This post is part of my mini-blog series about self care. Click this self care week tag to read all the posts!
Self care is like driving a stick shift car in the city. Once you think you’ve got your gear set and you’re really rolling something comes up and you have to downshift or brake. There are a lot of moving parts to coordinate and things don’t go as expected. Self care is this constant balancing act. I want to make myself happy but I also don’t want to make myself suffer as a result of that happiness.
This morning, for example, I deeply craved a flavored black tea. I’m tea obsessed, and lately my jam has been complex, delicious, sweet black teas. Love Tea #7 from David’s Tea is perfect for this. But as I walked to the kitchen to start up the electric tea kettle I checked in with my body. My body is tense. I’ve been dealing with some mounting anxiety issues and I knew my body was going through it today especially. I sighed as I realized the better choice for me, in the moment, was to go for my “Feelings Tea,” a blend I create myself that is high on herbs that help calm down my anxiety (chamomile, lavender, catnip, along with oatstraw and hawthorne berries for emotional TLC).
I wondered in that moment if the self loving thing would be to give myself the pleasure I wanted by succumbing to the craving or if it was to take care of my body in the long-run and set my day up for more success than a rush of caffeine could offer?
That answer is sometimes both.
I wasn’t sure what photos to use in this post so I decided to include photos of awesome people I ran into today on my way to a dentist appointment. This is Becca Blackwell, full of stories from the 90s, and who rules.
“Self care” is a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but the concept is fairly simple. I would define it as anything you do to take care of yourself.
Think of a parent, caring for a child. The kind of care that parent gives the child would vary depending on the child’s age, needs and parent’s inclination. The same goes for taking care of ourselves, the level of care we give ourselves depends on our needs, inclinations and how much attention we are paying.
Once we age out of someone else caring for us (or many of us never had someone providing all of the care we actually needed) suddenly we’re in the business of self care without a real roadmap for what that means.
In my post on how I deal with anxiety I talked about running a diagnostic on your body, mind and spirit to find out what it is that you need in order to take care of yourself. In my experience I do this by journaling to see what is coming up and just trying new self care out to see how it works. It’s imperfect, but generally I can tell when I haven’t been doing enough self care because I get my own warning lights. My chronic digestive disease starts acting up, my anxiety is flaring, I’m snapping at my loved ones. When I’m doing the right amount of self care often I feel in my flow–like I am in synergy with the universe.
We’re in a society that commodifies insecurity and privileges people who are constantly “busy.” When you ask someone “How are you doing?” they often reply, “Oh I’m so busy!” Being busy is a status symbol, and being busy is often the number one excuse folks have for not spending the time needed to take care of themselves.
Being a body liberation activist I believe everyone deserves to love themselves and their bodies. And part of loving your body is knowing what it needs, and what you need, to take exquisite care of yourself. It’s really important to me that I am in touch with my body. How can I teach other people to love themselves if I’m not doing things to love my own self?
Self care is a hassle, but the rewards are infinite. In the words of my friend Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s therapist, “Self care stretches time.” If you really are one of those constantly busy people, self care might be just the ticket for settling yourself down enough to create the time, identify and manage your priorities in order to live the life that you want.
Self care is allowing yourself the time to digest what is going on in your life. Processing emotions and mental experiences are as important as rest periods when you’re training for a marathon. It’s that time when your muscles start to heal and become bigger–that’s what self care enables you to do with the mental and emotional stimulation going on.
So what constitutes excellent self care? That’s a highly personal question. Something as simple as brushing your teeth every day is self care. I’ve literally known people who were so strung out worrying about other people that they let their own hygiene fall by the wayside.
The more I’ve gotten to know myself and my body, the more I understand about what kind of self care I need. The more I’ve learned about what kind of care I need, the more of a priority I make it. This is a slow-going process of realization and eventual prioritization.
I’m also a recovering perfectionist. If I were to do “perfect” self-care I basically could do nothing else. I could shove my day full of yoga, meditation, soothing time in a bath tub, reiki, writing in my journal, going to meetings, going to the gym, and on and on. Once I started making self care a priority I would turn it into a whole cycle of “never enough” tapes in my head and I had to get myself to come correct and stop punishing myself for not caring for myself enough. How’s that for a difficult cycle to break?
I treat self care as a job, but I also work hard to not get obsessed with not doing it enough. I give myself a threshold of about 5-7 self care tasks every day, not including day to day stuff like hygiene and eating. (Many of these 5-7 daily self care tasks only take about 1-5 minutes and some can happen while I’m doing other things.) This is a lot, but I’ve been focused on my own self care for about three and a half years, adding things slowly to that list. I watched a great video by Cheryl Richardson where she suggests only focusing on one self care activity at a time, and the rest falls into place.
In the Winter I am confronted with some significant issues with seasonal depression, so I know if I want to avoid a February and March downward spiral, I need to start in October working on my Winter Care Regimen, a beefed up version of what I do every day.
I met Becca during our time vying for the title of Miss LEZ. Photo by Maro Hagopian for the Village Voice.
Self care is about creating resilience. When you’re living in marginalized identities there is a lot of criticism and oppression to weather, and I do it a lot better when I’m on my self care game. This is especially true as I step more and more into the public eye.
Self care is about the more you have the more you can give.
Self care requires a constant diligence recalibrating. When you get sick or tired you have to stop and rethink, add more or delete other things going on in your life that are taking away from your ability to care for yourself.
I think a lot about fleeting pleasure versus contentment. Sometimes choosing the pleasure of the caffeinated flavor tea is not a sacrifice of my overall serenity, but I’ve learned how to drive my body well enough to know when that choice will have been like hitting a pothole. I can weather that pothole sometimes, and sometimes I can’t. Caring for myself means I need to lighten up a bit. These days emotional care nachos are a big choice during my girlfriend’s chemo treatment, in spite of my tricky digestive reaction to queso.