On Self-Care.

It seems that my last post resonated with some of you…thank you to all who reached out to share your own stories and encourage me.

I’m learning that honesty is the best policy. I mean, definitely don’t lie…that one seems simple enough. But I’m talking about that brutal, scary, “I can’t believe she just said that out loud” kind of honesty. The more I live, the more I believe that withholding your truth is more damaging than an outright lie.

So, dear readers, the truth is what you shall get.

In my intended field of counseling, “self care” is vital. My professors and textbooks have all driven home the fact that mental health professionals have an ethical responsibility to take care of ourselves, and to do it well.

Do it WELL. That’s where I’ve gotten a little off -track. You see, I know what self-care is supposed to look like: Exercise, eating well, rest, treating yourself! It looks different for everyone, but those are some of the biggies. So for the last two semesters of graduate school, I’ve found myself in a fun cycle of binge eating in front of Netflix (Rest! Treat yo’ self!) and then out of guilt for said junk food and TV binge, shamed myself into a week or so of eating well and overexercising.

Word to the wise: The word SHAME should never enter into a successful self-care regimen.

After one particularly nasty week of crap eating, I had something of a revelation: This is not self care. It’s self-indulgence followed by self-loathing. So I had to ask myself: Where are your attempts at self-care coming from? What motivates them? And all I could come up with was, “Because I have to, and because it’ll fix what’s wrong with my body.”

Huh.

So I thought some more about care in general. I thought of the person I care for the most, and care for the best: My daughter.

I make sure she gets enough sleep. I feed her well, but let her have a treat from time to time. I am always ensuring that she stays hydrated, gets enough exercise, spends time outdoors, wears sunscreen, and doesn’t watch too much TV. I make every effort, EVERY DAY to tell her that she is worthy and loved. Not a day goes by that she isn’t held, hugged, kissed, and cherished.

Why do I take such good care of my daughter? Well, that’s easy: I love her.

Ah.

There it is. Why am I failing at self-care? Because true care doesn’t come from a place of obligation or ulterior motive. It certainly doesn’t come from self-loathing or indulgence.  And regarding indulgence: It’s important to note that not all effective care is permissive. Sometimes it does take discipline. Sometimes it’s flossing and getting in bed at 8:30, when the indulgence would be to grab a remote and the other half of a chocolate Easter bunny. My daughter may not like that we brush her teeth despite her protests, but it keeps her healthy–so we do it.

Effective, lasting self-care can only come from sound knowledge of a single truth: I love myself.

I. LOVE. MYSELF.

So much easier said than done, am I right? But each day, I’m taking steps in that direction. I’m trying not to ask “Is this the best or perfect thing?” and instead am trying to discern, with each choice I make, “Is this loving?” It might mean skipping a workout for a conversation with my husband. Or choosing yoga instead of a run because dammit, I’ve put on 15 pounds and my knees are killing me. It could mean a myriad of things for each of us, but it should never include guilt over what we “should be” doing, or what someone else might be doing.

I’m not an expert at this. It’s been like a week since I’ve had this little epiphany and three days in I got a cold and ended up on the couch, drowning my sorrows in a quesadilla while my third episode of Big Little Lies ran in the background. And believe me, the post-game analysis of that lapse in judgment was not kind.

But today, I’m trying again. I’ll try again tomorrow too. I will keep speaking words of love to myself until I believe them, because they are TRUE.

Let’s take care of ourselves…and start with love.

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