How to Take Care of Yourself After Finishing a Book or Any Major Project

When I started writing – like, seriously committing myself to getting the blasted thing done – I was armed with all the knowledge required to get from point A to point B. I spent hours researching the best times of day to work, how to craft a good hook for chapters, when to start each new draft, and how many words are deemed acceptable for each genre. In fact, I feel quite confident that I could write my own “how to” manifesto for first timers based on all of the tips and tricks I’ve acquired over the last year of my life. It was a wonderful experience, however time-intensive, and I’ve learned a great deal about not only the art of writing, but myself. I am in the debt of helpful authors who go out of their way to explain how lost souls like yours truly can arrive at the end of their manuscript with the hair on their heads intact.

However, the one thing no one thought to share with me was just how beaten up my body and mind would feel after completing the job. Most of the information I received went something like this:

“Write every day without rest, don’t over-think the first draft, and be sure to let someone you trust read through and give you notes before you dream of giving it to an editor. Oh, and once it’s done you’re going to feel wonderful! But don’t wait too long to start the next one.”

That’s a lot of information, right? But what’s missing is the piece that has got me bent out of shape, quite literally. You see, no one told me that after finishing my novel I would feel like someone took a baseball bat to my hips, or that I would feel as though a part of me was painfully exposed to the world. Those wonderfully helpful authors conveniently forget to inform me that I would be exhausted like never before – and I ran cross country! I suspect they knew I would back out of the endeavor if I knew what awaited me at the end. How many of us would do the thing if we knew said thing would make us cry? Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you what you need to know to bounce back from the writing, or any kind of major project, without going mad.

Stretch. Seriously!

We might have spent years at desks in school, but nothing can prepare you for sitting still for hours on end typing away with your eyes trained on a computer screen. Sure, I used to devote an unhealthy amount of time to chatting on AOL with my internet friends back in the day, but my post-20’s body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. My greatest physical complaints after finishing my book was how badly my back ached and the strain I felt in my wrists and fingers. I even had aches in my hip flexors and calves! It makes sense: your body is bent in one way for a long period of time that is unnatural for it. Your joints long for stretching and your muscles need a break. If I could do anything differently, it would be taking a rest every hour to two hours to stretch. I wouldn’t have needed to invest in massages and pain relief like I do now. Save yourself some money in the long run and go smell some flowers!

Isolation, like fear, is the mind killer.

Thanks to Henry David Thoreau, I thought it was mandatory for a writer, or serious artists (TM), to be cut-off from the world with only coffee and the agony of creation to keep one company. If I were to let people into my writing space surely I would be too distracted to complete my precious book. Well… that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, going to a writing workshop in Sacramento smack-dab  in the middle of finishing my final draft was exactly what I needed to keep me going and finish long before I would have on my own. Sometimes people suck, but sometimes people are what we need. By speaking with other writers I learned to put my process in perspective. A bonus: I learned how to take new chances with my writing.

You’re gonna need some TLC at the end.

I used to roll my eyes when people referred to their art as their children. I mean, there’s nothing like a living, breathing, crying, human coming out of you, right? Boy was I shocked when I was hit with a bout of depression that was unlike any previous episode I have hitherto experienced. Now, childbirth and writing are wildly different, but it made me rethink what people mean when they get defensive and protective of their creations. I went from joyous to fearful, then to resigned and grief-stricken. I felt like I had created a new piece of me only to put it into the hands of strangers with the power to destroy what I shared. I had several panic attacks as I inched closer to the final pages, even contemplating deleting the whole thing from my computer. It would be better, the shadow in my mind said, if no one ever got their hands on it. Thankfully, I didn’t listen.

You’re going to be all over the place once you’re done, so take care of your mind and body. Get in to see a therapist or counselor if you can afford it, speak with a beloved confidante, or write in your journal all those thoughts you dare not speak, because doing something of this magnitude is bound to have you discombobulated. You don’t have to fake joy when you might be feeling terror; this is a major step and major steps are difficult on the mind! Whatever you’re feeling, know that it will come in waves and eventually pass.

Embrace laziness!

Trust me, friend, you have earned a few extra hours of sleep and a blank mind. Our culture has a tendency to promote working ourselves to death like it’s an admirable quality, but your trusty aunt LaKase is here to put that misconception to rest. You have the right to put your mind to sleep. I’ve found that when I am immobile and without a pressing project the creativity naturally begins to spark. If you don’t give yourself space to just be a human without a plan you’re going to find yourself riddled with something worse than ulcers. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from the School of Life (my fave channel ever!) and see what you think.

That’s all from me this Monday, kids! Next week I will be back with more information about how to approach the creative process and media that is getting me excited about being a writer. Have a great week and don’t forget to take care of yourself!

Self-care 101: Journaling

I may be just a little biased about this, but I think writing is one of the coolest ways to take care of yourself. It only costs as much as a pen and paper, you can do it anywhere (within reason), and no one can do it like you doThere’s truly no downside.

In my opinion, If you don’t have access to therapeutic services keeping a journal is one of the best ways to get your emotions out in a healthy way. It goes beyond the bubble baths and face masks to help you get to the root of your emotions in order to grow, which is imperative on this journey.

