The Tender Necessity of Taking Care of Myself

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heather caliri -the tender necessity of taking care of myself-2

It’s never good when your kindergartner sees blood dribbling down your chin.

It started with the oral surgery. Receding gums meant a graft of tissue from the roof of my mouth to the overexposed teeth. I was expecting the surgery to be uncomfortable, expected my gums to be sore. What I did not expect was the annoyance dealing with an injured palate. I had to wear a mouth guard any time I ate for the first few weeks to keep food from reinjuring the area.

But real surgical complications seemed very hypothetical to me. The dental surgeon also told me to take the Vicodin he gave me. I, wary of addiction and wooziness, didn’t open the bottle. Likewise, I wore the mouth guard at first, but after a few weeks of boring after-care, I decided everything had healed enough. I stopped being so careful.

So the day I took my daughter on a walk to get some groceries, I no longer thought about the mouth guard. I grabbed a few cloth reusable bags, and realized I was hungry, so I also grabbed some dried mango.

Let’s review: injured palate, hard and chewy fruit, small child, long walk.

We left, and I began snacking. I was fine for about ten minutes, until the stitches keeping the blood vessels closed in the roof of my mouth opened up, and (head wound!) blood started filling my mouth at an alarming rate.

Thankfully, I’d remembered to bring a cell phone and the cloth bags. I held one of the canvas totes to my mouth to keep blood from covering my shirt and freaking out my child. I dialed my husband Dyami, trying to keep my voice calm as I explained how careless I’d been as best. My daughter picked flowers, blissfully unaware of my near-panic.

Dyami wasn’t far away and came to pick us up. We called the surgeon, who staunched the bleeding, then reminded me, patiently, to wear the mouth guard.

What made me angriest with myself about reinjuring my mouth was my carelessness. I hadn’t really taken the surgery or the vulnerability of my mouth seriously. I had not treated myself with the care I needed. Rather, I’d shrugged my shoulders over my own fragility and proceeded as if carelessness wouldn’t matter.

I used to think fearless living was about bravado. Was about not taking too much time to think through consequences. I equated bravery with physicality, with carelessness and caprice and daredevil antics.

But more and more, I value the bravery of thoughtfulness and attention and intention. I value noticing the fragile vessel of my body and making allowances for it. I value treating my health and wholeness as the incredible gift it is, caring for my well-being as much as I would guard the bodies of my children.

That does not mean I am not ever called to push past my reserves, or do what is uncomfortable. No: it means knowing myself and what I can handle, paying attention, and then counting the costs on purpose towards what I’m called to do.

I used to think I shouldn’t waste too much time or energy to be “finicky” about my well-being. I thought it was a mark of fear, or weakness.

But the older I get, the more I see how my mental and physical health is the bedrock of everything I do. I think of Shonda Rhimes, who used overeating as a way to muffle herself, and found that paying attention to her body freed her to be more brave. I think of my friend Tanya, whose fierce attention to her limits helps her manage a debilitating disease.

I am called to do brave and bold things. And I am called to be whole.

It is worth paying attention to my body. It is worth guarding this fragile vessel I live in. It is worth testing its limits and respecting them, stretcying my capacity and refilling it, and always staying alert to what my body is saying with its aches, pains, tiredness and energy.

Paying attention to my limits, caring for myself, this is the foundation of my holy calling—but not the calling itself. It is the prerequisite for the life I want to lead. It’s not cowardly to be wide awake to how my body feels. It is not cowardice to be aware of the tender necessity of taking care of myself.

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Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who loves British murder mysteries, advice columns, and hot breakfasts. She uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri

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Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes.

  2. Good thoughts here, Heather, and sometimes the bravest and boldest thing I can do is to go to bed early and get the rest I need. It’s good for me to hear that sometimes you also just plain forget to do the smart thing.

  3. Colletta Rhoads says:

    Great descriptive story of the consequences of not “bravely” caring for ourselves! Makes me want to finally stop eat the sugar my body is telling me it can’t handle….lol thanks for your encouragement.

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