Mental Illness

Caregiving: Coconut Oil, Cats, and Yoga

There is a tub of coconut oil sitting on the kitchen table that I eye with suspicion whenever I pass, as if it might spontaneously start singing the virtues of a paleo diet or its virgin status. Why spontaneously, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to deny the bananas nearby their chance as a warm-up act.

It started with the yoga mat. Smoothies followed soon after. Then the coconut oil arrived. There were other things in between; surfing the Internet, periods, cries of, “Is the cost worth it?” For a long time now I’ve been aware that I needed to do more for myself. Caregiver burnout has tried to invite itself over a few too many times and no matter how polite I am, it doesn’t seem to get the message that I’m just not interested in having a tea party.

Yoga had been on my mind for months. It was something I enjoyed a little while I was pregnant with Little Juniper, but the DVD has since disappeared. Every so often, the thought would bubble up that maybe I could try yoga again. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a DVD. I didn’t have a mat, after all. I didn’t have any yoga clothes. I had no time to practise. I could in no way go to a class. I was putting up barriers, quashing every idea, and yet there was this little part of me that kept saying, “But I want to try.” I read the Persephone articles on yoga, and began to think, “Maybe?”

In truth, I’m still not sure why I was so apprehensive about trying yoga. There was something that kept pulling me in that direction. In part, I think it was because of the religious aspect — I would be reading articles on yoga and then the Humanist part of my brain would start sputtering something about higher powers and, “Where’s your skepticism?” It caused me to step back and question my beliefs. Seriously. I felt I didn’t know enough about yoga and, well, I felt a bit lost. There was sadness, too, because there was still that part of me saying, “I want to try.”

During one of Little Juniper’s naps, whilst he was snuggled in on my back, I came across the site, MindBodyGreen. I started reading, then read some more. In the same way that I felt encouraged by the Persephone articles on yoga, I felt encouraged by MindBodyGreen, too. I began to think, albeit tentatively, “I will.” I told myself that I would keep things simple: buy a mat and find a good video on the Internet. I wouldn’t even complicate this by buying a DVD. During another of Little Juniper’s naps, I came across a mat that I liked the look of. I showed Mr. Juniper and started saying, “Is the cost worth it?” This went on for a couple of weeks. My darling husband, I’m not sure how he coped, I was like a parrot that wouldn’t quit. He was encouraging me to do what felt right. Then, as often happens, one night I said, “Fuck it” and bought the mat (and bag, just for good measure).

Once I’d bought the mat, I had another “Fuck it” moment and bought Yoga Pretzels, too. My feeling was that if I could get Juniper Junior involved, then I would have more of a push to do it myself. When presented with Yoga Pretzels, Juniper Junior kindly informed me, “But mum, I only do yoga at school!” Seriously? My seven-year-old knew more yoga than I did. With the mat here as well, something just felt right. (In a house where a certain husband has a bowel disorder, talking about “gut feelings” is something of bad joke.) Juniper Junior and I began with the Yoga Pretzels. Despite all the noise around the house, the force of nature that is Little Juniper, and help from Juniper Puss, I thoroughly enjoyed using the Yoga Pretzels cards with Juniper Junior. I was beginning to feel hopeful. That maybe I really had found a way to feel more at ease. A way to be kind to myself.

Another nap time came, and in that time, I found the DoYouYoga 30-Day Yoga Challenge on YouTube. I had been looking for a yoga video that felt right for where I was, and so many simply didn’t seem suitable, but then I found this challenge. This felt like something I could do; something good for a beginner with a happy gentle vibe. I planned a time when I thought I could try out the first video and come the evening, I unrolled my mat and pressed play. Apart from one dash up the stairs to settle Little Juniper, I managed the whole video. Juniper Puss joined me whilst I did each pose and he was a thoroughly relaxed cat by the time we were done. And I — I felt good. I had done it! I went to bed that night feeling hopeful.

