How I Feel About Self Care and Why It's Personally Conflicting
Has there been a bigger buzz word in 2018? It certainly doesn’t feel that way, especially not as we move into the cozy season, lovely self enforced hibernation, and then swiftly, the new year with all its excitement, stress, and pressure to fulfill promises to ourselves, for no particular reason at all.
I can almost remember the first time I heard the term, maybe a couple of years ago now, when it felt really fresh, really niche, and really appealing. It was almost revolutionary, whispered, unheard of. Now I feel like I can barely move without bumping into it.
Reading is self care. Washing your sheets is self care. Not picking up the phone if you don’t want to is self care. As the boundaries for what self care really is blur with the input of everyone’s personal take on it, self care is becoming not just a business unto itself, but a sacred institution, almost holy in stature, unavoidable, and apparently, absolutely and completely essential.
If you’re not doing self care you’ve probably been hiding away, cut off from the Internet (shock horror, but also another form of self care or so it’s said), for a fair while.
Or you’re bent on sabotaging yourself and not living to your highest potential. Or so, the new ethos would lead us to believe.
But is that really true?
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea. I like it very, very much actually. I have definitely never been one of those few hardened cynics who turns their nose up at the phrase, cringes visibly when baths, massages, and early to bed spiels begin, and I certainly hope I never become one.
I think self care is great, it’s inspiring, it’s needed. But I am also highly confused by it, and feel highly conflicted by it, at least when it comes to making it a part of my own life.
First of all, what on earth is it really and who are the lofty self loved up individuals who get to decide? We’ve certainly established that its not all spa treatments and mugs of hot chocolate, as we’re oft told.
In the interest of learning more about self care, I’ve picked up a few books about it, and tried to wade through the endless Internet plethora of self care strategies and Pinterest pins, to figure it out.
Two books that stood out to me, the current tomes of self care if you will, were Self Care for the Real World by Nadia and Katia Narain and The Self Care Revolution by Suzy Reading.
And I’ve learnt a lot from diving into the pages and really trying to let myself take in everything I’m reading, absorb it, but also to a degree, apply it (self care is really work it turns out, you can’t apply it all in one go!).
Here’s what I’ve learnt self care really is:
Self care is multi-faceted. It’s comprehensive. It’s basically about everything. What may have started as a movement towards taking some time to slow down and treat yourself (think the more cliche bubble baths and warm mugs of tea wearing cozy socks, I’m on board!), has morphed into a full on lifestyle approach. Like becoming vegan but with less heated debates. You either do self care or you don’t do self care.
Now. I know thats a controversial thing to say. Because self care can take all of five minutes of your life, and once a week, and still qualify as self care… but it feels like more and more over time two camps are developing: those who practice self care, actively, consciously, with intent, and really give it space and importance in their everyday life… and those are still not sure what it means.
But self care, as per those who write about it and study it, really is a lifestyle change, a mindset shift, a comprehensive re working of how you view yourself in the space of your life, the importance you give your own well being, and the time and practices you take to better serve your own long term ‘maintenance’, to use a rather clinical expression. It’s not enough to take yourself out on a walking date, once a month, self care needs you to stop and pay attention to what it’s asking for on a daily basis, to make space and time for it, and to apply it to every area of your life- from food to sleep to friends to leisure, to how you buy and drink your morning coffee.
I throughly enjoyed diving into these books because it really felt like I was taking care of myself by learning about how to take care of myself. A little self indulgent? Maybe. But I don’t think so, or perhaps I don’t care, not entirely, because reading about how I should be honoring my mind and body, and hearing someone else tell me that it was the right thing to do, actually immediately initiated a really real and visceral reaction in me- a reaction that made me want to make healthier choices, slow down, and really examine what I was giving my time, my attention, and my energy to.
Not bad for books with tons of pictures and illustrations in, let me tell you!
The Self Care Revolution is beautiful presented, sitting somewhere between artistic and educational in its aesthetic, and managing to do so in a way that literally vibes calm. The book is a pleasure to read and leaf through visually. The author, Suzy Reading, is a yoga teacher and a psychologist so she’s pretty much the perfect candidate for writing about the subject of self care. Like all the best ‘self help’ books nowadays, The Self Care Revolution is also a personal story of Suzy’s own life, journey, and turning points along her road to self care- and it’s not been an easy one for her.
