Since I got ill, I’ve had to take a completely new word as a part of my personal dictionary. Shocking in itself because it’s not ‘fuck.’ So, let’s talk about self-care.
Self-care is often seen as something indulgent and selfish, something close to sinful. Like you’re not supposed to be doing it, because it’s far more noble to be beating yourself with a stick while cheering everybody else on, and telling them how right they are to put themselves first. And that’s healthy innit?
I have quite a complicated relationship with myself. I should like myself, because we do spend an awful lot of time together but there was a long period of time in my life when I wasn’t very nice to myself. In fact, I was abusing myself and ignoring the warning signs both my body and mind were giving out until it was too late.
At the hospital bed everything came to a halt. I’m a person who always has a plan. And another plan in case the first one goes tits up. Now all of a sudden I had nothing. Just a bed with plastic sheets and a view of a birch tree outside.
I almost had to die before my dumbass realised that I have to start being nicer to myself but better late than never, right?
Now I take time to do self-care. Oftentimes people think it requires a lot of money to show yourself some love. It doesn’t always have to include a luxurious spa weekend. It’s just about doing things that make everyday life that little bit more tolerable.
To me self-care means doing things that I like to do and avoiding things that I don’t like doing, if possible. It’s about giving yourself that space to be pathetic and *gasp* a human.
Like if there is a social engagement which I really don’t feel up to, I’ll nowadays just cancel it rather than force myself into going. At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to deal with overwhelmed and upset me when I get home, not whoever I’m supposed to be hanging out with. If I’m honest about my reasons, that it’s to do with my mental health, people are often more understanding than you’d think.
Everybody is different but I have found comfort in gentle, solitary activities that I do in my own pace. For example, if I feel like reading I will read but I’ll also have a documentary or something playing on my laptop in the background. If I can’t concentrate on the book any longer, I’ll take a break to watch the documentary and will resume if and when I feel like it. Who is going to tell me this method of reading is wrong, the book police?
I also find that self-care starts from really basic things, just making yourself as comfortable as possible. Wearing comfortable clothing, doing things that add to your comfort such as having a wash and a gentle stretch.
I also like taking walks. This was also hugely helpful when I was feeling extremely numb. When walking, you have time to take in your surroundings: looking at trees, flowers and buildings. You can have a sit-down and do some people-watching.
I love making up stories about people I don’t know: here goes a brain surgeon, who is going to find his wife cheating on him with the plumber when he gets home. That lady has just quit her job to pursue her dream of an Etsy shop, selling watercolour paintings of cats. That gentleman recently put an ad on a dating website and he’s in a rush to get home to see if he’s got any replies.
The possibilities are endless. The problem is that I’ll never know was I right but that’s also kind of part of the fun.
I absolutely adore animals but my dogs and cats are with my parents on the other side of Europe. Luckily enough I live in a very nice block flats with plenty of dogs and cats to pet. Most of my days start with a mew and a cuddle with my neighbour’s cat Maisie. Also if I happen to pass a fence and see a cat basking in the sun, I’ll go over and offer him or her my hand. If they come over for a cuddle, I always feel like I’ve been given a gift.
I think the key thing is not putting too much pressure on yourself. Some activities indeed sound more impressive than others. Like how I went to swim last weekend for the first time in five years and ended up doing 2/3 miles. But who are you really doing it for, yourself or someone else? Watching an episode of your favourite show with cosy slippers on is just as impressive, if that made you feel more content.
Counselling has really forced me into facing the concept of self-care, because after every session my counsellor asks: “What are you doing after this to be kind to yourself?” It’s kinda difficult to ignore the whole concept when someone is asking you about it.
I think to me the concept of self-care is best explained in my habit of going to a cafe after the counselling for a coffee and a chocolate chip muffin. This cafe does gorgeous muffins, with very crispy tops. I always tear the top with my fingers piece by piece before eating the last doughy bit with my spoon. In counselling, a lot of rough stuff goes into an hour and it’s important to be able to come out of that space and back into the world.
Sometimes the hustle and bustle of the cafe helps with that. Knowing that none of these people know what I’ve been doing for the past hour and what’s happened to me makes me feel better. Sometimes on the other hand I just want peace and quiet, so I’ll just pop in to the cafe to get a muffin to go and make myself some coffee at home.
That’s what self-care means to me. Being considerate enough towards yourself to understand what you need at that particular time.
It took me a long time, but I’ve finally learned something I should’ve known from the beginning:
I have a right to be good to myself.