Journey to Health, Odds + Ends, The Work of Becoming

thoughts on self-care

“A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure. True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” – Brianna Wiest

I spent Friday night alone to rest. It was a busy week, and I had a bad cold for all of it. I really, really need rest, but in order to do so, I had to cancel on a holiday party I was invited to (which I really, really didn’t want to do).

I have a complicated relationship with the idea of “self-care,” because I think that being kind to yourself is one of the most fundamental things we all (but in particular, we women) need to learn how to do, but also I think that lots of selfishness, consumerism and blatant bad decisions get excused by calling it “self-care.”

Last spring, when I was the most strung out and burnt out by the life I was living, I wrote about self-care. I re-read that short essay now, and I cringe a little bit, but I also feel a kind of sad-happiness for that girl. On the one hand, my attempts at self-care seem flimsy in comparison to circumstances I was trying to care my way out of, but on the other hand? That girl was learning so much. I was learning so much.

One of the primary things I was learning was that even though life is so damn hard it turns our bones brittle and our skin rough, each waking minute doesn’t have to be a battle.

I was thinking about “self-care” last night when I was home sick, because I found myself practicing some of the form of self-care I used to rely on. I used to put so much stock into baking a batch of cookies or reading a book to make me feel better. I remember pleading with myself just to get to the end of the day or end of the week so I could zone out in front of the television, or lose myself in a book, or in the mindless of baking. These habits alone, though, rarely brought me what I needed, because – and this is what I know now – self-care isn’t giving yourself permission to escape when you find yourself breaking. Self-care is working hard to live a life that doesn’t break you.

I said this last week too: Life is hard. We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death, and its bringing new waves of grief. I’m getting my financial house in order, but I’m not there yet, and my chest sometimes gets tight with money-worry. My network of friendship has splintered, and even though I maintain some dear, old friends and have met some new, wonderful people, my circle of relationships are, on the whole, smaller and less intimate than ever. I feel lonely sometimes. I read the news, and then, like every woman I know, I have to grapple again with the ways I’ve experienced harassment and assault and violence and degradation. Life is still as hard as it ever was, but I now have a life that can handle it all better.

I spent spring 2017 learning how to gather up strength inside myself, and then I spent summer 2017 living a life I no longer needed escape from. This was – and is still – the kind of self-care I’m trying to practice. Cultivating a life from which I don’t need to escape.

Last winter, I begged with the universe “why can’t it just be easier?” My life is easier now. It just is. I got to bake last night, not because I needed something to make me feel better equipped to face my life, but because I wanted to. Because it was fascinated to see how butter and sugar caramelized and then crystallized into these delicate, lacy cookies.

I said the same thing last week, but god, it feels good to not have to escape anymore.

Lovely Living

be kind to yourself

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A woman once told me that I need to learn to be kind to myself.

I was reentering the world after a deep depression, and finding a life that I didn’t know I’d had. I was in the process of both beginning and ending relationships. I was no longer panicking daily. I was beginning to store memories again.

She knew all this, and I told her I was doing better. She laughed, and said “you still need to do it.”

I called (or maybe emailed?) her and asked what she meant. I don’t remember her answer, but that that night, I stopped by a bakery and bought a slice of chocolate cake.

I ate it at my university-issued desk in the dorm room I once hated. The window was open. Someone in the courtyard was playing Joni Mitchell.

This past few days? They were hard ones. Pedestrian culprits – long hours, insomnia, crap food hoovered in inconvenient places. I came to the end of the week depleted.

My work follows a cycle that peaks in March. My hours will go bonkers, rhythms thrown out the window. My stress levels go up, sleep goes down. I read less, workout less (though my job itself becomes physical), eat worse. I once described this season as “hell, but so great,” because even though it’s hard, it’s powerfully rewarding. That being said, this weekend is the last entirely free weekend that I’ll have in a while, and I’m savoring it.

I went grocery shopping yesterday afternoon, and the teenager who rang me up sang “My Girl” under his breath. I was so delighted (right up to the point when he pointed at the frozen pizzas and asked if I have teenagers. Kid, I’m 24!) I nearly cried.

Today, my plan is to be nice to myself. This sounds so self-indulgent I almost can’t stand it, but I think practicing simple kindness towards myself will do me good.

I’m going to cook. I have a fridge full of fresh food (finally!), and I’m going to give myself time to follow a detailed recipe I clipped from a magazine several years ago. So rarely do I enjoy creating a meal.

I’m going to read. Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea is captivating, but I’m also craving my weathered copy of Anne’s House of Dreams. Since I was eleven, I’ve read all eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series in the spring. Last year, I didn’t, and it felt like I leapfrogged something important.

It’s rare for my days to feel loose and open. Even when I’m “free,” I border my time, hem myself in with private plans. You know what feels radically kind today? To not do that.

The sun is out. Last night’s dusting of snow is gone, and tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to reach the 60’s. (And Minnesota said amen!). Two years ago (two!), I bought a candle that smelled so good I put it into a drawer. I placed the candle underneath my favorite piece of artwork (a drawing someone gave to my grandparents on their wedding day), and lit it. In my cupboard, I have cookies that taste best when they’re eaten one at a time.

Too often, I catch myself thinking “why can’t it all be easier?” Sometimes, it is.

Yesterday, I put pink tulips on my table, because when I was a little girl, my mother painted a border of tulips along the molding of my bedroom. I loved their pink, purple, and yellow. In the spring, I would try to pick them.

Kindness, sometimes, is easy like this.