On self-care

Remember: do fun stuff, eat, sleep, keep going and don't give up!
I'm sick of people overlooking self-care.

Now, someone or another is going to think that I'm talking absolute nonsense here. After all, isn't self-care indulgent? People are starving every day. Thinking about yourself and how to find your inner positivity isn't going to help them. Besides, who even has time to care for themselves anymore? It's all about hard work so you can rake in that money or get that good job!

Drop of water
That attitude increasingly irritates me. Now, I'm not one to talk - I used to think self-care was extremely selfish when people were suffering all around me and I tend to neglect myself for various reasons that I'd rather not go into, as I recognise that talking about myself gets boring at some point. But it pisses me off that we're encouraged to see self-care as something selfish, when it's a basic necessity - and frankly, not all the advocates of self-care are really helping.

Cats help me to self-care.
Yep, I said it. I'm actually pretty pissed off with the way self-care is represented in some quarters: it sometimes seems like self-care is about doing something incredibly wanky and self-centred. Hell, I've even seen people claim that being self-centred was "being centred around the self" and a good thing.

Okay, so it is a good thing to not be constantly running around searching for yourself. It's a good thing to have a centre that actually holds. But that's not what being self-centred means.

I know that there are generally a lot of problems with dictionary definitions, especially when it comes to social justice, but it can still be a useful reference point. With that in mind, here's the Collins English Dictionary's definition:

totally preoccupied with one's own concerns
Yep. That's it. That's what it says. Words mean things, and for the time being self-centred means being completely wrapped up in yourself, not being some super strong amazing role model. And I'm not even going to go into the claims that you only have a finite amount of caring...Well, I will, but I'll just say two things. Firstly, caring and emotions don't work that way, because they're not tangible. You don't have fixed amounts. Secondly, it implies that, to a certain extent, caring for yourself is done at the expense of caring for others - in other words, that it has a selfish streak.

More water
In other other words, even some people who advocate self-care are still mixing up self-care with selfishness, when in fact self-care is no more a selfish act than taking care of people and things you actually care about is selfish or obsessive. I don't blame these people for it; it irritates me to see the equation of taking care of yourself with being a self-absorbed, pretentious tosser, but it's pretty ingrained in our culture that taking care of your own needs is selfish and it's difficult to undo the association.

My red stress ball
My stress-ball, a tool of self-care
for me
But at least people who think self-care is selfish actually do some thinking about self-care: others seem to laugh it off. Not so long ago, we were given the exquisite treat of a three-hour study skills seminar - and by "exquisite treat" I mean "I'd rather be strapped in a chair and forced to listen to the most saccharine bubblegum pop ever created for those three hours". That session was a complete waste of three hours of my life - but I'm digressing and probably complaining far too much. Anyway, we were asked what we could do to make our revision more effective. Instead of being a model student and saying something that our presenter actually expected, what did I have to talk about instead?

...You guessed it - self-care. Cue being laughed at and dismissed, because obviously taking care of yourself won't help you revise properly and keep yourself healthy while doing so.

I'll stop going on about that particular incident, because I realise that it's beside the point and not worth devoting so much time to, but I'm still irritated that people see self-care as selfish or unimportant.

It's neither.

Macarons in various colours
Macarons are a self-care treat for me.
It's also high time for me to stop waffling and get to the crux of this post: that self-care simply means taking care of yourself. Giving yourself a break sometimes. Doing something you enjoy - it doesn't have to be something big like a spa day, it could just be something little like taking a walk in the park or treating yourself to food you don't normally eat. (Yes, food is important to me. Yes, I enjoy eating food.) Getting a good night's sleep is important, too, as is trying to be kind to yourself. Self-care isn't selfish, and neither is it unimportant. Quite the contrary: it's vital.

I'm probably going to get a raised eyebrow or two here, and I don't really know how to put this politely, so I'll put it bluntly: Most people I know don't practise self-care and have probably never thought about it. I don't judge them for that - like I said, it's still something ignored or dismissed as selfish.

I don't want to go on and on and on and on and on about being mentally ill because 1 in 4 of us are and I talk too much about it anyway, but I'll just say this: Because I am sick, I don't have the luxury of being able to ignore self-care. (The next bit discusses what happens if I don't self-care, which may be triggering to some people who have the same experiences or which may upset or freak out others.)

If I don't self-care, I don't eat, I don't sleep, I don't move, I don't speak, I neglect personal hygiene, and assuming I actually have the motivation to move I beat myself up physically and emotionally. To put it more succinctly and stop grossing people out, I stop being able to function normally, and it happens pretty quickly. When I started actually thinking about it I used to have to forcibly remind myself to eat, and I still have to remind myself to stop being scared of waking up with a shitty mood, or getting shit scared in the middle of the night, and actually go to fucking bed. It's probably more common than popularly thought, it's just some people (like me) actually mention these things in polite society.

To stop aimlessly blathering, then, self-care is making sure you can function as best you can. A crude analogy is that it's like doing maintenance work, I suppose, in that it's vital and not at all selfish. Like maintenance work, those that neglect it face the consequences, and like maintenance work, it's not fun.

Yeah. Self-care's not always fun, something that was brought up in this post that I suggest everyone should read. It's short, but it's very much to the point. It's not always easy and it can be pretty challenging: at first, self-care is counterintuitive. You have to keep reminding yourself that you have to do this again, that you have to resist eating the first crap you find in the fridge and that you've got to get a good night's sleep - and that you have to actually start taking those compliments, no matter how alien it feels. It feels weird. It feels strange. It feels a bit boring, even, especially when it comes to things like sleeping well. Even when you get more used to it, even when you can stop forcibly reminding yourself, it sometimes feels different. Unfamiliar. Not the way things should be done, even if you know it's better for you.

But unfamiliar and counterintuitive and challenging as it is, I would say it's worth it - and I would say it's worth it from the perspective of a grumpy, cynical git who had to understand the consequences of not self-caring before actually deciding to bother. The fear and the challenge are worth it to be able to live a life where you can function better.