The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt over the last few years is that I have to look after myself. Nobody else is going to do it for me. This is one of those hard lessons that I keep having to learn over and over. I think for a few years there the universe was trying to teach my this with a feather (symptoms of stress and exhaustion in my early uni days). I didn’t listen, so it sent a brick (chronic fatigue and a range of other illnesses). I still didn’t listen. So it sent a sledge-hammer (thyroid cancer).
From them on I knew I had to look after myself. Still, self-care was a hard skill to master. I haven’t mastered it yet but I’m waaaaaay better than I was. I think partly that’s just a growing up thing — there comes a time in a young person’s life when they move out of home and get a full-time job and have to actually ‘be a grown-up’. And it can be really tough. The pressures of simply keeping up with adult life (bill paying, grocery shopping, home/car maintenance etc) on top of the craziness of my work life and my delicate health were very difficult to adjust to. I still often remark to various family members that ‘being a grown-up is hard work sometimes.’
I think it’s even more difficult when you life with housemates than when you live alone, because at least there is no guilt associated with leaving dishes in the sink overnight when you live alone. Having said that, there is also no-one to share the load of housework. I am so glad I live alone right now, but one of the ways I’ve coped with that is the hire a cleaner every month or so just to help lighten the load for me. It’s an expense, yes, but one that saves my sanity enough to be worth it. Some might rather save the $50 and scrub the bathroom themselves but for me, it’s worth it to have the flat properly cleaned semi-regularly. It’s another tool in my self-care kit.
Fortunately, I have learnt enough of the basics of self-care to strike a pretty good balance most of the time. There is always more I could do, but I am pretty proud of how far I’ve come, in general. I am working on fine-tuning my diet at present (more on that in upcoming posts) and I’m sure that will continue to help improve my wellbeing but overall I’m fairly satisfied with my current level of self-care skills.
Self-love is the next step on my journey. I believe it is a step above self-care, although the two are interrelated. It’s more than just the care of my basic physical and most essential emotional needs. It’s further up the Needs Hierarchy. A quick Google search defines it as ‘regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.’ I see it as being more pro-active than self-care. Self-care is about maintenance, whereas self-love is about seeking ways to further improve one’s situation.
For me, self-love also crosses that line into body and self image. It’s about countering the negative self-talk, critically examining the messages I am fed by the media and actively promoting acceptance of myself and my body. As cringey as it makes me feel to admit (why is that, I wonder?), affirmations have been helpful for me here. The one that has hit home lately is one I adapted from something in Brené Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (absolutely life-changing book, by the way. Will review it in time):
I am enough. Already and always.
This is particularly helpful to me when I’m feeling unworthy and inferior in social situations or in my relationship. Often those feelings are separate from body image issues, but other times they are inextricably linked. At Christmas time when I had a full-body rash, my feelings about my red, blotchy skin were playing out as feelings of being unworthy of love. Now that I write that it seems so illogical, but the feelings were powerful at the time. The affirmation above, with particular emphasis on the word already really helped remind me that in reality, people weren’t about to stop loving or talking to me because of a temporary, non-contagious skin condition.
I think many women in our society struggle with body image in one form or another. Two things have really helped me in my journey with body love and self acceptance. Firstly, is gratitude for all the parts of my body that do what they are supposed to. Secondly, changing and challenging my old thought patterns around how bodies ‘should’ look and ‘should’ do things. A revolutionary thought for me, further than expanding my idea of ‘what is attractive’, was to actually question the need to feel attractive in the first place. Why do I let society dictate to me that my body’s purpose is to be aesthetically pleasing for someone else? Why not focus more on function? I guess that goes back to the gratitude again!
This self-acceptance has been a slow process but seems to have clicked up a notch lately. I believe reading the blogs and Facebook pages of a number of bloggers involved in the body-love movement has really helped here. One woman in particular constantly posts statuses that challenge my thinking around my body and I guess, eventually, it has sunk in. It’s a constant process, I believe, but I think I’m finally seeing (and feeling!) the benefits. One of these days I will link a few of the women I look up to and who post some amazing, encouraging, mind-expanding stuff that will help you challenge your own self-limiting and negative beliefs.
Lastly, I’ve begun to explore the concept of self-indulgence recently. In our society I think we generally think this is a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. Although it does have a bit of a connotation of being about excess and unhealthy patterns, I have been looking at it more from the perspective of allowing myself to do things that I enjoy more often, for no other reason than that I enjoy them. As long as I’m not hurting anyone or procrastinating/avoiding something, I actually see it as very healthy to seek out small moments of indulgence whenever possible. And to that end I’ve vowed to have more massages this year. One per month, in fact. This is part of my plan to de-stress and care for my body, but also to just do things I like simply because I can. I am also going to have a bath by candlelight more often, and cook my favourite meals and go to bed early instead of staying up late doing paper-work (but getting nowhere because I’m too tired to concentrate properly). And read romance novels and wear my favourite underwear and enjoy the beauty of a sunset or the hilarity of a funny cat video.
I guess all of these things come back to the idea of treating myself with kindness and gentleness and respect. We don’t have to deny our own needs in order to be there for others. It isn’t selfish, it’s actually responsible. If we give to ourselves, we have more to give to others in turn. There are so many ways we can all treat ourselves with more kindness.
How can you take care of yourself a little better in the week to come?
Remember, you are enough. Already and always.