I like being able to read about personal accounts of self care. I don’t want a ream of advice that someone thinks will do me good, I want to read about what did someone else good, and thats’ exactly what Suzy does here. But what really makes this book stand apart from the endless new publications with the catchphrase ‘self care’ somewhere in the title, is that it also advocates a really interesting, measurable, way to build self care into your life. Suzy presents us with an eight spoked wheel called the Vitality Wheel, a system around which to build and maintain your self care checklist.
I love me a good checklist.
The Vitality Wheel divides your life into eight neat quotients, Sleep, Rest and Relaxation (this also includes Breathing), Movement and Nutrition, Coping Skills, Physical Environment, Social Interaction, Mood Boosters, Goal Setting and Accomplishment, and Values and Purpose. I mean… self care is clearly so much more than treating yourself right? I love the Vitality Wheel and the way the book is structured around it, including cool things like yoga flows for each theme, and I highly, highly recommend this book for anyone venturing into the world of self care and really wanting to find out exactly how far this can be stretch and how.
But the most important take away I had from delving into these pages is that self care really infiltrates every thing. Like, every thing. To be honest, it’s almost stressful how much it needs to be managed, incorporated, thought out. But maybe that’s just me.
Self Care for the Real World is a great companion read to be honest. Similar, but a little different too. Whilst its not as methodical or personal in its approach, its a vast treasure trove of ideas for how to actually actively self care. It’s got little tiny chapters for each action step, and even though there’s nothing revolutionary in here, the gentle tone of the writing, mixed with the beautiful imagery, gently reminds you of the things you know would be good for you to do… but probably never take the time to remember to do.
It’s a great book to dip in and out of, to be inspired by, and to get you started on your journey, so full marks there.
So with a bit of reading under my belt, to me self care appears to be, in a nutshell, taking things slowly, savoring life, making sure you’re doing okay before someone else needs to step in and make sure for you. It’s giving yourself time to wind down at night, but still getting a good nights sleep. It’s eating well but not restricting, savoring a cup of your favorite drink but not over caffeinating. It’s socializing because that’s good for your soul but not stretching yourself too far for others because that isn’t, or so they say.
Self care is honoring your needs in a consistent, timely fashion. It’s making sure you’re not ignoring your niggles, not belittling your feelings, not… honoring yourself. It’s ascribing to the belief that you can’t fulfill your role in the wider world, if your duty to yourself is not done first. It’s the big things and the little things, and it’s every day.
But its just never that simple is it?
My self care might look very different from your self care. Baths don’t do anything for me. Saying no invariably leaves me feeling much the same as I was yesterday, and saying yes usually leads to experiences I never expected I would have. Saying yes to things I wouldn’t normally say yes to very directly led me to meeting my husband 4 years ago, and changed my life entirely. So no thanks to the saying no, I’m going to say not to that, ironically.
Saying no often also makes me feel quite selfish and I don’t think we need to shy away from or deny that some things are selfish, Maybe I don’t particularly want to go to a friend’s dinner, and maybe it would be better for me to stay home and indulge my own fancies, to eat what I want sat in front of YouTube, and not have to make polite conversation with anyone.
But that friend has made an effort to invite me. They’re cooking away, prepping away, cleaning, and I’m picking my own ease over their efforts. I don’t think that’s cool. Sometimes its necessary, but it’s not something to take that lightly. It’s not something to justify as care for my own self. Social graces are the oil that kept the world turning, moving, people meeting, connections sprouting and growing and life happening. It doesn’t happen alone in the bath reading a book and being content because you don’t have to do anything that makes you anxious. And I’m not belittling the anxiety that social interactions can bring out in people- not at all! Whilst on the surface I am a very chatty, very social creature, the truth is I often get a good few hours of anxiety before going to any gathering, no matter how small. But still, so far, I always go.
For me self care can look like really random things that might perplex people. Things that might seem more bother than care to someone else. For me re applying lipstick is a crucial part of self care throughout the day, although I may never have quite called it that before. As is applying any makeup actually. I like makeup and I like how polished it makes me feel. Not making myself up is not a treat for me but rather a lack of care for my own feelings and worth. Pushing myself at the gym (a legacy of dancing no doubt) is self care to me because it means I’m willing to do something I find hard, for the sake of my bodies flexibility and strength and to feel lighter on my feet the next day.
