Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword recently.
It’s typically associated with photos of women wearing big, cosy socks, or stuck on marketing emails to convince you to buy posh candles.
But that’s not what self-care is.
Self-care is not luxuriating in a bubble bath chugging hot chocolate.
Or, rather, it can be that, but that’s not all it is.
Self-care can be boring. It can be not-all-that-fun. It can be organising your desk drawers. It can be taking some time alone. It can be crying in front of your therapist.
Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
It’s how we look after ourselves, make sure we’re doing okay, and manage our mental health issues.
For me, self-care is keeping my space clear of too much clutter (when I’m in my down periods, my room becomes a mess of takeaway boxes and laundry that needs doing. I let it build, and then the piles of clutter put me on edge, claustrophobic. It’s a fun little routine). It’s giving myself time alone. It’s getting enough sleep, making myself dinner, remembering to take my meds, having a cup of tea before bed. It’s keeping therapist appointments, remembering to shower, take the dog for a walk. The basics.
Self-care is how I stay sane. If I don’t do it, I fall apart.
And yet I keep putting it off. I put it on the backburner. I tell myself it’s not important, that it’s silly to ‘need’ a cup of tea and a face mask once a week, that I’ve got much more vital things to do.
I moan a lot about the lack of provisions for mental health (which is still a massive problem, don’t get me wrong. Mental health care desperately needs more funding), asking why people aren’t taking mental health seriously, getting angry about waiting lists and all the times people struggling have been dismissed, and yet doing what I can to take care of my own mental health is always on the bottom of my list of priorities.
I’ll stay up late doing work, happily commit to doing stuff for other people when I know I should say ‘actually, I need to spend the evening with myself’, and buy McDonald’s instead of taking the time to make myself something that feels good.
Why? Because there’s a part of me that doesn’t think I’m worth taking care of. I know that self-care is crucial for my well-being – I just don’t think I’m as important as everything else going on in my life.
I think that’s a common problem.
We get into a cycle.
We don’t take care of ourselves, and we feel low – too low to take care of ourselves. So we sink lower and lower, and it feels even more impossible to get things done to make ourselves feel a little better.
When you’re at a low point, you don’t like yourself. You don’t care about yourself. You don’t think you’re worth nice food and relaxing time – you don’t think you deserve to feel good.
It doesn’t help that our culture is so focused on work and our external relationships.
We’re praised for staying late, working too hard, and making our careers our lives, and called antisocial or self-involved for declaring that actually, we’re going to skip those drinks or leave on time so that we can get home and unwind.
We need to change the way we view self-care, when it comes to ourselves and to other people.
We need to stop thinking it’s indulgent to want time dedicated not to others, or to our work, but to ourselves.
We need to stop prioritising everything above ourselves, and accepting that there’s no way we can get better if we view our mental health as the least important thing in our lives.
I say ‘we’, because I do think this is an issue for loads of people, but I’m mainly scolding myself.
I’ve been terrible at self-care recently.
I’ve been working long hours, eating crap food, letting the mess build up, and trying to keep myself much too busy to distract myself from what’s going on in my head.
We can’t keep putting self-care at the bottom of our to-do lists
If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably because I don’t want to confront my thoughts. I don’t want to face up to the reality that I have weaknesses, that I’m struggling, and that I need to do little things to make sure I can keep going.
It feels weird and weak to admit that I need a bedtime to stay sane, or that I really should turn down some social events so that I can rest and recharge.
It feels indulgent to write ‘relaxation time’ into my planner and shut out the world.
But I’m done with thinking that way.
No matter what external things change, no matter what medication I’m on, no matter how many more therapy sessions I have, there’s no way I can get better if I’m treating myself like I’m not worth the basics of self-care (meaning the boring stuff, like sleep and healthy food, and the fancier stuff, like face masks and posh teas).
We all have a responsibility to look after ourselves, so we’re not dependent on external things. We need to learn that we are each our own priority and that the only way we can get better is if we take the path to getting better seriously.
Let’s make a commitment to self-care, to put ourselves at the top of our to-do lists, and to stop dismissing things that make us feel good as frivolous. We deserve this. We need this. We’re important.