It’s no secret that most of us have cracks and broken bits. Some of them are bigger than others, some tougher to hold together, but I don’t think many of us get through without at least some scuffs and bruises. To be honest, I’d probably be suspicious of anyone who did. Broken bits are what make us human, after all.
And it’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to carry your bruises and scars through the world. It’s okay to be proud of them, too. There’s no shame in being broken. Broken things shatter and reflect the light in the way nothing else does. I know it doesn’t seem like that when we’re feeling more broken than we are whole, but there we are. Life wears us all in different ways, and all we can do is learn how to survive it.
That survival takes different forms for all of us. We all have to learn individually what helps, what soothes, what we can do to bring down the swelling around these injuries life visits on us.
Which brings me to the strange thing that is self-care. It sounds so indulgent, doesn’t it? It conjures up images of spa days and face masks, pedicures and yoga retreats. And I’m not knocking any of those things. I’m just saying that those are only aspects. Parts of self-care. Commercial parts, often. Because self-care is a big industry, and with that comes the risk of dismissing it as a luxury, or, worse, as self-indulgence.
It’s vital, and not as easy as the glossy magazines tell us.
I’d love it if I could have some sort of subscription plan for self-care. You know, sign up, money comes out of the account, hey look, I’m all self-cared up! Job’s a good’un! Yes.
Nothing’s ever that easy, and maybe that’s the point. We have to put in the work. We can’t soothe those wounds by waving some hair oil at them. And one person’s self-care isn’t another’s.
Self-care is trial and error. We have to set aside what everyone tells us, and find what takes down our bruising, what smooths the sharp edges of our broken places. There’s no right or wrong in this. There’s just what works.
So here are a few of the common self-care options that don’t work for me, and some that do:
- Massages. I have a friend who does amazing massages, and I can kinda-sorta relax with her. Mostly. But with anyone else my mind starts getting busy. How long since I de-haired my legs? Did I miss a spot? Are they looking at my cellulite? Does my body seem weird to them? Should I have more clothes on? More clothes off? When did I last clean the shelves in the pantry? I wonder if we still have any condensed milk? I could make fudge. Mmm, fudge…
- Facials. Massages are bad enough, because people, but now a person is leaning in really close to me and squeezing my spots. I don’t want to breathe on them. How long can I hold my breath? Do I need to hold my breath? Does my breath smell? Wait, my nose itches. I need to itch my nose. What’s my skincare regime? Do I have a regime? Is that like religion for face cream?
- Meditation. I will offer in my defence here that I am a yoga teacher and have been practising yoga for fifteen years or so. Which means that I have tried meditation, many times. But even in the best yoga classes (i.e., not mine), too much sitting means my thoughts start getting away from me. The only way I can quiet my mind is by doing. Walking works for me. Sitting doesn’t.
- Manicures and pedicures. Ha. Ahahahaha. I have weird toes, my feet are ticklish, and my fingernails are about the same size as an eight-year-old’s. And what if they’ve never seen such weird feet before? What if they’re going to be telling all their pedicurist friends about my strange toes? No. This is not relaxing me.
- Haircuts. I would possibly reconsider this if I could find someone who could cut my hair decently. But, my hair being what it is, that rarely happens. I did at one stage go about every six months to someone in the UK, but then I moved and all my other experiences have been being talked at (despite being armed with a book), feeling uncomfortable because I can see myself in the mirror all the time, and paying a substantial amount of money to walk out with hair looking either exactly the same, or not at all how I wanted it. (”Don’t dry it. I never dry it.” “It’s cold, we’ll just give it a quick blast.” “Okay, but don’t straighten it or style it. I never do that.” “Of course.” *walks out twenty minutes later with dead straight hair styled into something it will never, ever again achieve. Until the next cut, at least*). This is why I bought some hairdresser’s scissors and now do it myself. It’s not great, but it’s better than that.
Which makes it sound like nothing works for me. But that’s not true. I’ve found what works. Movement works. Walking to slow my mind. Yoga to link breath and movement and make me feel grounded in my body. Running’s a new discovery for me, after not getting on with it for years, but it seems to do all of the above. Swimming does too, when I have some handy warm ocean (pools not so much, because changing rooms. Ugh). Sometimes baking. Sometimes reading. Cuddling the cat, when she feels so inclined. Baths. I like baths. Baths are nice. They’re quiet, and warm, and no one bothers you other than the cat wandering up and down the edge of the tub and trying to climb onto your knees. And cake, because cake and books are life.
I’m 41 this year, and it’s taken me this long to understand that there’s no should when it comes to self-care, no must, no one-size-fits-all. There is just muddling along, and putting your arms around yourself and saying, “What do you need? What can I give you that will help?”
Because only you can know that. Keep trying, lovely people. Keep caring. Keep being loving to yourself and brave for yourself. Only you can do that. And you deserve to.
So tell me, lovely people – what “usual” self-care practices work for you, and what don’t? What’s your best way to care for yourself? Let me know