One of the things that I’ve realized is the biggest form of self care I can afford myself is nourishing my mind. As I grow I find myself developing a great love of learning. I was never great at school, I’ve never been regarded as particularly intelligent, never really felt like I could hold my own in a conversation that was in any way “meaningful”. And as a side effect of that I denied myself the experience of learning for the sake of learning. Now, I feel differently.
To me self care is pushing myself that extra mile so that when I go to bed at night, I feel like I’ve not wasted the day on things that didn’t challenge me, that I didn’t succumb to just being lazy and watching the day go by.
A lot of conventional self care practices just make me feel antsy, feel contrived, and bother me on some level. They feel indulgent. Too indulgent.
I want to believe in the power of self care. I want to be utterly convinced that if I follow these practices, that with time, I will find myself just better in every way. But even that thought is self defeating isn’t it, because the purpose of self care isn’t to get better, it’s simply to be better to yourself, to be kinder to yourself.
I have a wonderful friend who I respect and admire tremendously who is the literal queen of self care in my little universe. She does all the more ‘known’ self care things like taking baths, meditating and mindfully watering her plants (they also give her a little bit of that self care buzz in that they’re good for the soul and grounding), but she also does the bigger and harder things like taking herself to counseling, even though she may or may not always need it, experimenting with non-traditional methods of emotional healing, partaking in a lot of yin and restorative yoga, and just generally loving every bit of herself and speaking more and more kindly to herself as each month passes.
She has got this self care thing down and its clearly working for her.
I am not on that level, nor if I’m totally honest, do I at this point believe I ever will be. But when I look at her, I do shake of some of misgivings about the term. I may not be on her level, I may not even want to be on her level because we’re intrinsically different people who need different things to nourish us, but when I see how much self care is positively impacting her life, I want me some of that, even if it is feels a little over done in 2018, even if it seems a little over indulgent, and even if it really takes a lot of time.
Because she’s a kind nurturing giving friend who still manage to go all in when it comes to self care. And she's just a generally cool person so if she can see the benefits, they must be there.
But there’s also a part of me that knows the best things in life come from from an attitude of service. Service to others, service to the greater good whatever that may be, service to people you know and don’t know, service for the sake of it, service to something just a little bigger than you are. And self care and service don’t always go hand in hand, at least not in my experience. Or at least, I have yet to see them go hand in hand in any meaningful way.
Sacrifice has a lot to commend it, and sacrifice isn’t a part of the self care psyche or, dare I say it, bubble. There’s an undercurrent in the self care movement that says you’re the most important person in your life. And that’s lovely in theory. But I don’t believe its true. You are not the most important person in your life, and that attitude can only take us so far. I don’t want to turn into someone who genuinely believes I am the most important person in my life, and I wonder if a life of self care will make me that person.
Self care is great if you live in a safe, comfortable world. Self care is great when you have the time for it. Self care is amazing when you’re for the most part, healthy and happy to begin with, and you can make tweaks to every facet of your life, to improve your sleep and your yoga routine and your reading habits.
Let’s face it, the majority of the world just doesn’t have that luxury. And us, the chosen few, are only widening the chasm between those who have and those who are invisible, by touting the benefits of endless introspection and self administration.
Self care is amazing in its place.
Self care is enriching, can make you happier, can streamline your life and make you healthier, but it’s always only a step way from indulgent. And the bigger this catch all phrase becomes, the more and more we step towards that precipice where our needs come first, regardless of the situation, regardless of what is ultimately right, not for us, but right for rights sake.
Self care needs to find its place in the world alongside the ideals that have created the space we live in now, ideals of commitment to a cause outside ourselves, commitment to the people around us, commitment to what is right even if it uncomfortable.
So that is why I find self care conflicting. I want to sit in a pretty bath, with candles lit, and chocolate on the side, read a book, ignore my phone, do a face mask, drink lemon water and generally feel like I’ve got baby soft skin and a clear, unruffled mind. Because lets’s face it, who exactly is going to say no to that? But I also want to know that when I go to bed at night my day consisted of so much more than what was good for me. I want to know it was made up of what was uncomfortable, what was gritty, irritating, maybe a little difficult, but that I did my best anyway. I want to know that I won’t say no to the things that can make me grow for the sake of the things that can make me feel safe.
I want to find a way to care for myself that is utterly unselfish, and I don’t right now, have any idea what that may look like. I want the best of both worlds. And hey that may be that is both the kindest, and the most selfish thing, that I can do for myself.