The benefits of journaling

There are so many benefits that go along with keeping a journal. From improved confidence to beefing up your memory, the practice of wrestling with your thoughts is worth the time it takes to get it done. By putting your emotions down on paper – both good and bad – you’re freeing up your mind to start healing. Instead of keeping everything bottled up, only to explode at inopportune times, you’re carving out a space to be unfiltered and honest. We’re more likely to open up when we aren’t going to be judged, so what better place than a book no one gets to see unless you trust them to read it?

How to get started

Journals don’t have to be what they were in the past. Sure, they can be pretty, leather-bound books you save up for, or they can be your thoughts scribbled in a $2 notebook. You can do it digitally on your phone or computer if you please, as long as you carve out time to sit and let your mind flow. Your journal is your safe zone. It’s your place and your time to work out the knots messing up your day, or to gush about how fantastic your dinner was. It’s your reward to yourself for doing the damn thing.

I do think it’s important to acknowledge that writing isn’t easy for everyone, no matter how much you’ve been forced to do it in school. For many of us writing was a task,or sometimes a punishment for bad behavior, so it’s understandable if you can’t relax enough to let the emotions flow. Here’s a tip: if you approach your journal with the mindset that no one will see it – like no one, not even your cat – the process can become exponentially easier. Don’t worry about grammar, how your script looks, or if it even makes any sense at all ; this is purely for the release of your emotions. You can do it however you want to do it. It doesn’t matter if you want to use bullet points, write in short hand, or draw – it’s all the right way! As long as you are giving yourself freedom to be unfiltered you are going to flourish.

With that said, why not give journaling a go this year?

When The World Brings You Down

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why I was so sick. One day I was fine, then the next I was blindsided by a sore throat, migraine, and stomach ache. I would get better, only to be right back at square one a few days later. For weeks, I’ve been in limbo without a clue of what to blame. The new environment? Allergies? Diet? I tried it all, but nothing seemed to work beyond taking enough medicine to put down a blue whale.

Sickness isn’t just inconvenient, it’s also a real mind warp. You start to wonder if your body is more than just sick – maybe you’re dying. Maybe you’re finally succumbing to all that cheese and wine. It’s even worse when, like me, you’re waiting for insurance to kick in so that you can get a doctor to tell you to chill out and prescribe something you’ve had in your cupboard all along. Instead, I started to question every single food and exercise decision I’ve made in the last year. But, nothing stuck. I haven’t diverged from my diet in any considerable fashion, I exercise a little less, but not drastically, and my last doctor visit was normal.

Then it hit me: the world is a dumpster fire and I am caving under the stress. When we talk about stress, I think it’s important to acknowledge the insidiousness of it. It creeps in slowly, but it can cause a weakened immune system, a lower blood pressure and heart attacks. I realized I was slowly being taken down by the weight of the world.

If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you can tell that I’m a liberal Feminist with a soft spot for the inherent goodness of humans. I really and truly believe there is more good out there than bad. However, I’ve realized that I can only take so many hits to my optimism. My body was being affected by the stress of the ugliness in the world. After a little digging it became apparent that each stretch of days that I was sick has coincided with terrible events in the news. If your first thought is ‘Well, terrible things happen daily’, then you have just solidified my theory. The reality is those terrible things ripple out, they infect us all, and make healing more difficult.

So, now what?

On Friday I spoke about shutting down my social media, taking time to unwind and breathe in preparation for the new week. I did all those things and I admittedly feel much better today. But how realistic is that for us all? Not everyone is privileged enough to remove themselves from the world, and even fewer of us have access to mental health advocates and therapy. Funnily enough, thinking about those facts started to overwhelm me. When you have nothing but everything to lose, how do you take care of yourself? For me, it has boiled down to this: if I don’t take that time, if I continue to ram my way through the muck without stopping until my body begins to lose the fight there’s a possibility I could die. My life could end and no one would get to read all the stories I have rolling around. I won’t ever get the chance to meet my future family members, or go to Paris, or try deep-fried crickets. I don’t think that notion is so dramatic once you’ve looked at how stress can kill.

If you’re like me, feeling weighed down and without a therapist, there are some alternatives:

  1. Daily Self-care.: Technically, brushing your teeth and eating three square meals counts, but I suggest taking it further. No phone after 8 PM, saying no to triggering TV shows or movies, listening to music that relaxes you. Anything is better than nothing at all!
  2. Meditation: I’ve written about how hard that is for me to do, but now that I use Tapping to ease into the practice, it’s become much easier. The Headspace App is another great alternative that I was recently introduced to.
  3. Free therapy: Most advocate services for domestic violence, sexual assault, or PTSD offer group therapy or one-on-one therapy sessions. It all depends on the level of funding, but they do their best to have something for everyone. I’m currently going to a weekly group session that has made waves in my mental and physical health.

I must also add that is imperative you speak with your physician and share your health concerns before labeling your struggles as stress-related. It was only after a doctor’s visit that I was able to rule out any physical ailments beyond stress.

