#SelfCare is the latest trend and I’m sure we’ve all seen it. Thanks to today’s technology and the power of social media, more than ever we are exposed to the caprices that take hold of main-stream media and it seems to have resulted in us having self-care increasingly shoved down our throats. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for increasing self-awareness and encouraging people to take care of themselves, but I have recently come to the realization that how I personally define “self care” extends beyond the marketable, aesthetic, commercial mould that’s behind putting products on the shelves. This might sound cynical, and I acknowledge that there’s no way to know for sure the intentions of the companies or individuals promoting self-care (and making a living doing so) but I do think it’s important to remember the that primary focus of self-care is yourself and that – if it is ultimately going to be best for you – this can, and likely will, conflict with what society advertises.
Personally, understanding what taking care of myself truly means is something I have had a hard time figuring out on my healing journey so far. For me in particular, and I’d imagine for some others as well, a large part of perpetuating my unhappiness (as I’ve discussed before) stems from my habit of turning outwards to find things to reinforce my fragile self-esteem and quell my feelings of anxiety and depression. No matter how different schools of thought might try to approach it – “maladaptive coping mechanisms”, “patterns of reinforced behaviours“, or things that “don’t make my soul happy“, whatever – the result is that not truly listening to what my mind or body need has clouded my ability to be self-aware and steered me away from my being my free and happy self. Necessarily, mainstream self-love trends are incongruous with the way I have come to define what self-care truly means, at least to me.
Having said all that, today my self care looked very mainstream, and as a consequence I’ve been feeling pretty good about it. However, I’m also considering (skirting on over-analyzing, as I tend to do) what this really means, and you can expect a wordy post to follow about my thoughts on the subject.
I can brag and say that I went to yoga, did grocery shopping, ate challenging foods, and ended the day with a moisturizing face mask to top it all off.
But did I really enjoy these things or am I satisfied about the external role they fill? Did they make me feel good because I simply did what I feel like I was supposed to? Maybe it’s not entirely a bad thing if the reasons I do something are because it’s what I think I “should be doing” if I still feel a little bit better for it. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily find the answers to these questions but I think it’s important to consider them as there’s a danger in allowing my healing journey to be guided too strongly by external forces. I think it’s important that I don’t choose the external over something that might be intrinsically fulfilling for me too often. How often that actually is, I’m not sure and it might even change on a daily basis – so it bears always keeping myself in mind. I also know that I’m trying to ensure that what I am choosing to invest in isn’t harmful to myself or others (here’s looking at you diet culture lol). The difficult thing is that after so many years of neglecting myself, even making this distinction about what gives me an intrinsic sense of value can be a tall order sometimes, but I think it’s worth thinking about and I’ll only get better with practice.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeling good because I’m “fitting in” or “trending” or treating myself to that colourful bubble bath with a glass of champagne to post on my snapchat story, but there is something wrong with tying my sense of worth to external standards and relying on validation for security. I don’t believe that external validation will ever be truly fulfilling.
As someone who has for so long ignored not only what my mind/soul need but also what my physical body needs, it has been hard to embrace the concept of caring for myself at all to begin with. To be honest, I know I haven’t fully welcomed self compassion in all its glory yet (and knowing my perfectionistic/high-strung temperament it might always be something I struggle to do) but I have made a commitment to myself to at least try. I’m taking the first steps and hoping I buy-in along the way, fighting the voices in my head telling me that I’m not worthy. I’m trying to acknowledge that I am first and foremost my own responsibility and that taking care of my body and my mind can be empowering. No one else is going to do it for me and I can stop expecting them to. I am facing the fears of the unknown and cultivating a home within myself and a sense of security that comes from learning to recognize what I need and practicing going to get it (without relying on unhealthy habits.)
While healing might sometimes sound poetic – the reality often feels strikingly the opposite. It’s not always scented candles and glasses of wine, it’s so much more, and ignoring the hard work that goes into it by focusing on only the appealing aspects detracts from the effort I’m putting in. To start, it was easy to buy a Box of Self Care and follow instructions X,Y,Z to feeling better because its what’s encouraged. Everyone has to start somewhere – but consumer self-care techniques or magazine “quick fixes”, while a good starting point to help you figure out what works for you, aren’t one-size-fits-all. The beauty about human nature is our unlimited uniqueness and all our idiosyncrasies, and as much as cosmetic companies might convince us that skin-care might be the secret to anyone’s everlasting confidence, this just can’t be the case. I know it’s not as simple as it sounds, but I just want to highlight that while these things can definitely contribute to helping us feel better, they can’t replace the hard-work that is required for true internal growth and healing. I don’t mean to speak omnisciently but rather to reassure myself (and maybe others) that growth doesn’t always feel good and that’s okay. If you’re willing to invest in the “beauty work” be sure to invest in the dirty work as well, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees – take care of your whole self.
When my self care looks and feels a little different it might be harder to appreciate it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
For instance, growth asks of me now to recognize my intrusive thoughts and try and employ opposite actions. I believe that the more I fight the voices of my mental illness, over time, the less anxiety I will feel in doing so, (so far so good) and hopefully the less I’ll believe their twisted stories. However, actually fighting the voices is less than pretty.
It’s hard to appreciate the growth that hurts and in the words of Jeremy Goldberg:
“Courage is knowing it might hurt, and doing it anyway. Stupidity is the same – and that’s why life is hard”.
It’s hard to appreciate my self care when it’s dragging myself out of bed to finally shower. Or when it’s going to counselling no matter how much I don’t want to. Or when it’s letting myself cry and getting snot everywhere. Or standing in the grocery aisle, feeling foolish like a deer in headlights, secretly fighting with the voices in my head to decide what items to buy. When it’s awkwardly leaving a situation that makes me uncomfortable or awkwardly forcing myself to stay in another.
To this I can only reflect on the fact that what I seem to be learning about growth and healing is that they’re uncomfortable but it’s okay because sometimes things hurt before they heal.
Feeling discomfort is a sign that there’s room to grow and trying to avoid discomfort can get me in a lot of trouble. Often what I think I might “want” and what I need can seem very different because the easiest path might not always be the right one. Today it felt fairly easy. Tomorrow it might not. And that’s okay too. The way you take care of yourself can look different from day to day, week to week, or even moment to moment. The important part is trying to check in with yourself and to practice moving past the interferences or imposing expectations for things to be a certain way. Listen to your own voice that has and always will know what’s best for you, and show yourself that you can provide it – prove to yourself that you can trust yourself again.