I WAS IN AN EMOTIONAL CRISIS.
My partner and I were fighting. It was my fault and the anxiety I endured from the confrontation was compounded by a deep sense of guilt and shame.
I felt powerless as I waited for him to reach out to me so we could fix the problem while at the same time dreading the future confrontation we’d have. I felt isolated. My nerves were shot.
I texted the problem to my friend, A, the psychotherapist, while sitting on the couch in my pajamas. At the time I remember wanting to include others in my misery, so that people would ask me about it and tell me everything would be alright, that it happens to all of us—it wasn’t that bad—and that I’d get through this thing.
A tells me, “There is nothing you can do now but wait. Waiting takes courage. So, while you’re waiting, don’t forget to self care.”
Self-care: The illusive term we’d often hear tossed around in Naturopathic medical school. The hyphenated compound noun referred to anything from applying castor oil packs to getting enough sleep.
In my mind, self-care brings up images of spa-like indulgences: bubble baths, candles, a junky novel—guilty pleasures. True self-care, however, is far from simple self-indulgences. Audre Lorde owns the most powerful definition of self-care I’ve heard, which is this:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation. And that is an act of political warfare.”
Rather than being a commercial phenomenon—involving trips to the spa, chocolate binge-eating and shopping sprees—self-care is political.
Self-care challenges the inequality and oppression of race, gender, class and sexual orientation in society, by providing us with a means to improve our strength and ensure our survival.
When I read Lorde’s quote, I think of my Italian grandmother Nonna. Barely sitting down to enjoy the dinner she had prepared, she dedicated herself to the service of her family’s well-being. Like many other women, especially Italian Catholic women from her generation, she had been taught that any care for herself was selfishness—a symbol of the highest level of vanity and self-obsession.
Nonna, like other women of various colours, religions and socioeconomic statuses, was taught to live a life of self-sacrifice. Any attention paid to her own well-being was regarded as an indulgent after-thought.
**Women are denied a societal sense of self-worth, which is then paradoxically medicated by advertisers telling us to “treat ourselves” to expensive perks because we’ve “earned it”. We are taught not to love ourselves and then instructed how to remedy this lack of self-love with expensive gifts.
True self-care is essential for moving us forward because it prioritizes the health and well-being of a person, it affirms self-worth. This has the power to challenge the oppressive forces of racism, misogyny, classism, homophobia and other prejudices. Self-care helps with trauma recovery. It helps heal.
Self-care builds resilience.
We commonly fall into the thought-trap of regarding self-care inaccessible to certain populations; we assume it requires time, money and energy that not all of us have.
Katherine from “I Am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog” accurately expresses the sentiment with an ironic twist:
“Make time for yourself. After you’ve run that 5K, started a load of laundry, harvested your organic vegetable garden, run to the bank, paid the bills, dazzled everyone with recipes that are cost-effective, healthy, and delicious, thought of something witty and clever to share with your social networking site, caught up on current events and politics, and cleaned all of the house, that special hour set aside just for you is so critical to your well-being.”
While she certainly has a point, something essential is missed in the definition of self-care. Self-care isn’t about shutting out the sound of your screaming children while you pour yourself a martini and fill the tub with hot water.
It is about taking responsibility for one’s own health and well-being. It is about recognizing your physical, mental and emotional needs and ensuring that those needs are met. Self-care is about reducing stress levels. If a pile of dirty laundry is stressing you out, then mindfully washing those clothes while watching the stress leave your body is self-care.
Self-care is an attitude.
You can wash your dirty laundry with the frenzy of a thousand cortisol molecules and your mind on the massive list of other things yet to get done, or you can savour the positive feelings of achievement that comes from checking an item off the to-do list. You can breathe the scent of fabric softener, feel the warmth of the clothes that are coming out of the dryer and acknowledge that you are caring for yourself by ensuring you have clean clothes to wear the next day. It’s perspective and intention that creates self-care. That being said, laundry doesn’t necessarily have to be your thing either.
I have a patient who works 6-day weeks. When I asked her what she does for self-care, she looked at me, puzzled. “You know, self-care—how do you take care of yourself?”, I tried to clarify. There was still no dawning of realization on her face. I silently chided myself for asking such an insensitive question.
And yet, my patient was taking care of herself. She was drinking more water, eating more vegetables and exercising. She was coming to see a Naturopathic doctor and investing in her health. She was doing plenty of self-care; she just didn’t know it.
The SCaR Foundation outlines the BACE method of self-care, which helps us draw awareness to the simple acts we can engage in to care for ourselves.
- Body Care involves exercising regularly, eating healthy food, taking medications and herbal supplements as prescribed. It also encompasses getting up to stretch while sitting at a desk, drinking water, getting enough sleep.
- Achievement consists of finishing the daily tasks you have on your to-do list, laundry among them. It also includes working towards goals, like studying for a test or doing your work.
- Connecting with Others includes spending time with friends, family, or a pet. Social connection is one of the reasons why we’re alive. Being able to reach out to others for help is one of the strongest manifestations of courage and resilience.
- Enjoyment encompasses hobbies, favourite pass-times and indulgences. What activities bring joy and happiness to your life?
Self-care should not be pre-determined. When it becomes someone else’s prescription, it is no longer self-care.
Self-care is not always pleasurable. Sometimes it can be quite uncomfortable, such as making the decision to change careers, ending a relationship or getting in shape.
It can be transformative, such as standing up for yourself. Self-love is a revolutionary act and revolutions aren’t always won peacefully. However, learning to listen to the body allows us to determine which decisions are coming from a place of self-love and not anger, hatred or fear.
My particular self-care story ended well.
The very act of reaching out to a friend had already begun the process of self-caring (connection). After talking to A, I got up, changed out of my bathrobe, exercised, showered, and put on a homemade face mask of yogurt, honey and avocado (body care). I read fiction on the couch with a hot mug of cinnamon tea (enjoyment). I did yoga, meditated (body care) and went to a friend’s house for lunch, then another friend’s for dinner (connection).
I took a course on a subject I love and met other healthcare practitioners while developing a new counselling skill (achievement).
A part of me craved isolation, but I intuited that wouldn’t be a restorative act for me at that time and so I forced myself to move on with my activities, knowing that they would improve my positivity and resilience.
In the end, because I took care of myself, I was able to face the situation from a place of strength and compassion for both me and my partner. Self-care helped me move past the shame and connect to the most powerful and loving version of myself.
That was my approach to self-care, because it was what I needed. At that time, I needed to feel healthy, strong and social. I needed to be reminded of who I was.
Others in similar situations may decide that they need to grieve alone while watching When Harry Met Sally and devouring wine and popcorn, their faces stained with tears. Self-care is about knowing yourself and recognizing and honouring your needs.
Contrary to what we’ve been told, self-care isn’t selfish. It is the highest expression of connectedness. We can’t take care of others if we are not healthy. And we can’t be healthy without taking care of ourselves.
Methods-of-Self-Care : Free Ebook
Caring About Self-care : Article
Also, check out this Self-Care Journal, by Rachelle Abellar. It has sections for personal affirmations and action plans for when you’re feeling low.