Since then, I have progressed to the great heights of Day 2 of the 30-Day Yoga Challenge. I am trying to stick to my aim of being gentle with myself and have enjoyed many days of simply doing Day 1. It felt right and that was good enough for me. I am trying to practise during the day, even if the reverse tabletop pose is taken by toddlers and cats as an invitation to descend upon me. Last time Little Juniper crawled underneath me on his way to a toy and Juniper Puss trotted after him. It was encouragement if ever I needed it to hold a pose.

Ah, where was I? Smoothies and coconut oil! I knew I was going somewhere with all the talk of yoga. The more time I spent on MindBodyGreen, the more time I spent reading about smoothies and juices. I had been aware for a long time now that despite the soups, bread, and cakes, I was still struggling to eat properly for two thirds of the day. I had been aware that I needed to take better care of myself in terms of nutrition and I began to toy with making smoothies. I had no particular interest in juices; too much mess, among other things. But smoothies? I raided the freezer, fridge, cupboards, and fruit bowl. The first time went well. I tried again the next day with success. I began to wonder if this could work in the long term. I was getting tired of missing breakfast and attempting to grab lunch in amongst everything else. The days passed and while I still wasn’t getting breakfast every morning, I was nourishing myself better than I had been. Smoothies haven’t stopped Mr. Juniper being suicidal, they haven’t made me a better person, but they have meant that I’m closer to getting breakfast and lunch every day, and doing so in a way that has been good for me in body and mind.

The coconut oil. It’s something I’ve been aware of for months now due to being a part of the natural parenting community. To me, coconut oil has felt like everything we aren’t. We believe in Western medicine, I’m grateful for pharmaceutical companies, and we’re a pro-vax family. And in my mind, coconut oil was somehow representative of the polar opposite. Yet it was something I wanted to try. Eczema was kindly doing a number on various parts of me and I desperately wanted to avoid steroid cream again. Coconut oil was coming up again and again as something that would help. I was itchy and willing. When I pressed “buy,” all I could do was keep repeating to myself that trying something new didn’t mean abandoning other long held beliefs.

So I guess, in the end, this isn’t about yoga, smoothies, or coconut oil. It’s been about trying to take care of myself in a way that feels right. Right for me, that is. I think so much of the apprehension, questioning, and suspicion has come from looking at a different avenue to the one our life normally occupies. When I am so used to seeing bottles, boxes, and blister packs of medication; appointments for psychiatrists and psychologists taking over the calendar; splints and braces all around the house? I think it became too easy to see that ordinary as our only ordinary. Taking care of myself has meant allowing space for my ordinary, too. It has meant acknowledging that I matter, too.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

12 replies on “Caregiving: Coconut Oil, Cats, and Yoga”

Ooh thanks for that yoga youtube link. I need something easy!

And “as if it might spontaneously start singing the virtues of a paleo diet or its virgin status” made me laugh a lot. People are oddly evangelical about the stuff, but it does take the edge off dry skin. And you can use it for curries, ha.

Bonus points for the cat yoga photo.

The videos are really lovely! I skipped forward a few days this morning because I felt like trying something different and it was super. The challenge really does have a lovely vibe about it.

Evangelical! That’s exactly it! It never ceases to amaze me how people believe coconut oil will cure/help everything. And curries? That does sound interesting.

Ah, cat yoga, yes. Juniper Puss took the whole endeavour very seriously.

Self-care is HARD. Go you for working at it. It’s so easy to just give up on.

Can I give you a smoothie tip to make your life even EASIER? Blend 2.25 cups of oats with a heaping 1/4 cup of chia seeds. Put it the ground mixture in a jar and set it aside. Add 1/4 cup of this mixture to your smoothies, and refrigerate overnight. (Or for 2-3 days. Yay for making things ahead!)

The oats act as a good base for your smoothies, and the chia seeds turn into a gel when they get wet, so they thicken everything up. Plus, they’re a great source of plant-based fat!

I like putting a teaspoon of ground chia seeds into soups or stews to up the nutritional content, and I bet this would work in smoothies too. The ground version looks like black pepper, kinda, and if the texture is a thing you’re worried about with the regular seeds, then the ground version is hardly noticeable.

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