In the last year and a half, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about self-care: what it is, what it isn’t, and why we need it.
Even before getting sick and subsequently having to overhaul my life, I’d begun my journey into self-care. In May 2017, I was a little overweight, a lot under-exercised, and just coming out of several highly stressful situations that caused emotional and mental distress (both from work and from some extended-family issues).
Basically, I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I didn’t feel good about it. I decided, on a whim, that I was going to run a half-marathon. I was literally sitting in the passenger seat of our car on the way home from an anniversary trip to Memphis when I saw a picture of a college acquaintance who had finished her first half-marathon, and I thought, “Hey. I could do that.” I tossed the idea around for another hour or two and then told Erin that I was going to do it after we got home. I’m sure he thought I was nuts, but I saw it as a three-fold effort: I’d lose some weight, I’d start exercising regularly, and I would have an outlet for stress relief when needed. Win-win-win, right?
It was win-win-win. Over the course of twenty weeks, I went from sitting on my couch each night eating pizza to exercising vigorously five days a week…and in the process, I became a muscled-up beast who felt really good about herself. Did I set any records on race day? No way. But I was so proud of myself for sticking to the plan and accomplishing a goal, especially one that so few have actually attempted or accomplished.
I kept at it after my race was over, too. Exercise became something that I craved, and I felt really bad physically when I missed it. Even when I was at my weakest earlier this year, I was still bull-headed about wanting to exercise. I’ll never forget the first time I went for a walk after being bedridden for eight weeks: I walked a flat mile, it took me right at half an hour, and I slept for four hours afterward…but, by golly, I did it (and have the Facebook post to prove it!).
I probably stepped on some toes when I posted that post, and I can almost guarantee I’m about to step on some more. That’s ok, because what I’m about to say is important.
We’ve got to take care of ourselves, people. I’m so, so serious.
Maybe like you, I used to think that self-care was just a fancy way of people saying they want to be selfish. Honestly, I did. I grew up in a very generous and hardworking family, and it’s just in my nature to give. I don’t say that flippantly, either; my love language is gifts followed very closely by acts of service, so that’s how I “speak” my care to people. I was also taught from a very young age, both by example and words, that attributes like humility, benevolence, and taking care of humankind were of utmost importance. The idea I had of self-care being selfish just didn’t jive.
But what I’ve realized quite recently is that you can still care for yourself and be all of those things – a giver, a lover, a care-er, a nice person who possesses humility and grace.
Self-care isn’t about being selfish or greedy.
It’s about taking care of your body, your mind, and your soul. It’s about eating right and sleeping right and exercising right. It’s about de-stressing and getting rid of the things that cause you unnecessary harm. It’s about seeing yourself as a worthy human being and being kind to yourself, even when you feel worthless or unlovable. As Christopher Germer says, “Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others,” and in the words of Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Once I realized what self-care is (and isn’t), I realized that I needed a lot more of it.
So, now I ask you the same things I asked myself in the not-too-distant past: are you taking care of yourself? Are you unsure? Did you just respond to the original question with an instinctive “no” and then get irritated or rationalize away that internal response? If so, it’s time to face the ways that you aren’t caring for yourself. To make it easier (notice I didn’t say easy, though…), I’ve provided a few questions listed below for digging deeper.
- What am I not saying to myself but need to address?
- What fear is holding me back?
- What angers me, and why am I holding onto it?
- How can I show compassion to myself today?
- How can I take better physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual care of myself today?
Training for a half-marathon wasn’t easy, especially for someone who was as out of shape as I was. Many days I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. And this year, I’ve learned a lot about the need to take care of myself, even though I wasn’t initially very good at it.
I keep my stress levels lower by exercising regularly and getting bi-monthly deep-tissue massages. I quit viewing foods as a source of pleasure and comfort and started viewing them as fuel for my body. I saw the importance of taking good care of myself physically…because, honestly, I don’t know that I would’ve survived this year if I hadn’t been in such phenomenal health prior to getting sick. I avoid the foods that make me sick, even though I get a little heart sick sometimes from missing them. I train myself daily to suppress my desire for an extra 30 minutes of sleep, get out of the bed, and exercise first thing in the morning, because I know it’s helping me feel better and stronger.
Self-care isn’t easy; sometimes, it’s actually quite difficult. Like it or not, self-care, in its many different forms, is something we have to do. Ain’t nothin’ stopping you from eating a whole box of Little Debbies but you. Ain’t nothin’ keeping you from getting some form of exercise but you. Ain’t nothin’ holding you from forgiving and moving forward but you. And if you just give yourself a chance, one day, you’ll look back at yourself and wonder how you ever lived any other way.