So part of my summer vacation was intended to be work on how I can best recharge my batteries during the semester. I do a very, very bad job of self-care, I think, and am in a constant state of forgetting that if I do not do at least the bare minimum of self-care daily, I am in actuality doing a detriment to not just me but my students. I have to remember the old “put the oxygen on yourself first” adage – I can’t do for others if I am not at my prime ability.
I realized at some point over the last few weeks that I had no idea as to what self-care actually meant. Does that mean doing what you feel like doing at a particular given time? Does it mean doing stuff that doesn’t necessarily seem “fun” but that you know needs to be done? That makes it sound less like a soul-recharging task and more like, well, a Pap smear or trip to the dentist.
So I turned to Dr. Googles and looked it up (exactly what I exhort my students, my father, my son, anyone who asks me to educate them on something without having done the bare minimum of work themselves to do). I was surprised to see that self-care is a little more specific and real than I had understood previously. Before I searched, when I heard the term “self-care,” I envisioned things like long days of video gaming, maybe a hot bath, reading…essentially all the things my Type A mind considers to be “goofing off.” But those things don’t necessarily replenish my batteries in the way that I am looking for. Yes, all those things are good for me, in moderation. When I video game, I am able to release some aggression, do some creative work, and leave my day-to-day world for a bit. When I read or soak in the tub, it’s another way for me to block the “real world” for a while, which I find very important and something that I need, rather than just like. The trouble comes if I do it too much, or with non-revitalizing mediums (spending too much time on Reddit is a real problem for me, and it’s not healthy in the slightest).
So that’s how I understood self-care: essentially having cotton candy for dinner, you know? This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Here’s how Dr. Googles explained it at the top of the search: “In health care, self care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated. Some place self care on a continuum with health care providers at the opposite end to self care.” This was singularly unhelpful for me insofar as figuring out how exactly to do this self-care business for myself. What it did do for me was help me understand that this is a more substantive thing than just “goofing off.”
I found loads of helpful writing on self-care, including the frequent exhortations to get outside, into nature, around some green stuff, and to think about and reflect on the beauty around you. This is something that I do regularly when I run (unless I’m on the treadmill, and I really dislike running on the treadmill, honestly, but when it’s hot as Satan’s testicles outside, I don’t have much of a choice). I love spending time at Fisher Farm, with Straxi, running or walking, taking pictures, or just looking at how beautiful the world is. When I’m running in town, I’m overwhelmed frequently by how fortunate I am to live in a town that is as soothing and beautiful as Davidson is. I feel so terrible for people who are not surrounded by the beauty that I am so lucky to experience, and I include that in my gratitudes every time I consider them. Just the ability to look around and see thriving nature is a boon, and being able to go outside and interact with that beauty is a recharge for me. Those folks who can’t see that beauty because of poverty or other social/class factors are poor in ways that exceed financial ways, I think – even the wealthiest of the world who are unable to appreciate what they have are included in my understanding of poverty. Of course, that’s a completely different discussion, but financial poverty is a form of violence, imo.
I recognize that I have a great deal of privilege in being able to live where I live, do what I do, and exist the way that I exist. Whatever quirks my life has and that the world tosses at me (like a bouquet or a hand grenade), I am still so incredibly fortunate.
But I seem to have wandered a bit from my discussion of self-care. I ran across this Atlantic piece, “The Internet Wants to Help You Take Care of Yourself,” and was…well, stunned, honestly, at how succinctly the author has related my own experiences with thinking about and attempting self-care.
The author, Julie Beck, opens her article by describing the self-care tag on Tumblr as being similar to coming in from the rain and being offered a towel and umbrella when you didn’t realize you were drenched. I spent some time flipping through the posts (I have very little experience with Tumblr) and gasped when I ran across the one I have featured here – it captures my own struggle here with this concept really well.
The author shares a link (I have basically bookmarked the essay, the links in the essay, and have spent some time with all of it just as I am trying to write this) in which the user is guided through a checklist of things to think about when trying to establish why she might feel bad (“You Feel Like Shit”). For someone like me, without an active group of friends (okay, okay, without any friends) upon which to call when having a shit day, this is very similar to what I remember of sitting down with Courtney and saying, “Yeah, I am having a hard time.” It’s like the internet equivalent of a cup of coffee with a friend. This is alternately cool and depressing to me. I ran through the initial part of the flow chart and was reminded to take my meds as I was doing it (Thanks InternetFriend!).
Towards the end of the article, the author discusses whether or not we really are discussing this self-care concept more, or if it’s just a trick of the eye. She writes that she believes “that there’s a growing acknowledgement of the fact that there’s little about modern society that prioritizes, encourages, or facilitates caring for yourself or treating yourself well. It’s all, ‘Buy more things!’ ‘Work harder and at any hour of the day!’ ‘Click back and forth uselessly between the same five websites and call it leisure!’” This is where my own (mis)understanding of self-care comes in. Basically, I had conflated consumption and self-care.
Self-care is a task that is intended to make me stronger, better, more capable of finding and nurturing the me I need to become. Whether I need to become that me for the purpose of being of better service to others, or just to be of better service to myself, or a little of both is immaterial. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t all try to understand who our best selves are, and to make those best selves a reality (other than the obvious ones – it’s hard to do anything outside of survive when survival is a real question). I’m finding as I research this that self-care for women can have a political and activist aspect to it as well – we aren’t encouraged to care for ourselves at all. We are, actually, encouraged to do the very opposite: to engulf ourselves in flame, use our self as tinder and fuel for a flame intended to benefit others.
Self-care is not multi tasking.
Self-care is a radical act for a woman, especially a woman of color.
Self-care is not accessible by everyone, regardless of what we might think.
Self-care is one of the most important things we can do for other people.
Self-care is the most important thing we can do for ourselves.
Self-care is made up of both large and small actions, and is not always comfortable.
Self-care is daily gratitude, daily affirmations, and specific goals that I can reach.
I am worth the time and effort that self-care takes. I am not kindling for someone else’s warmth.