen months I lost 65 lbs., and I’m now much healthier, happier, and more energetic. Taking care of me has made a huge difference in my life, and I’m convinced that making self-care a priority helps us to help others as well as ourselves.