As I begin cleaning up my online data, I pounced upon a memorable verse I had saved. I extract here a snippet of an author’s mention of her father’s last Christmas card (2012) entitled “Be as Youthful as Your ‘Self’ Permits”:
“We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our viewpoint and how we live our life. In youth we begin with vitality and freshness – then it’s change; so we must master change before allowing it to master us. My sons tell everyone that I’m ninety-four going on seventy-five – most days I agree.”
I agree it is certainly not easy to grow older!
As I reflect upon the journey to become a middle-ager, one is becoming aware of one’s mortality. Our life has a expiry date. And only when it strikes a chord within us, we begin a search, to identify, and then to understand, the meaning of our life.
It is a way of aging creatively, I guess, in realising one’s growth, in aging well.
Of course, if we can end life on a celebrative note (think being ninety and blowing candles on a cake, surrounded by our ‘tribe’; it’s a good thing!)
Caregiving, whether formal or informal, has always been my life work.
Stumbling upon this quote reminded me of a talk I had attended. One learns a lot from selected talks.
From the talk, I learnt a team of researchers had come together with a framework that would help in self-care as a parent.
The framework consists of the acronym ‘S.E.L.F.’ (the SELF model is found at the 41.52 min of the video listed in the reference).
How might I apply SELF to assist me in a long journey as a caregiver to the younger? My days of raising children are long-gone but yours might begin in the near future. This framework might come in useful then.
The ‘S’ in SELF requires you to have a safe ‘place’, ready to retreat to, when you feel very stressed. When we are at the end of our patience (or energy!), we can retreat to it so that we, as well as those that receive our care, are safe too. A physical place comes to mind. For some of us, it might be the toilet at home, or Dad and Mum’s home, or a cousin’s den. Or, if we can carve out a tranquil area at home where we will not be disturbed, that is also a good thing.
We all know explosive words hurt – not just from ourselves but hearing it from others too. Just being aware of this helps, in barricading some of the hurt brought forth from previous years, and be sensitive to the suffering it impacts on others, and as carers we do something to reduce its sufferings.
This place of ‘safety’ will help us calm our body and give us some time to soothe and digest before emerging from it to continue our life (or work) roles again.
‘E’ stands for Emotions regulation. If you are generally ‘self-aware’, and you know what drives you to behave how you do, the destressing technique you are practising now will make headway in a matter of time.
As the seasons of time pass, these techniques matter. So whether it is meditation, naming 10 capital cities under your breath, giving pause between that first feeling and eventual response, closing one’s mouth and walking away, and telling another what one needs, for example, “I feel ( ) when ( ) because ( ). What I need is ( )”.
Just keep at it.
At base, it means a steadfast intention that mindfulness care of oneself is high in importance.
The ‘L’ is Loss (or Letting go).
We are faced with many many changes over one’s lifespan. And like the quote from an elder introduced at the beginning of this article, making adjustments is important.
Making adjustment requires a willingness to keep learning (not a ‘school’ learning to pass encroaching exams) but something a little more internally motivated – to prevent slipping into the ‘feeling morose’ mood. Some anticipation is in order. Preparations can take several years, to take on a new lease of life (they call this the ‘second chapter’ or second half of your life).
Perhaps, you are a parent when your children are preparing to ‘fly the roost’: your own children have become young adults and they have their own network of friends and interests. You being their ‘cheerleader’ all this while suddenly feel sidelined or unimportant, maybe?
One needs to adjust, gradually, to ‘re-live’ one’s life, routines particularly, if one’s life energies had been taken up by one’s young charges.
Bite-sized or palatable changes, introduced over a span of time.
We move to the ‘F’ now – Future. We grow older. We die at some point (most of us do not know when this is even). Nonetheless, we may have personal goals to accomplish, or goals related to businesses, or other generative roles? What are yours? Being able to carry out a few assists you in the productive use of your present time.
Mum is an autobiography coach and writer. I am also a gerontological counsellor. I find the autobiographical approach a sublime way to get in touch with our past and tie it to our current and future, to paint a probable picture, of what the next chapter unfolds.
What I do appreciate about the narrative approach is it is self-empowering ~ as oneself is engaged in the ‘work’. I am also excited that an autobiography or a document of our personal stories acts as a collective document, to integrate, our past, present and future. It becomes clear, to ourselves, and those around us, of some options, clarifying them and even touches on some end-of-life matters.
For instance, when I hit my forties, my self-awareness increased after engaging in life writing. For myself, I was able to take little steps forward, with a plan (or not, most of the time) and that is okay, as life is meant to be lived, loved and laughter.
Also, writing in response to autobiographical questions enabled me to gain higher clarity about the demeanour of care I would appreciate to receive as I continue to age.
To conclude, the seasons of time may take a toil on our holistic health, but there are so many ways of aging with grace and agency.
Other than reaching out to seek help from mental health consultants, we stay curious and listen to other ways of healing, and learning.
The SELF model is just one example to care for ourselves. Learning from the wisdom and experience of others (including one’s own) assists us in our well-being.
We know ourselves the best.
(2022). Trauma-Informed Care and Practice: Supporting Children in Crisis. Retrieved 17 May, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ls07EM0B4k
Cohen, G. D. (2007). The mature mind: The positive power of the aging brain. BasicBooks.
Webster-Stratton, C. (2017, January 12). Len Webster. Incredible Years. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://incredibleyears.com/team-view/len-webster/