On Wanting To Or Not
There is a lot of advice on the internet about how to do self care. Self care has become one of those trite self-help concepts like authenticity and gratitude; we all know we should practice these things, but what do they mean, really? In the end, they become more about using the words and paying lip service to wellness than any real action.
Self care, however, is not a buzzword or a concept for a poster. Making sure that we are cared for mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually is a job only we can do—and a job we must do if we desire a wholehearted life. Putting the idea of self care into a easily digestible list (with lots of consumer products to back it up) makes it seem like a temporary thing we do once in a while to indulge ourselves. We take scented baths and drink wine, and that should cover it. And yet we continue to lead overstressed, overworked, overstretched lives that make us feel like we are Alice’s Red Queen: running faster and faster to stay in the same place.
Our culture is steeped in dysfunctional belief systems about what is “successful” and “good” in a person. I have witnessed much shaming around concepts of self care that go beyond the occasional chocolate bar. Consider the people who find it best to sleep during the day and be awake at night, or those that may find it right for them to have multiple lovers. Some may care for themselves best while attending a convention dedicated to science fiction, and some may care for themselves attending a convention dedicated to BDSM. Some may hate conventions (me, it me). Some may see it as self care to be out as queer, while still others know it is very important that they are not out at all. Self care isn’t just about a glass of wine at the end of the night. It’s about the big, frightening, brave choices we make to be the most true to ourselves in a hostile and unfriendly world.
When I practice self care, I am choosing constant action that feels like it matches my values and my integrity. It doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, self care is saying no to a friend who is almost certainly going to be mad about it. Sometimes, self care is posting to Twitter about my meal when all my scared, disordered self wants to do is pretend she never eats at all. Self care isn’t a thing I can check off on a to-do list and call it a day. It’s something I choose every single moment I can.
Each moment of the day is a choice: I can do what my shame, my rampant emotional reactions, my fears, my panic, and my sense of unworthiness tell me to do or I can do what my values and my integrity tell me to do. That is the heart of self care. That is the building block on which all choices rest. My therapist said it best, “There are only two choices in life: Do you want to, or do you not want to?”
Do I want to go to the dentist? Fucking no. I hate the dentist. But do I want worse problems down the road if I ignore my pain? No. I go to the dentist because I want to do that, because it is self care. Do I want to go to this person’s baby shower? No, I don’t, and I think it might hurt their feelings if I don’t go, but I will be resentful and frustrated if I do go. So I don’t. That is self care, too. It’s hard. I don’t like hurting people. But self care demands that I look after me before others, even when it hurts them and even when I feel so bad for doing so. Only I can have my own back the right way.
If I never maintain my friendships because I’m bad at being in touch (which I really, really am), I am practicing one form of self care at the expense of another. Humans need other humans, and if all my friendships die because I didn’t maintain them, I’m not really doing self care. Reaching out is hard for me; asking for time and attention is hard for me. It’s tempting to say self care would be to not challenge myself, but it isn’t. In this case, taking the hard path is more caring than hiding away from feelings.
No strategy works all the time. No bath or wine glass or video game will solve every challenge of self care. Neither will driving ourselves to exhaustion trying to do it right all the time (it me again, whatever). We have to be vigilant for what our values tell us, what our integrity tells us. There’s a small voice that knows what’s good, even when it doesn’t feel good, and that’s the voice that is the most wise. I’m trying to listen to mine more often, and I hope you do the same.