I say all of this to remind you that you do not have to suffer and you definitely aren’t required to do it all alone. Since I’ve been working to listen to my body and disconnect here and there, I’ve been feeling healthier and clearer. I really encourage you to take time to figure out what you might be going through and what you need to get better. Good luck!

 

World Mental Health Day: How I’m Working To Empower Myself

When you’re struggling with your mental health, every day becomes a battle to stay afloat. You never know which interaction is going to propel you forward with confidence, or which has the potential to stop you in your tracks. There are days when the smallest of set-backs can become roadblocks to your healing journey. I have learned that by doing a few little things each day to fortify myself for the bad days, getting back up from a fall can be easier than I previously thought possible.  In honor of World Mental Health Day, I want to share the little habits I’ve picked up that are really helping me to redefine my worth and move forward with a new kind of confidence that I have so been missing in my journey.

No more calling myself “crazy”

I think this is an easy habit to fall into, as anyone or anything deemed to be difficult is quickly smacked with this label. In particular, it is usually leveled at women who do not conform to what makes men comfortable.  There have been many times I’ve whispered this to myself with derision after failing to get this whole perfect life thing right. It’s not only unfair, but a particularly cruel way to invalidate the pains and triumphs of living with authentic vulnerability.  No more, I say!

I’m committed to talking about what I do – and don’t – need

I was raised by two very polite people who instilled in me an almost pathological desire to keep the boat from rocking. I’m thankful to them for the ways they’ve modeled kind and caring behavior, however now I am working to unwind myself ever so slightly from this fear of letting people down. Being a considerate person is a wonderful quality, yet when you’re unwilling to do what’s best for your mental health can anyone really win? Nowadays, I am doing my best to say yes when I mean it, and no even if it might disappoint the one making the request. It seems everyone in my life is better off because of it.

I say my name proudly

Folks with spicy names will get me when I say this: no more watering down my name to make others happy. I can scarcely remember a day that didn’t involve someone stumbling over the schematics of my first name. They get a confused look, turn up their noses, and sometimes even scoff at the ridiculousness of me not being named something easily digestible like Rachel (no shade to girls named Rachel). I used to get so embarrassed that I would quickly encourage people to call me Kasey or Kase, or I would laugh along with them. Can you imagine what that does to a young person, always trying to make others comfortable? It’s a nightmare. I can’t remember the exact moment things changed, but rather the growing rage that made me say enough is enough. My father carefully chose my name to honor his sisters, and I am happy to have it. Just that simple act of wearing my name with pride as changed the way I look at myself in the mornings and how I carry myself. There’s a wonderful kind of joy in reclaiming something so simple.

 

My journey has taught me that a lot of the struggles tied to my mental health involve the way others will perceive me and how those perceptions shape my confidence. It’s truly never too late to shake things up, especially when it comes to how you’re going to take care of yourself. These are just a few of the little ways I’m trying to help myself along each day, but they have made a marked difference in my life. I hope you are able to find ways in your own life to protect and foster your own mental health.

 

 

The Emotional Freedom Technique Is A Great Way To Ease Into Meditation

Keep your heart clear

And transparent,

And you will never be bound.

A single disturbed thought

Creates ten thousand

Distractions.

– Ryokan Taigu

Within the Black community alone, for every one woman who reports a sexual assault there are fifteen that go unreported. Statistics show that 80% of rapes are reported by white women, but women of color are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Due to low rates of reporting for men, the numbers aren’t clear on how many are truly affected by assault, but it is believed 12% of Black men are survivors of rape. When it comes to healing, the road is long and winding.

Nothing steals peace of mind like trauma. It muddles every thought, each activity, and disrupts one’s ability to take care of the self. The pain makes even the most mundane tasks seem like mountainous undertakings. For most people, meditation is a healthy way to engage with your mind in the pursuit of peace. It offers the kind of self-care you can’t find in a product, or fancy meal. But what if you’re unable to meditate? For some survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, or other traumas, being left alone with your thoughts can be more terrifying than relaxing. When struggling with symptoms like PTSD or automatic thoughts, it can be difficult to settle into the kind of space that allows meditation.

I was introduced to the Emotional Freedom Technique in a therapy session. As a survivor of sexual assault, I have truly struggled with any form of self-care that involves my thoughts or being still.

When it became apparent to my therapist just how difficult sharing was for me, she suggested we explore the Emotional Freedom Technique. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or “tapping” was developed in 1993 by Gary Craig, who believed stimulating the meridian points of the body could release energy blockages and perhaps stop negative emotions. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncturists, believe the meridian points are channels the chi will pass through to flow to the vital organs. The tapping process requires using the fingers to gently tap or massage various points on the face and torso while repeating positive affirmations. Ideally, as you continue the tapping you will feel yourself begin to calm. You can repeat the process as many times as you need.

The act of tapping and focusing on her words allowed me to recenter my thoughts, breathe easier and relax. After that, we began all of our sessions using the technique until we were comfortable enough to share and grow together. Now, as I revisit meditation, I use EFT to begin the calming process. Tapping soothes my mental aches from the day and helps me to reclaim the power I thought I lost in assault.

Below is an instructional video on tapping if you would like to give it a try.

*Statistics courtesy of End Rape on Campus