There’s a reason they call self-care a practice. Unfortunately it’s not something you simply learn to do and then go on your merry way, having leveled up in the game of adulthood. No, self-care requires continual energy and awareness, and about as many hours of practice as anything else needed for mastery (10,000 hours? 100,000 hours? Still trying to convince myself I could sit still long enough to learn to play the guitar. TBD on that one).
This has been the first year that I’ve headed home for the holidays with the set intention of continuing the self care practices I’ve put in place in SF. Over thanksgiving I diligently meditated daily, and made time to exercise- even if it was only going running for 20 minutes (in the COLD). As a result of this I enjoyed the time I spent with my family more, ate more mindfully and was able to enjoy it, and kept my spending in check (in fact, by rationalizing that the $125 Madewell dress wasn’t worth it I eventually found essentially the same dress at American Apparel, on sale, for $9. George Costanza levels of excitement ensued.)
What in theory seems simple, the notion of continuing the helpful routines of daily life when out of your regular habitat, has radically changed my ability to enjoy being in places and around people that would normally trigger old behaviors that bring me stress and anxiety. Binge eating is the most common of these behaviors, and when surrounded by a lifetime of historic stressors, and delicious holiday food, it’s not hard to see why. This may have been the first Thanksgiving I didn’t anxiously devolve into binge eating followed swiftly by a dose of self-hate and the desire to get back to the West Coast so I could, “be an adult again.”
Back in San Francisco, I had dinner with my cousin, and relayed the success I’d seen in mindfully recreating my routines while in New York. I reflected on the various practices I employ to try and maintain balance (exercise, meditation, therapy, medication and soul enriching communication with friends) and during the conversation I came to an interesting realization. For so many years I thought I needed to figure out how to strong arm myself out of making the decision to binge eat in the moment. What I really needed to figure out was the right combination of self love and self care to prevent myself from reaching my breaking point where I think, “fuck this- I’m binging.”
The hardest part is keeping that in mind when I feel bad, whether physically or emotionally, and I don’t want to go to the gym or be forced to sit with my feelings while meditating. I’m not even close to mastering this, and I still have weeks where I choose chocolate and wallowing over self- love, support, acceptance and motivation.
But I’m also starting to have weeks where I actively, mindfully choose the positive behaviors- and the practice feels like it’s paying off.
Learning to drive stick in San Francisco is like learning to swim at Ocean Beach. It’s theoretically possible, but the reality of it is somewhat dangerous, mentally intimidating, and more than a little bit stressful. Word to the wise: if you don’t know how to drive stick, and aren’t excited about the idea of the lives of your seven passengers riding (pun intended) on your ability to do a successful hill start, maybe don’t take a job that relies heavily on both of those requirements.
Let me back up to the beginning of this story.
In September of 2015 I was finally accepting that the day-to-day reality of my startup job was not doing it for me. I wanted to be doing something different, but had never encountered a job in San Francisco that combined not sitting in front of a computer all day with earning above minimum wage. As luck would have it, my roommate was in the early stages of planning an eight-month road trip with her boyfriend that involved quitting their day jobs and living in a van. Consequently, a solid amount of time was spent looking at beautiful vans and #vanlife accounts on Instagram. When I came across Vantigo’s account (and a post that they were hiring) I was intrigued. I corresponded with Erik, the owner, and within the week I’d been offered a job doing content, social media, community management, and most of all, learning to be a tour guide. This was regardless of the fact that I did not know how to drive a stick shift, which all three of the Vantigo vans required. Challenge accepted.
Fast-forward about two and a half months, one bicycle accident induced elbow fracture, and enough Vantigo employees being in the US at the same time for the tour schedule to be covered, and you will arrive at the time when my stick shift training began. I started at the Marina Green parking lot, moved on to the back roads of West Marin, and eventually began practicing the tour route around San Francisco over the course of three weeks.
Learning to drive stick proved to be one of those things you just had to learn by doing- and learn by screwing up on. Luckily for me, stalling while trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop seems to be much less irritating to other drivers when you are in acanary yellow VW van. Unfortunately for me, other drivers don’t seem to realize that when I’m stalling out trying to do a hill start at a four-way stop it might not be the best time to pull up next to me to chat about their VW nostalgia. I would have figured that the sweat pouring down my face combined with the stressed out facial expression would be a dead give away of, “this is maybe not the best time to chat with this person,” but VW vans just really bring out the dreamy, chatty side of people. C’est la vie.
My biggest lesson from learning to drive stick in a 1971 VW van was really one about science. In a van with four gears, gravity is gear number five. Gravity can be used to your benefit in many scenarios including but not limited to: backing out of a parking space, coasting down a large hill, and getting up to speeds not otherwise attainable by a VW van (slow is really all we know). Sir Isaac take the wheel. (Shout out to Erik, Eddie, and Justin for pulling the e-brake for me at exactly the right times).
The last three weeks have seen me driving tours to wine country, Highway 1, and all around San Francisco. I’ve been having recurring dreams where I’m driving stick, and I hope this counts as additional practice. I’ve also decided that our yellow van, Jerry, who followed the Grateful Dead for ten years during the 70s, is definitely my spirit van. There is really something to cruising around in these vans, whether you’re driving down Haight Street or coasting down Highway 1. It just feels so right. Well, so long as you don’t accidentally go from third gear to second when looking for fourth, or try to leave a stop sign in third when you think you’re in first, that is.
When in doubt, grind it till you find it.
