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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Self-Care in Two Countries

PART 72: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the summer and then back again in the winter, but soon to change to spring/fall.

This blog is a more personal post.

Step 1: Self-Care

A healthy sense of taking care of myself was a skill that I had to learn. Growing up in a challenging family situation influenced me to care for others while (sort of) ignoring myself. I brought this attitude into relationships, often finding myself doing for others what they could do for themselves.

Experience taught me that self-care is not selfishness and that the basis of a healthy love for others is a balanced love of oneself. In adulthood, I gradually learned to mind my own business while seeking my happiness and allowing others to pursue theirs.

Step 2: Levels

Self-care has three levels, which I used to communicate with my educators when I worked as a teacher mentor.

These three levels include the physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Let's explore these levels in Puglia and California.

Step 3: Physical.

Physical self-care, to me, refers to my relationship with my body. How I eat, organize my day, exercise, and choose my lifestyle are all part of my physical well-being.

  • Exercise: I was in my thirties when I started going to the gym. My initial motivation was survival: I was constantly getting sick, always on antibiotics, and could never seem to attain a sense of stable health. I was thin, tired, and worn out most of the time. Then, I stepped into a gym, connected with the right people, made a decision, and remained consistent with my training over the past three decades.

When we came to Puglia, I was determined to keep my fitness program going, so on the day after we arrived, we found a local gym, established a rapport, joined, and became part of our gym family.

As stated in another post (Fitness in Puglia), I had to learn flexibility because of the different opening hours and ways of accommodating others at the gym.

When I go on a road trip or travel, it is more challenging to go to the gym for a few days or a week, so I give myself a break rather than stress over it and look for opportunities to hike or walk.

  • Diet: When I first started training, I became aware of what I was eating. Fast food and grabbing a bite had to give way to something healthier, so I soon developed an eating routine that included high protein, lots of fruits and vegetables, and minimum junk food and sweets. I had this down to a science until we moved to Puglia.

During our first extended stay in Puglia (we are following the 90/180 rule), my mentality was that I was following the Mediterranean diet if I ate whatever I felt like while in the Mediterranean! So, after our first three months in Italy, on our return to California, I realized that I was eating about 90% carbs all of the time. Pastries for breakfast, pasta for lunch, and pizza for dinner had become a habit. But this would not work for a healthy lifestyle. Something had to change.

Since I am a visual thinker, I need to see something for it to stay in my mind. So, I set myself the task of working out my diet on paper. Drawing on past healthy eating routines, I set up an eating schedule independent of what I felt like. It is not a rigid schedule and is open to exceptions. Still, some of the things I came up with include eating a healthy breakfast before going out to coffee in the morning (so I am not missing the cornetto), building a rapport with our butcher, who already knows that I want sliced chicken breast when he sees me walk in; planning out our dinners for the week, which we have kept as our main meal; integrating all the great produce available into our diet each day, and going to the market often rather than buying perishables for the entire week.

These past 90 days, we ate much healthier because of a bit of planning and attention.

Step 4: Emotional:

When I think "emotional," I think about relationships.

Fortunately, I have an excellent partner in a stable and committed relationship who shares my interest in travel and curiosity about the world.

But one's emotional side/needs also include other relationships with oneself, one's family, and friends. We will explore a couple of these.

  • Oneself. It may seem weird to say that I have a relationship with myself, but this mindset helps guide me into a healthier attitude. For example, I can be self-critical, whether it be about my actions, abilities, or personality. It is easy for me to beat myself up over mistakes, flaws, or whatever. But a question that helps me reframe my thinking is: "Would I treat my best friends like that?" So if I drop a plate and it shatters, would I tell my best friend how clumsy they are? So why am I telling myself that? If I say something I regret and repeat to myself six months later how stupid I am, would I call a friend stupid? If I am not good enough, skilled enough, or smart enough, would I call my best friend evil, dorky or dumb? So why am I treating myself like that?

So, having a good relationship with oneself means treating oneself as one's own best friend.

  • Friendships. Taking care of oneself on an emotional level also involves others. It means realizing that there are different types of friendships, that some are for a season and others for a lifetime and that they always include sharing of oneself and not just one's activities.

I have some friendships that go back decades, which I am incredibly grateful for. But I must continue cultivating historical friendships since, as I explored in another blog (Migratory Living), a friendship that is not cared for can fade over time. So when we are in Puglia, I nourish my distant friendships and avoid only sending photos of the latest thing we did that day.

Our life in Italy is in its second year, so our local friendships are newer and evolving. We have some historical friendships with a few who live in both Rome and Puglia, and these have been pivotal in both our decision to come to this part of Italy and our feeling at home here.

But we have recently met other locals, including expats, Puglians from birth, and others who live here part-time. We have found all of them friendly and open to friendship.

What is fascinating about the expats we have met is that we all share the same quality: we seek a bigger life. The 9-5 job, weekend errands, and two weeks a year vacation routine don't work for us. We want more; we want to act and not just dream, so here we are! Ever since we began living in Italy, we have been meeting the most interesting people and potential friends.

Step 5: Spiritual:

Each individual's spiritual side will differ, so I can only speak to my experience.

Taking care of my spiritual side boils down to one word: gratitude.

By nature, I am a planner and controller and tend not to like the unknown. After years of waking up with to-do lists, goals, and fears for the day, I realized that I wanted another type of daily life, no longer to be ruled by planning and fearfulness.

Over a decade ago, a friend told me: "I do a gratitude list. When I get stressed or distracted, I write down ten things I am grateful for; I do this every day for ten days. At the end of it, my attitude changed. I challenge you to do it."

I took the challenge, and at the end of ten days, I found myself less focused on what "could be" and more on what I had been given.

I have kept this practice beyond the ten days and start and end each day with a reflection on what I am grateful for.

Beyond this, I have certain spiritual practices that work for me.

Sometimes, if I am feeling empty or running on fumes, I need to multiply these; other times, I can be more relaxed. But I am aware of my spirit, so I can pause and care for myself.

Some of the spiritual practices that work for me include hiking up a hilltop alone (Santa Caterina!), taking a quiet walk through the historical center of our town in the evening, stopping and meditating inside an empty church, gazing at a painting of a heroic life or looking up at the stars and saying "thank you."

Everyone is different. I always encouraged my students to find ways to take care of the three components of their personalities.

Insights: Taking care of oneself physically, emotionally, and spiritually are three components that I have needed to work on here in Puglia, but the effort is bearing fruit with a sense of peace and gratitude.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
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