There’s a growing understanding that it’s important to take care of ourselves, and that our mental health is at least as important as our physical health. And self-care has actually been an important part of some cultures for thousands of years. Everyone knows that a a nutritious diet and regular exercise help us greatly physically. But mental health also matters. There are lots of ways to de-stress, even in these pandemic times where it’s hard to do things like go to a gym. Yoga, meditation, a walk in nature, even a long, hot bath, can all be good self-care strategies, and the idea that we should do these things has gotten quite popular and quite lucrative.
Self-care has also found its way into crime fiction. That makes sense, too, when you consider how stressful it can be to investigate crime, even with an amateur detective. And for professionals such as PIs and police, the work is even more stressful.
Kate Rhodes’ Alice Quentin, for instance, is a psychologist. Her private practice can be taxing enough, but she also gets drawn into murder mysteries. Her expertise is helpful, so Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Don Burns relies on her for certain cases. Still, it takes a toll on her. And it doesn’t help matters that she suffered childhood trauma that impacts her mental health. She’s both smart enough and well-informed enough to know that she needs to take care of her mental health. So, she runs. Her evening run is her ‘decompression chamber,’ and she depends on it for physical and mental self-care.
Jill Edmondson’s Sasha Jackson is a Toronto-based PI. Her cases have been very challenging, and sometimes dangerous. And even on the best of days, the life of a PI isn’t easy. There’s paying the bills, getting new clients, dealing with rude or otherwise difficult clients, and more. Jackson certainly has her stressful times, and she knows that she’ll think more clearly and work better if she deals with that stress. Her choice? The drums. She used to be a member of a local rock band and still does an occasional gig with the group. When she needs a mental health break, she sometimes ‘works out’ on her drum kit. It flexes her ‘musical muscles’ and serves as a catharsis.
As I mentioned, mental self-care has been a part of some cultures for generations. Meditation, for instance, has been used in India since 5000 BCE, and possibly longer. And there are crime-fictional characters who engage in meditation as a form of self-care, as well as a way to clear their thoughts to solve cases. John Burdett’s Sonchai Jipleecheep, for instance, is a member of the Royal Thai Police. He is also a devout Buddhist. For him, meditation isn’t just something to do for relaxation; it is a deeply embedded part of his everyday life, and important part of his spiritual journey. He also meditates on clues and other pieces of the mysteries that he solves, and that helps him make sense of it all. The series actually mentions a few different meditation traditions and their purposes.
Meditation found its way to the Western world in the 1700s, and millions of people have made it a part of their lives. In Louise Penny’s A Fatal Grace (AKA Dead Cold), self-help guru C.C. de Poitiers moves with her family to the small Québec town of Three Pines. She’s made a name for herself as a life coach, and she’s written a popular book called Be Calm. Now she wants to settle in the town and create a sort of one-stop Be Calm self-help establishment. The fact is, though, that most of what C.C. de Poitiers says and sells is more hype than anything else. And no-one knows that better than one of the locals, Beatrice Mayer, who’s usually known as Mother Bea. She’s studied yoga, meditation, and other forms of wellness, and in fact, has a studio called Be Calm. Needless to say, that makes for conflict, especially since C.C. is, in her personal life, malicious and egotistical. When she is murdered by electrocution, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache investigates. Mother Bea is certainly ‘a person of interest,’ but it turns out that a number of people might have wanted to kill the victim.
Self-care and mind/body connections have been an important part of many of India’s cultures for millennia. So it’s no surprise that we see those traditions in Indian crime fiction. For example, in Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, Delhi private investigator Vishwas ‘Vish’ Puri is saddened to hear that a friend and former client of his, Dr. Suresh Jha, has been killed. It seems that Jha died while he was attending a meeting of the Rajpath Laughing Club. It’s believed that regular laughter is beneficial for body and mind, and helps to reduce stress, so the club meets every morning to laugh. On that morning, the members were interrupted by a manifestation of the goddess Kali, who killed Jha. Many people say that she killed him as punishment for being an infidel, since he was devoted to unmasking religious charlatans. But Puri doesn’t believe that’s what happened, and he investigates. Along with therapaeutic laughter, there are also mentions in the novel of retreats – ashrams – where people engage in yoga, meditation, and spiritual activities.
Self-care can take a number of different forms, of course. And it’s interesting to see how it has become a well-integrated part of many people’s lives, both fictional and real. It’s probably just as well, in these uncertain times.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Journey’s Be Good to Yourself.