SELF CARE is such a big idea… I think of what we all so desperately need but so often do not provide ourselves. Self-care is such an easy term to throw around but it’s not easy to truly engage in it. It’s not social media images of spas and pools with flower petals and long-legged blondes strolling on beaches in flowing dresses. Self-care has been seized upon as a trendy catchphrase and quite honestly the concept has been cheapened and commercialized as a result.
Real self-care isn’t pretty or glossy. It is raw and difficult and dark. It means delving into the places that we are afraid to explore and facing truths that we often don’t want to see. It means going to places of deep discomfort and uncertainty in order to fight through to an uncompromising knowledge of self. To become people who can truly appreciate the light, we have to work through the shit. There is no shortcut.
For a very long time, I was lost. I didn’t understand why I gave and gave and gave and never got enough in return. Now, looking back, I see that I wasn’t giving from a good place in my heart, but instead in the hope that others would think I was worth their attention and love. I had ulterior motives and of course my needs could never be met – I had an endless void to fill. I thought I was a generous person but really I was searching for love everywhere but the place I needed to find it… inside myself.
It took a long time to learn to love myself. It’s a journey that is far from ending – I don’t believe it will ever really end. I still have my tough days, but it’s nothing like what I used to experience. I was so depressed and angry and anxious. I hated myself. I would literally look in the mirror and cry sometimes because I loathed myself so much. I thought I was ugly, fat and worthless – that no one loved me enough because I was undeserving of love. I believed it was impossible that I would ever come to love myself – I honestly thought people who said that I could change were full of shit.
Then I hit an exceptionally low point – even for me – and I had to make a choice. Was I going to succumb to my darkness and end it all, or was I going to face my fears and fight to survive? I wish I could say it was an easy decision,, but it wasn’t. The temptation to take the fast way out was always there, always beckoning with the promise of no more suffering, no more pain. I had to take serious action to keep myself afloat.
I started attending classes on Buddhism and meditating. I journaled and wrote constantly, exploring my feelings and examining how my turbulent past affected me. I went back to therapy. I took an ass-load of yoga classes. I stopped drinking almost entirely. In short – I started taking care of myself. I recognized that I was very sick and in need of a great deal of healing, and that the only person who could make a real difference in that process was myself. I had to stop relying on other people to fix me and becoming angry when they couldn’t. It was my responsibility and mine alone.
Once I took ownership of my pain, my life started changing rapidly. I sat in a lot of discomfort for a very long time. I was terrified that I would never come out on the other side. I thought I’d never make any real progress or unveil the answers I was seeking. But I sat and I thought and I searched and I screamed and I cried – and I started to feel better. I started to understand who I am, and to accept and love that person. Once I began taking the time to care for my internal self, I realized that I had not been giving love selflessly. I had always placed conditions on the way I cared for others, and so I was actually spreading poison.
It’s never easy. It’s the fucking hardest thing in the world to try and love others without expecting anything in return. It’s not in our nature as humans to simply give without assuming that we will then receive in kind. I will say that I’ve made more progress in the right direction than I ever thought I would. I’m living proof that it is possible to pull yourself out of the depths of despair by virtue of your own stubborn willpower. I was not going to let my depression and sadness kill me. When it came down to it, I just wasn’t. Once I understood the importance of caring for myself inside and out, I made that my priority. By doing so, I invited the healing process to begin and I gave myself the energy and strength to honestly care for other people in a genuine and grounded manner.
Collectively, we have to show more bravery when it comes to being honest and forthright about our own self-care struggles and missteps. I originally wrote these answers in a much different way, perhaps misunderstanding the point of the project but also perhaps playing it safe. I’m fairly open about my own issues, but sometimes it’s simply easier to say what sounds good. We cannot take that easy path. We have to stand up and reveal ourselves so that others know that they aren’t alone. Sharing our own imperfect relationships with self-care shows others that it is not some pretty, perfect, unattainable goal, but rather something that looks and feels different for every individual. Everyone deserves self-care and the world would be a better place if everyone engaged in it.
Self-care is individually specific and it cannot be categorized or neatly stuffed into a box. There is a generalized idea that self-care is expensive because people assume that it is all about spa days and brunch with friends and pricey fitness classes. That is, in fact, only superficial self-care that fails to address a person’s deeper needs. Yes, it feels nice, but it doesn’t reach below the surface and get to the root of the problem.
Personally, I refuse to compromise my own happiness to cater to the whims of others. I found that I did not lose friends or alienate people by doing so – in fact, I feel more respected and regarded as an individual since I started realizing my own self-worth. I don’t say yes to things that I don’t want to do. I now understand that if I’m not authentically willing, I’m bringing negative energy to the situation and that doesn’t help anyone.
I commit to internal work that creates external happiness. It’s not always easy to fit in, but I’ve made a promise to myself that I will take care of myself no matter what. I meditate, even if I’m only able to do so for ten minutes. I stretch and exercise and practice yoga because my body and mind crave the physical activity. I buy fresh food and eat as healthily as I can so that I have the positive energy I need to get me through the day. I laugh. I take hot baths. I get outdoors. I make an effort to connect authentically with the people and world around me. No, I don’t have time to do it all every day, but I do as much as I can.
The most important thing I’ve done for my own self-care, though, was to shift my perspective. I actively work all day every day to stay positive. I used to have a toxic negative attitude that colored my entire world. I had no idea that I was creating a horrible environment everywhere I went for myself and those around me. Now I am determined to work at being a source of love and joy and creating happiness. Life is too damn short to walk around miserable all the time. It took some horribly dark struggles to reach this conclusion, but I’m exceptionally grateful that I made it.
I fought ruthlessly to learn to like myself. It wasn’t an easy journey and I still struggle with doubts from time to time, but mostly I’m amazed that I’ve reached this point. I believe in myself now, and I never did before. From this has come a willingness to accept criticism, to grow, and to jump and let myself make mistakes. I’m not married to the fear of imperfection anymore – I embrace my flaws fiercely because I know that awareness is most of the battle. I appreciate the beauty that is my life because I understand that no one is guaranteed happiness – we have to claim it and create it internally. I’m so different than I was before that I can hardly understand it, but I’m fucking grateful that I made it here.
The truth is that I no longer feel the need to remind myself that I matter – I just know that I do. I stand up proud and strong and I refuse to let anyone infect my world with toxicity. I won a long and tough battle with myself and I will not allow myself to return to the darkness again.
I do my best to empower other people and encourage them to take care of themselves both internally and externally in order to live the best lives they can. I try to connect with at least one person in an authentic and meaningful way every day. I think that all most humans really desire is to be seen, heard, and valued. I hope that through a deeper connection with the people around me I can lift them up and help them see that they are all valuable and that they all deserve to love and care for themselves however they need. I let them know that I will always show up for them – and that I can do that because I have learned to take care of myself properly. I hope that example helps inspire them to do the same – and to see that it’s not as impossible as it seems.