It is making a spreadsheet of your debt, enforcing a morning routine, cooking yourself healthy meals for the week, and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution. A therapist friend says that the what and the why are both important. ￼
It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic family member you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time, and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Vogue and Foreign Affairs, and turn your phone off for the day.
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 bubble baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the things you sometimes least want to do.
It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others.
It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and a sink full of dishes, and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening. Relationships are repetitive, so if you grew up not feeling great about yourself, chances are you are in friend and romantic relationships that parallel that.
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with shopping or “treating yourself,” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness. It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor, junk food, or procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself; and maybe finding that taking care lovingly, with compassion, attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.
It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good on social media over a life that feels good. It is giving up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious on a regular basis. It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that bubble baths, wine, and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it.