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Treat Yo Self

August 11, 2018

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Self care.  It’s one of those overused, Oprah-style buzzwords that tends to make me roll my eyes.  It’s not that I don’t believe it’s important, or that I don’t appreciate the focus on something that many women have traditionally struggled to justify.  But my knee-jerk reaction is basically, “No shit.”  I’ve always subscribed to the If-Mama-Ain’t-Happy-Ain’t-Nobody-Happy school of thought.

Of course, I realize how fortunate I am to be in a position to take care of myself.  My basic needs have always been met, and for those whom that isn’t true, self care takes on a completely different meaning.  For purposes of this ramble, I refer to those of us who are privileged enough to think beyond survival to some form of personal enrichment.

While the concept may not be novel to me, my definition of it has certainly evolved.  In the past, me time equalled fun.  Usually it revolved around something mindless and frivolous, an escape from reality like shopping or drinks with friends.  Sure, it often included reading (because that’s pretty much my favorite of all time), but when I thought of self care I was more likely to picture a spa day or a girls trip.

Somewhere in the midst of growing older, I’ve realized that what’s fun isn’t always what brings me actual happiness.  A lot of the activities I considered entertaining weren’t what truly brought me joy or peace.  Sure, laughing hysterically over a few too many glasses of wine can be fun.  Shopping for pretty things can give me a thrill.  Pampering myself with a blowout or a pedicure can be relaxing.  But ultimately, none of those things feeds my soul.

I’ve also started taking issue with the rationale that is rooted in the self care movement: I have to fill my cup in order to pour into yours.  In other words, caring for ourselves is only important inasmuch as it allows us to better care for others.  I would argue that true self care should be undertaken simply because it benefits the individual.  After all, aren’t we enough?

In my forties, I’ve finally begun to understand what self care really means to me.  It isn’t necessarily about doing what feels good, it’s about being true to myself. It’s about choosing to participate in and experience things that will bring deeper meaning to my life and leave me feeling content and positive long after the moment has passed. Time spent in nature, in meditation, in movement…time spent with people I can be myself with, who bring out the best in me…and yes, time spent reading.  These activities fill my cup.  I’m always glad I invested my time and energy in these pursuits.  They never leave me feeling guilty or empty or depleted.  (Aside from staying up too late to read “just one more chapter!”)

Real, true self care is the antithesis of self indulgence.  Caring for yourself means heeding your inner voice, whether it’s whispering or shouting.  It may be urging you to create, to write or paint or compose.  It may be coaxing you to sit in quiet contemplation and just breathe.  It may be inspiring you to climb a mountain with close friends or hike a solitary trail.

It also may be telling you to let go of things, people and activities that aren’t healthy for your mind, spirit or body.  Deep down, you recognize what those are.  Perhaps you’ve allowed fear or guilt or just plain old habit to win out even though doing so undermines your well being.  Self care can be every bit as much about the things we choose not to engage in.  Sometimes what we elect to say “no” to can have as much impact on our happiness as what we say “yes” to.  Freeing ourselves from the weight of other peoples’ expectations and judgments, declining invitations that feel like obligations, freeing up our time to devote to the people and activities that truly nurture us and enrich our lives, that is self care.

If I want to truly take care of myself, I have to be honest about what I need, both with myself and with others.  Subscribing to anyone else’s version of self care will only leave me feeling unsatisfied.  That’s why it’s crucial to remember that there’s no “right” way to care for ourselves.  What brings me peace may give you anxiety.  What you find energizing might sap my spirit.  The ways we choose to be kind to ourselves may look nothing alike.  But ultimately if we’re true to ourselves and pay attention to how things, people, places, and activities make us feel at our core, we are giving our minds, bodies, and souls what they need to feel fulfilled.

So go ahead, treat yourself.  To a good book in a quiet corner.  To a walk in the woods.  To a sunrise on the water with strong coffee and good company.  To an uninterrupted hour of writing.  To whatever stirs your soul and feeds your fire.  After all, we each only get one self; we really ought to take care of it.


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