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Am I Cracking the Self-care Code?

by Catherine Kenwell 5 months ago in selfcare · updated 5 months ago
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At 60, I have become a college dropout

Am I Cracking the Self-care Code?
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Today I did something I’ve never done before. Something I never imagined I would do.

Funny, I thought it would be a tougher decision; I assumed I would argue with myself, and then pile on the shame and disappointment.

I’ve let myself down. I’m not meeting my own expectations.

Except none of that is true. It was remarkably straightforward, I didn’t argue, and I don’t feel shame or disappointment or that I’ve let myself down.

What did I do?

Today—on the first day of a brand-spanking new year—I withdrew from college.

Those who know me best know that I’ve rarely been out of school—by my quick calculation, I’ve been in one program or another for more than 31 years. I love learning; I adore academics. It’s where I feel most comfortable.

Except…not this time.

In early December I registered for the Durham College program in thanatology and palliative care, and since then I was excitedly gathering materials for my first course. It would be great to be back at school again, I thought. And learning about palliative care and death and grieving would be so helpful for me, right? After all, I just lost my dad a couple of months ago. It would be good for me.

See, that’s what I do. I intellectualize my life journey through academic study.

Back in the 1980s, I began doing yoga and meditation, which led me to wanting to learn more about the philosophies behind it. So I studied to become a yoga teacher, and I was given a Hindi name of Surya. That was 30 years ago, long before Lululemon and mindfulness for the masses.

When our rescue dog joined us, I studied canine biological and social evolution at Harvard. Then I earned my animal-assisted therapy certificate.

When I didn’t like the way in which my lawyer settled an employment case for me, I knew there had to be a better way to resolve professional situations. So, I completed both the Mediation and Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution programs at York University. With that, I earned my Q.Med designation and became a qualified mediator.

I still take courses through York and Osgoode Law to maintain my professional designation.

After my third brain injury, I signed up for and graduated from three—three! brain-injury rehabilitation certificate programs offered through Brock University.

This time around, for the first time ever, it doesn’t feel right.

My palliative care course was to begin on January 11, which coincides with my 60th birthday.

To say that caring for and loving my dad took up a lot of the previous several years is a pretty accurate statement. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t regret a moment of our time spent together. My husband and I moved to Barrie so that we could be less than two minutes away from his apartment. It was awesome. Our dog Sunny and I would run down to visit him. We were able to have him over for dinner. One of his favorite things was hanging out in our wild backyard forest. I cherished every moment. We both did.

But the last eight months were brutal. Two hospital stays (during COVID), two residence moves, several falls, outfitting his accommodations for safety, being with him every time he wanted to go anywhere—and then, sadly, his final hospital stay and his passing in ICU—wore us out. And although Dad had all of his finances and will in place, there was still so much to do. I am still clearing out, donating, and gifting bits and pieces of his 90 years on earth.

All of this, while grieving my hero and one of my best friends.

All of this, with a tricky brain that runs out of fuel without much notice. And somehow, I think that a haircut, a pedicure, or a bathtub soak is going to fix me. Somewhere along the line, I forgot how to self care. Every self-care ritual has become a luxury to me.

Which brings me to today. I withdrew from school. At first, I thought, ‘oh, that’s so not like me’. I mentioned withdrawing to my husband, who is always my fiercest ally and has always accommodated my education desires.

He assured me—or rather, reinforced—that withdrawing was the right move. He’s witnessed my burnout. He’s seen me holding it together, corralling family members to sign papers and whatnot, and working with insurance companies and banks and charities and the tax department.

So here I am. I’m a 60-year-old college dropout. When my birthday arrives next week, I can quietly celebrate instead of hitting the books. I think this feels ok. I think, maybe, I might have just begun to crack the self-care code. I'm learning that self-care can mean backing off instead of advancing. Hey, it's a start.


About the author

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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