Category Archives: Self-care

Be Nice to Jen

This past week marked an incredible accomplishment on behalf of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.  The doors to the long-term care unit, a locked unit and one of the only of its kind in Wisconsin or anywhere, really, closed permanently.  The last of the clients were moved into their thoughtfully arranged, beautiful and custom-built homes made specific to their unique needs.  Was closing this facility and finding new homes for those who lived there a perfect process?  No, because it never is when you are dealing with human beings – let alone human beings with remarkably complex lives.  But I can say this.  It is a new day – for those clients, for the Behavioral Health Division, and for our community.  A new day that will have challenges and triumphs and a whole new round of considerations.  A new day that my incredible team helped make.

On Friday after the last client had moved out, my team and I just happened to be spending our lunch hour together for a potluck because we had never had any sort of holiday celebration.  It was fitting that we had come together on this historic day, and I took the opportunity to say a few words of sincere appreciation.  It’s not easy working for the public sector system.  There is a lot of scrutiny and criticism and back seat driver-worthy assumptions that can make even those with the purest heart occasionally fill with doubt.  But those of us on the inside know the truth, and we have to remind each other of it:  We work hard, we care deeply, and although it might take longer than we like, we overcome barriers to do the right thing for the people we serve. We are in it for the right reasons.

When I got home on Friday night, I  mindlessly ate the sandwich I picked up from Culver’s and sunk down in my favorite chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman.  I’ll be damned I thought.  We actually did it.  I wasn’t sure the day would ever come and when we first set out on the venture, I surely didn’t know how we’d get there.  But we did, and at the end of it all I felt equal parts disbelief and pride.  That team of mine, I am telling you, they are something else.

By about 7:15 that night, I felt an exhaustion so deep and so unrelenting that I had no choice but to make my way to my bed.  It was as though I had run a marathon and collapsed at the finish line.  I slept a deep, peaceful, sound sleep that had evaded me many nights over the course of the last two years.  When I awoke early Saturday morning, I knew what I needed to do.

What I needed to do was take care of me.  Without hesitation, I declared Saturday, January 16, 2016 “Be Nice to Jen Day.”  I’ve instituted such days before, and in fact I try to make sure they happen a couple times a year.  Now don’t get it twisted, this is not a community-wide event.  The only person required to be nice to Jen on Be Nice to Jen Day is Jen.  It is merely optional for everyone else.

Most of my Be Nice to Jen Days look similar.  A little sleeping in, a little getting my house in order, a little time alone, a little time with those I love the most, a little pampering, a little eating something wonderful, a little snuggling with my kitties.  Yesterday was no different from any of that, and I loved it every bit as much as I always do.  The combination and the details may vary slightly, but the restoring of my soul is always the same, beautiful, well-deserved outcome.

The truth is that part of the human experience is craving love and validation from those around us.  I can agree that it’s wonderful when it happens, but I would also say it’s too big a gamble to wait on it.  Instead of always focusing externally, why not start with you?  You are the one person – the only person, arguably – you can directly order to be nice to you.  If you do it enough, others just might take notice and decide they’d like to join in, too.  But that’s their deal and for them to decide.

Your deal, for you to decide, is not if you are going to lovingly tend to yourself, but rather how.



Loose Change

A colleague of mine owns a number of rental properties, and over the years has postulated an interesting theory. Whenever possible, he makes an effort to meet with prospective tenants at their current residence, and if he sees loose change laying around, he believes they are careless with money and therefore at a greater likelihood to default on rent payments. He’s been testing this theory for over twenty years and swears by it. He’s even declined renting to people as a result of his hypothesis. He calls it the “loose change theory.” I can’t say I agree with it, but I find it intriguing nonetheless.

Life would be easier, though presumably less interesting, if we could so precisely categorize people based on their simplest subconscious behaviors. But the reality is, we all have a little loose change in our life. Not the silver or copper kinds of change we have in our pockets, but the kind of change that has to come from the heart and soul. The kind of change that can be difficult to approach, let alone achieve. The kind of change most of us need to make on one level or another.

What is my loose change? Well, that’s an easy one to answer, but one I won’t answer for just anyone. Like most people, my loose change is a closely guarded secret, shared only with those I trust the very most. It is the demons I have lived with for many years, the insecurities that still haunt me as I approach my very, very late 30s, and the things I just really think could make me a much better me. My loose change can be as obvious as the sun glinting off of a glass building, or as subtle as the breeze on a warm summer night. Who gets to see it is up to me and only me; who gets to challenge it and set forth a chain of motion in a better direction is a different story altogether.

I’ve got some loose change, but I will say this: I’ve got a whole lot less than I used to have. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I believe I now have every resource I need to get there. Most importantly, I have love. Love for myself, and love from another who matters. Love that won’t allow me to be complacement and continue to ignore the loose change in my life. Love that cares enough to take note, identify, and get me headed in the right direction.

We should all be so lucky. Lucky enough to have a little loose change laying around, and lucky enought to have the gumption to do something about it. Lucky enough to have somebody who is willing to make the investment in you, and lucky enough to have the chance to get there in the end.

Grilled Cheese

I love grilled cheese sandwiches. A lot. They are kind of like my version of penicillin. Except for the part about accidentally discovering them compliments of post-nasal drip in a petri dish. That part clearly does not apply. But in every other way, they are my pencillin, for they are capable of curing all that ails me.

You see, grilled cheese sandwiches are always there for me. There has rarely been a time in my life where I didn’t have the three necessary ingredients required to make myself a delicious, melty, warm and toasty grilled cheese sandwich. They are so simple, yet so delightful–so basic, but so rich. They are an enigma, wrapped in a shroud of mystery, tied up in a bundle of joy.

I also love grilled cheese sandwiches because they have never let me down. Grilled cheese sandwiches would never harshly criticize me for getting one A minus on my report card (when the rest were all A’s, no less!) Grilled cheese sandiwches would never call me a slut for merely kissing a boy in the driveway. Grilled cheese sandwiches don’t tell my family that I am stealing from my sister’s college trust fund. Grilled cheese sandwiches have never betrayed me by giving my cat away to their ex-girlfriend in Minnesota. Grilled cheese sandwiches don’t send hate mail to my Uncle Tom just because he’s gay. Grilled cheese sandwiches might add on some extra pounds over time (if you eat too many), but they would never, ever point out the extra pounds.

The fact of the matter is, people let us down Most of the time they are great, and usually we want them in our lives. But other times, they just downright suck. They are human, and they are inherently flawed, and therefore sooner or later they are probably going to disappoint us. Sometimes to a degree that we just can’t understand, sometimes to a degree we assuredly do not deserve.

When this happens, I think it’s best to just say the hell with people, and go straight to the fridge for some butter, some cheese, and some bread. Three simple ingredients, and no more than three minutes, and you’ve walked right into a little slice of heaven. The world is pointed toward right once again.

Godspeed to you, and your next grilled cheese.