Self-care has come a long way, baby. It’s become a definite player in our lifestyle landscape, especially over the past several years. Most of us have at least a passing understanding that it’s something we want, and we probably want at least a little more of it in our lives than we currently have.
Once we actually decide that self-care is important enough for us to pursue and prioritize as a valid, worthwhile, and necessary undertaking for a happy and healthy life, it’s usually pretty easy to keep it up to some degree (if we’ve started slowly, chosen one area at a time on which to focus, and built up gradually from there.) Once we value self-care itself, it gets easier to speak up for it, set boundaries around it, and generally keep at it.
When I say that, I’m talking about keeping at it during the regular times, the days that are more or less like most of our other days, give or take a sprinkle or smidge of something other than or different.
The real tests come when times get tough. When the status quo of our days is upended, overturned, or otherwise shaken up. When the regularity of our schedule gets irregular, however regular or not that ultimately is, is when we so often let our self-care fall through our fingers, standing by with feelings of helplessness as it gets sieved through excuses, reasons and justifications into a mixing bowl of guilt, overwhelm, obligation and resentment.
Of course, this is when the benefits of our routines and practices really step in to support us. When we can finally autopilot it a bit and rely on those routines and practices to carry us through. Because we’ve put in the work every damn day, for so long, it’s actually much easier than we often think to honor our routines in these tough times. We just need to let ourselves get carried, to allow the pathways of habit we’ve etched into the grooves of our consciousness do their thang, to release the need to have it all under control and allow it all to flow through the channels we’ve already carved.
Integral to this is accepting and indeed granting ourselves permission to let it be easy. Consider for a moment the following three statements, and notice your reactions, if you agree or disagree, and any other feelings that may arise:
Times of struggle don’t have to be filled with struggle.
We don’t prove ourselves more worthy or good by how far we drive ourselves into the ground when faced with a challenge.
Challenges can be the most difficult thing you’ve done and still have some ease in there too.
If your relationship with struggle and challenge doesn’t look how you want it to look, consider what beliefs you hold around how you must do or be in times of struggle, and how you might open up to new ways of thinking.
How in the world are you supposed to self-care when you’re caring for somebody else?
My mom had a serious health episode this week and was hospitalized. (She’s doing amazingly well and is expected to make a full recovery, though the road hasn’t been nor will it be easy.) I’ve been dancing with these concepts all week, and it’s been a really informative period of showing me all the ways I’ve changed over the past several years and how it’s helped me get through.
Last week I spoke about vigilance and compassion. Today the vigilance that comes to mind is flexible, though of course inherent in flexibility is an element of compassion as well. This flexible vigilance showed itself in a holding to the spirit of my routines while allowing the details to look a little different right now. We’re often told to let nothing get in the way of our routines, in a very hard and fast, black or white type of way. And for some folks that’s the answer that works best.
For me however, as well as for many clients, friends and acquaintances, that ultimatum type of all-or-nothing expectation leads to picking the nothing end of the equation and leaving any semblance of routine completely by the wayside. I used to operate in that space a lot, and in times like these, I would have undoubtedly dropped any self-care I happened to have in place. This is where I propose that flexibility rather than rigidity may serve better, as it’s certainly worked better for me.
Again, I urge you to decide for yourself of course and always what works best for YOU. Here’s one alternative and how it’s looked for me this week.
- It was managing to get in a smoothie or a salad almost every day, and sometimes both in one day. Even if it was a 9pm salad or a smoothie that it took most of the daylight hours to get through.
- It was going from two 20+ minute meditations a day to one 10-20 minute one. It was missing only one day, which felt like a miracle in itself. It was also missing that one day that broke my major (392 day!) streak, and being grateful and gentle and not even a little bit mad at myself about it. Hello, square one. It’s been a while. Peace.
- It was an equal split between days I remembered to bring my minerals + antioxidants drink with me to the hospital, days I forgot to bring it but drank some when I got home at night, and days I actually didn’t drink a drop of water at all.
