Week 8: Despair and Self-Care

This is the eighth installment of the I Can. We Can. blog series by Fitness Firestarter, Kathy Palokoff, and Self-Care Coach Extraordinaire, Carolyn A. Brent.


Saturday started out fine.   A trip to the public market for fresh vegetables. Water walking and exercises.  Back home for a lunch of tofu, vegetables, and peanut sauce over brown rice.  It was shaping into a great self-care day.

Then I sat down at my computer and saw the reports about the Pittsburgh massacre rolling in.  While I was swimming at the Jewish Federation pool, 336 miles away a madman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle was killing Jews gathered for worship at Tree of Life Congregation.  And the leader of my country was explaining that it could have been prevented if the synagogue had an armed guard.

I watched the story unfold as I ate half a box of Reese’s Puffs cereal and a bowl of popcorn.  I walked back and forth between my office and kitchen searching for anything to put into my mouth.  I reached for my car keys to make a chocolate run. Then my son came home and asked, “ How was your day?”  And I burst into tears.

I was feeling utter despair and did not know it. I visualized those men, women, and children praying on a Saturday morning like I have done thousands of times in my life and then the pain, blood, and death. I felt such bewilderment about the times we live in. I worried about my children and grandchildren if we stay on this course of violence and hate.

Self-care? Losing weight?  Exercise?  How trivial it all seemed.   

I’ve never quite understood it when people say, “I was so upset I could not eat.”   That statement is foreign to me.  When I am sad, scared, lonely, or anxious, I eat without thinking. Intensely and compulsively. So it was mid-afternoon before I finally closed my mouth and went upstairs to bed.  I shut off all electronics and lost myself in sleep and a Nora Roberts novel.   I simply cancelled the rest of Saturday. 

Sunday I was back into self-care mode. And a big part of it was joining my community — Jewish, Christian, and Muslim– in a vigil for those who were murdered in Pittsburgh. As we sought to find meaning in the madness, together we lifted our voices in Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead: 

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. 


Thank you for sharing your heart and the pain you are experiencing. I feel the same pain too. Yes, what the world has experienced back-to-back has been incredibly overwhelming. There are no words to express the great sadness and grief that has been thrust upon us–especially when it hits close to home. I know from firsthand experience that it is devastating. 

I embrace the way you dealt by shutting off all of your electronics and losing yourself in a novel. That was a great healthy choice. Personally, the way I learned to deal with devastation and heartache was changing the way I cope with pain and how I look at depression, stress, and anxiety.

 Often, when we are experiencing devastation in our lives, it’s easy to turn to old or unhealthy behaviors to cope or escape —  overeating, drinking too much alcohol, and self-medicating on drugs. 

Our old habits are always there and ready to give us a sense of “false” comfort.  

There are better ways — going for a walk, exercising, painting, journaling, reading, practicing your faith, and meditating. Another thoughtful way is to train your mind to think differently by practicing your favorite hobby. That’s what I do, and it has really made a significant difference in my life and helps me manage pain and stress more positively and productively. 

I also highly recommend you practice mindful wellness by advocating for what you believe in. That’s exactly what drove me to become an eldercare advocate for the protection of caregivers caring for their loved ones.  

Kathy, I truly understand that you are worried about what the future will be like for your children and grandchildren if we as a country stay on this course of violence and hate. But, the fact is you must do all you can do to stay healthy for your family. Self-care, losing weight, and exercise are not trivial because your loved ones need you healthy. 

My prayers are with you. I pray for a miracle of world peace. And I believe we were all born for a divine purpose. Abundant blessings to you and your loved ones. 

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About Carolyn Brent

Dr. Carolyn A. Brent, is an award-winning bestselling author and a National Physique Committee (NPC) Masters Women's Figure Champion at age 60. She is an expert on both self-care and caregiving; she is the founder of Across All Ages and two nonprofit organizations, CareGiverStory Inc. and Grandpa's Dream. Carolyn's research and extensive collection of published works have made her a notable figure in her field. For seventeen years, she worked for some of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies and has worked as a volunteer at various assisted-living facilities. Her award-winning books include The Caregiver's Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself and The Caregiver's Legal Survival Guide: Navigating through the Legal System.

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