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30.10.2020- Why Self-Care Matters

If I'm being completely honest, until a few years ago, I didn't really buy into all of the self-care solutions which I saw being shared, both online and off. I say that as someone who used to be hard wired to not switch off, would feel the need (or perhaps the compulsion) to check work emails in the evenings and at weekends, and wouldn't ever allow myself the time or the space to just BE. Even talking about it in the terms of 'not believing' makes the whole idea feel like some sort of mythological spectre, a childhood story or a practice which didn't yield any tangible results. 

Then, in 2018, I underwent a not-insignificant operation, which yielded an unexpected diagnosis and an enforced period of rest. Coming out of that surgery and discovering that I had something (thankfully benign) growing on my ovary was a bolt from the blue which it's taken me the best part of two years to reconcile myself with. Only a few months later down the track and I could have been looking at a major procedure to correct the situation. Don't get me wrong, I knew in my gut that there was a problem, but I wasn't anticipating anything like the pickle which I found myself in, and suddenly I felt incredibly guilty for taking my body for granted. For pushing it through pain and illness when I should have taken it easy. For expecting that I could push through on the brink of burnout without falling foul of the consequences, as so many of us do. 

Being laid up after the surgery was a real test for me. I'm a hugely impatient Sagittarius and I hate being told that I can't do things. I remember that one of the things which I struggled with the most was not being able to run- having been putting my trainers on religiously since 2012, an enforced period of sitting still felt like time which was being wasted, never mind the fact that I couldn't even make it to the bottom of the garden path without needing a sit down. 

Although my recovery time was comparatively short (and, in hindsight, I definitely went back to work much sooner than I should have), being in that space of not being able to do a great deal and having to listen to your body is something which has felt all the more relevant in light of everything which we've all been living through this year. During my recuperation, I really noticed the value of the small little things which I did to look after myself properly too, whether that be something as mundane as brushing my hair, reading a book or putting my feet up in front of Poirot with a piping hot cup of tea. 

As a species, we're hard wired to chase progress, to say yes, to be constantly on the go, irrespective of the detriment which we might be doing to our health, our surroundings and our relationships. As soon as lockdown happened, we had no choice but to pause. Whilst this wasn't without its own set of worries and consequences (and heaven knows I'm sure we've only just touched the surface in terms of what the impact will be),  I was hugely taken aback by the volume of content I saw which was preaching how we could use this time to a) get fit, b) take up 249484 new hobbies, c) save the world or d) all of the above. Once again, it seemed that human value was measured by what we could be achieving during this time, rather than just allowing us the opportunity to simply be, taking one day at a time, hoping for the best and yet somehow anticipating the worst. 

Whenever anyone asks me what I wanted to achieve in 2020, my reply has been more or less the same- make it to the end in one piece. To be honest, I think that's all that any of us can hope for. I'm coming to the end of a nearly four month redundancy consultation (spoiler alert: it doesn't end well), and having used up so much headspace on such a degrading, confidence draining process, I'm trying to get myself back on track. Easier said than done, I know, and it's also been telling to notice how much of an impact the whole shitty situation has taken on my physical wellbeing too- tight, tense shoulders, back pain, a neck which is almost permanently in 'looking down at laptop' mode, plagued with migraines and generally feeling like a useless old lump.

In times of stress, I know I'm guilty of letting my self-care routine slide. It's usually a time thing, but recently I've noticed this beyond irritating little voice in my head which has told me that I'm not worthy of being looked after. Why bother with skincare when half of your face will be covered up with a mask? What's the point in having a haircut when you're not leaving the house? In truth, it boils down to this: I've been so busy showing up for other people recently that I've neglected to show up for myself. And that's not cool. 

A few weekends ago, it all got A BIT MUCH. I couldn't lift my left arm because of the tension I was feeling in my shoulder blade. I spent the best part of a weekend asleep under a duvet because of a terrible migraine. I was having harsh words with my own head about giving myself a break, and had to change the narrative which I'd been telling myself for a while- I am worthy of taking care of, irrespective of how I'm made to feel otherwise. So, I went ahead and painted my nails. Booked myself my first facial in nearly a year. Checked in at my local salon for a remedial back and shoulder massage. Went for a long walk. Stayed in bed when I didn't feel like getting up. Much like I found in 2018, these little things have really helped me to feel a little bit more like myself again. 

There's no question that things are stressful right now. Not knowing what's going to happen from one day to the next is unsettling as hell. We're coping, not living, and getting by as best we can. However, the simple truth is (and this is a note I've taken from my dear friend Katherine)- you can't pour from an empty cup. I've spent most of the year checking in on other people, sacrificing my own needs to make time to listen and be a friend to them. I've abandoned my own self-care strategies because, at a time of overwhelming upheaval and stress for so many people, they seemed selfish and self-indulgent. 

On reflection, of course there's nothing about self-care which is selfish. Being there for yourself first  and foremost means that you can continue to be there for other people. The ritual of taking some time out from all of the noise and confusion unfolding around us all right now is just as important as the rewards you'll feel from any act of self-care, whether that be something as simple as a hot bath, an afternoon reading your favourite book, or allowing yourself an extra hour of sleep. You can't pour from an empty cup.

Which self-care strategies are you deploying at the moment?

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)

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