- It was finding the sweet spot each night when I got home between unwinding mindlessly (thank you, Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix!), taking care of must-do tasks, connecting with people in some small way, and turning in early. And in that balance, being okay that doing the dishes lost every single choice duel until last night, when it had gotten so bad I could actually smell them a little. And so I did them. And the laundry waited until today. And that’s okay. It’s all okay. We all survived and aside from the mild ego wound from admitting to you all that things got a little gross up in here, no one even got hurt.
- It was morning routines that got broken down into individual elements, many of which happened at some point during the day and not necessarily in the morning. It was stopping to notice those #stoplightskylines I love and take as mindful a moment as I could, even when I was exhausted with a mind quite full. It was sleeping in 10 more minutes on the days when the world wouldn’t end if I did, and skipping the snooze as well as the smoothie on mornings that warranted an earlier start. It was asking to talk when I needed to, not responding until I was able to, and accepting the help that was offered when it was. It was publishing this post without audio rather than not posting at all.
This is a dance that we choreograph as we go. In response to what comes, in an ever-changing environment, to a not-always-known soundtrack. Our self-care practices and routines are like the baseline that drives the beat, the simple subtle moves that permeate the dance, the techniques and styles from which each element is drawn, providing a framework of cohesion, unity, and mastery into which our essence and energy can flow. They are the drills that we do daily so we can nail them in performance, letting go to the magic of the music and muse. They are the nameable individual components of the indefinable, glorious whole.
Although I think I’m a pretty loving and thoughtful individual, the truth of the matter is that I don’t really have to care for anyone other than myself most of the day, most days. I mean, yes, I’m in a helping profession. Yes, I have family and friends I care about and am there for. And yes, I’ve got Buster, Betsy and Braverman Brightside to look out for. But I’m a single woman and only child with no children, and fish are pretty low maintenance. In the scheme of things, it’s way easier for me to care for myself than it is for all the moms, wives, and other assorted family caregivers to do so.
Plenty of people will tell you that if it matters enough to you, you’ll do it, often in tones dripping with judgmental condescension. The sometimes unspoken but often present assumption being that you don’t actually want what you say you want, or at least not enough to do something about it. Underneath which lies a further judgment and belief, that you’re basically a do-nothing whiner who doesn’t put money at mouth or action behind aspiration. Ever feel some a that comin’ atcha live? Not the best of feelings, for sure.
It’s become quite popular to work out our feelings of enoughness, to get to a place where we truly believe we ARE enough. This is a good thing! We ARE enough. Exactly as is. 100%. Yet some of the same people advocating for that out of one side of their mouth are telling you that you don’t want whatever it is enough to actually do something about it.
But what if you do? What if you want it exactly enough, just the right amount, but there’s something else in your way? Maybe you don’t know how, or you know the steps but don’t know how to apply them in the context of your own unique life. You can “know” all the textbook answers around, but if you ignore the specifics of YOU and whether or how they fit in with that, you’ll find yourself stuck and blaming yourself, your lack of willpower, or some other condition of lack.
And let’s be honest. When it comes down to it, if you’re not doing what you say you want to do, then it IS because there’s something else you want more. That’s just physics or logic or something. But where people often trip up is in determining or deciding what it IS that you want more. It’s not always the obviously opposite option, it’s not always easy to spot, and it doesn’t always feel like a choice-filled choice.
Just as teachers strive to differentiate lessons and individualize instruction to meet each student in the context of their own strengths, weaknesses, interests and needs, so too must we all seek and get support from people willing to create space for us to do the same for ourselves. Just as there are a multitude of ways to get from A to B, so too must we honor the ways that make sense for us.
Maybe the flexible vigilance I advocate in tough times is the very thing you need every day to help combat the I can’t do anythings with a little I can do this. I like to think of it like a game, a twisted twist on Steve Martin’s Navin Johnson in The Jerk, when he’s leaving his love and saying that he doesn’t need anything except this. And this. And this. And he keeps seeing things that he “needs.” You can build up the self-care practices that you need, starting by slipping in this self-care practice, and then this one, and then this one too, until before you know it, you’ve got a whole lotta self-care goin on!
Steve Martin as Navin Johnson in The Jerk, gathering all the things he needs.
So there you have it. Some thoughts on self-care. This isn’t the most polished piece I’ve written, and letting go of that is also part of my self-care today.