I’ve been living and biking in San Francisco for long enough now that my chances of getting into minor “bicycle meets blank” altercations have increased, not in my favor. This is certainly not helped by the fact that my catlike fight or flight instincts lean heavily towards flight- (so much so that as I child I once jumped off a horse mid-horsebackriding lesson- I later claimed it threw me, but we all knew what had really happened).
Up until seven weeks ago my primary bike accidents had involved hitting the MUNI tracks at the wrong angle, and an attempted stealing of my bike seat which resulted in me tearing up my knee and chaco-clad foot. So it was to my great chagrin to experience my first bicycle snafu to involve a car at the end of October- though everyone who hears this story has agreed that it probably went as well as any bike-car accident could have gone.
After leaving a particularly emotional therapy session about the impending departure of my best friend and roommate of two years, I was headed across town to a yoga class. I was biking down Oak St towards Divisadero, with a green light and nothing in the bike lane ahead of me. I saw a car at the intersection with their right turn signal on, and the only thought that occurred to me was “they’re probably texting and don’t realize they have a green light.” In the next moment I reached the intersection, just as the car realized they could go and began to turn.
Inexperienced in both physics and what to do when you’re about to crash into a car (I suppose the latter is a good thing), I instinctually braked with both hands as hard as I could. My bike stopped. I, on the other hand, kept moving. I went right over my handlebars and landed chin first, followed by the heels of both hands. (Yes, I was of course wearing a helmet). As people from the sidewalk rushed to help me and my bike up, I slunk over to the sidewalk, half in shock and half in embarrassment.
This is where the story gets a little absurd. The woman who had been driving gets out of the car in a rush, saying, “Oh god! That was so scary! Are you okay? Tell me what happened?” After making sure I’m still in once piece she introduces herself as Sky, and proceeds to tell me that she is, in fact, a trauma counselor. “You’re clearly in shock, can we sit down and do some breathing exercises together?” She asks. I’m an emotional wreck at this point, trying to keep it together from therapy and now deal with the fact that I’ve just publicly wrecked my shit (and it was likely my fault for not paying attention) and the pain in my elbow means I’m probably not going to make it to yoga. “Sure,” I tell her, “Let’s do it.”
She talks me through some breathing exercises and then says, “Okay so I practice EFT, do you know what that is?” I shake my head and she continues. “It’s called Emotional Freedom Therapy– and it’s a psychological accupressure technique that helps you short circuit your emotions.” Uh huh… “Is it okay if I tap on you?” At this point I’m up for whatever, unconcerned with the genuinely confused and concerned people passing by on what is a street that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially on a Saturday.
Sky then proceeds to hold my hands in her palms, face up, and tap on my hands, cheekbone and arms, all while having me repeat positive affirmations. Things like, “I’ve just experienced a trauma, but I’m okay. I love myself and I will get through this experience.” Etc. The most bizarre thing happens- it totally works. I calm down completely. The adrenaline surging through my body magically dissipates and I’m steady enough to get back on my (thank god- unharmed) bike (that shit is expensive to fix) and bike the five blocks back to my apartment. This is only after Sky and I have hugged it out (obviously), because this is San Francisco after all.
~ ~ ~ ~
Just as a mini-epilogue for this, I ended up going in for x-rays the next day. I eventually found out that I had a impacted fracture in my right elbow, which healed on it’s own after about six weeks and a week of occupational therapy (also some magically stuff in its own right). This experience has taught me to be more cautious while biking, and given me a new appreciation for having use of both arms at once. To my parents amusement I also discovered what it really means to visit specialists when you know there isn’t anything they can do for you besides tell you your injuries won’t be getting any worse. “So I’m going to pay $50 to have someone tell me I’m fine and everything will heal on its own?” “Yes Eliza. Welcome to adulthood.” Shoutout to Marie A. for being a great friend and rushing home to sit on her apartment stoop with me while I cried over my bruised body and ego, and telling me about her bike accident that occurred while trying to text and bike simultaneously. (Really how on earth do some people manage that?)
My biggest lesson, of course, was that if you’re going to get into a bike accident it should definitely involve a trauma counselor. *
I had no idea what to expect going into Burning Man, aside from the knowledge that it was the supposed holy grail of festivals, without being an actual festival. A few moments came as more than mildly shocking- but those happened more along the lines of “I am by choice biking at night in a dust storm with 0 visibility while slightly intoxicated at the same time as 80,000 other people… Let’s again put the emphasis on by choice,” and less along the lines of, “oh look, the 100th naked person I’ve seen today. (Hope they’ve been reapplying sunblock).” The group that I went with has attended countless festivals, camping trips and holiday celebrations together, and venturing into the desert together certainly felt right, however much it may have impeded experiencing full participation in the wider Burning Man community. If I go again I’ll certainly push myself more to do some solo exploring, which, thanks to Burning Man I now feel ready to do. Because my profoundly simple takeaway from my five days in Black Rock City was this: being open to meeting strangers is a choice you can actively make (and they usually are 0% as intimidating as you were anticipating). As an extrovert I’ve never had a problem meeting new acquaintances through friends, but I would not often be the person to instigate interactions with strangers, whether they are waiting next to me in the bike lane at a red light or squished next to me on MUNI. What I saw first hand at Burning Man was just how easy it is to actively decide to be open and friendly to everyone you meet, how easy it is to make the choice to be open and not guarded- but also that is is certainly a choice, and one that is made with each human interaction you encounter.
And all I had to do for this realization was almost die in a dust storm? Totally worth it.