We read about it all the time, right? How self-care is important. How we (women) must learn to set aside time for US. How we spend so much energy and effort caring for others – children, husbands, parents, friends – that we often end up at the bottom of our own totem poles. We neglect our own needs because we are so tired from tending to everyone else’s needs that when we get a moment to ourselves we crash on the bed. THAT is our idea of self-care. Grabbing some sleep so that we can do it all (for others) tomorrow.
Okay, so that’s the spin. I will admit right here and now that it’s the spin but it’s not really my personal truth. I am one of the fortunate ones who has time for self-care. Yes I have a son who requires attention on occasion and I have a man who does as well. But they are both adults and quite capable of tending to themselves. I have friends who need to talk and sometimes drink some wine (and that of course is never a hardship) and I have family to cook for (also not a struggle) and a part-time job which I enjoy immensely. Oh yeah, there’s also a dog that needs walking.
But I am in no way run ragged. Which is why I have the time and opportunity to muse on this subject. Because I do see so many women who ARE run ragged. And that’s why I have decided we need a self-care handbook. Something quick and easy to remind us how important WE actually are.
Years ago I had a friend who was a single mother, working full time to earn a living and raise her daughter. I often tended to that daughter after school until mom would stop by for some wine and dinner (and to pick up her kid). She always said to me “Oh, I wish I had time to work out. I want to lose 20 lbs and feel fitter but I just don’t have time.”
In those days I was still working full time and my job involved a 40 minute commute each way and I still got up early so that I could log 20 minutes on the treadmill before I hit the road. And so I asked her “Why not just get up a bit earlier and log 20 minutes on the treadmill?”
And she replied “Oh God no. I’d much rather sleep.”
Aha. There’s the question. What speaks more to self-care? Working out or sleep?
Then there was another friend. who rarely took a sip of wine. She couldn’t because she was always driving her kids somewhere. Sports, music, school activities and then there were appointments and full-time work to boot. That girl was always running somewhere. She never seemed to have a moment to breathe … or sip.
Until that rare night occurred when she did. And that dear girl would sip so enthusiastically she’d be blind-drunk in two hours.
Now I understand that we do need to tend to our kids but I also understand that sometimes we have to tend to our own needs. Breathe. Sip. Chill. Take care of self. And I don’t mean once a month when a rare moment arrives. I mean weekly. Even daily.
My favourite time of day is 5pm. The music comes on, a glass of wine gets poured and dinner prep begins. My beloved knows that this is the perfect time for him to get lost. I don’t mean out in the big bad city, I mean go to your office and DO something. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to hear about your day (yet). I want to listen to music (loudly) and create something delicious for us to share. THAT is my daily therapy. THAT is my daily self-care.
I am fortunate that he takes nothing personally and happily escapes to his lair.
But my self-care is not all wine and Carole King. It also takes discipline. That dog gets walked every morning no matter what the weather or my disposition. I have to be really sick to forego that walk. And it’s not so much because the dog needs it. it’s because I need it. I need to zone out, commune with the Universe, get my heart rate up and hopefully even work up a bit of sweat. Yes even this morning in -10C I came home somewhat damp because I walk hard. I walk hard because my high blood pressure and mental well-being demand it.
And that’s the funny thing. I’ve been walking hard for over 20 years. It is no longer a chore. It is my joy. My happy addiction. It is the self-care I never knew I needed and now can’t live without.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You’ll never really know what your daily joy is until you live it daily. Until you find the time to discover it, practice it, make it a priority and then do it again tomorrow. We can all be disciplined in what we eat or how much alcohol or water we drink or less caffeine and more green vegetables and blah blah blah. But what about joy? Daily self-care joy?
There is a moment in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love” where she is in Rome and walks past an upscale lingerie store. This is not a familiar place in her shopping repertoire but she goes in nonetheless, spends a fortune on lacy underthings, goes back to her apartment and lays out a picnic. A picnic for one. And then in her very expensive silky new nightie she sits on the floor and delights in that beautiful repast. Alone and content. She is no longer shackled to a man or his needs. THIS moment is ALL about her desires. HER sensual pleasures. Spending time (and money) on herself simply because SHE is worth it.
I love that moment. And yes, I get it. Those expensive lingerie picnics are a one-off. But most magical moments are, right? Why not create one just for yourself?
Many moons ago when I was profoundly broken-hearted I was finding it difficult to eat dinner, much less make it (just for myself). But one night I decided that LACK of self-care had to stop. So I put on some very loud music and danced around my kitchen. Like crazy dancing, the kind we did back in high school. Once I had completely exhausted myself I set out to cook dinner. I don’t remember what I cooked but is was a true grownup meal, not just cheese and crackers. I lit a candle, put on some jazz and sat at the table like a proper adult enjoying my creation. Alone. Not even the cat joined me.
And that moment made me laugh. And then made me proud. Because I had spent so many years cooking for men and kids and friends and family I didn’t even know what it felt like to cook just for me. I learned.
We learn in increments. By trial and error. But the word trial involves TRYING. We have to at least try to feed our bliss, walk off our stress, bathe in lavender serenity or listen to music loudly while cooking. Whatever it is that leads to our caring of self, we must practice regularly.
There it is – your self-care handbook. Figure out what makes YOU happy and then do it regularly. Yes, even if those around you suffer with the loss of your ever-available selflessness. They’ll figure themselves out eventually.
You figure yourself out. Care for yourself. Love yourself. Make yourself a priority. At least sometimes.
Because you know why?
You’re worth it.