One of my dearest friends, Audre, is on her way to being a wonderful behavioral therapist. She’s getting her Masters degree in the subject and is burning her way through the coursework with her brilliant and empathetic insight . She knows about human behavior, she knows what makes us tick, she’s in the business of pointing out my emotional biases and blind spots.
She, like the rest of us, also has a hard time taking care of her own emotional and physical needs. Her and I often have conversations about our issues with anxiety. Our jobs, partners, educations, and future hang like anvils around our necks.
When it’s your job to make sure people make it through life’s most difficult turmoils like partner violence and sexual abuse, there is a great responsibility to not fuck it up. Even those of us whose job is to heal others, and are very good at it, still find it hard to fulfill our needs. We forget what Audre says: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We forget to take her advice.
I am an annoying know-it-all who finds my own brand of cheery emotional austerity the best way to live life, but the truth is that this austerity has made it difficult to connect with my own needs, and time again I fail to to take care of things that are important to me. I sweep a lot under the huge silent rug of depression. I find myself overwhelmed with the fact that both politically and emotionally it appears that I have no power, even over my own body–as we women are living in a society that both ignores us and finds our labor disposable.
I forget to take care of myself.
Self-care–it’s all the rage! But what exactly is it? According to some internet digging, self-care is a term used in reference to when people (usually patients in rehab or in hospitals) take initiative to heal themselves. I am inclined to give Dorothea Orem the credit as the originator of the term as it applies to healing practice. She developed the “Self-Care Theory” to help nurses do a better job at connecting with their needs and the needs of their patients. Some of the major assumptions of her theory according to currentnursing.com boil down to this:
- People should be self-reliant and responsible for their own care and others in their family needing care
- People are distinct individuals
- Nursing [caring for others] is a form of action – interaction between two or more persons
- Successfully meeting universal and development self-care requisites is an important component of primary care prevention and ill health
- A person’s knowledge of potential health problems is necessary for promoting self-care behaviors
- Self care and dependent care are behaviors learned within a socio-cultural context
Orem’s theory is a perfect place to start in recognizing what we need to do in taking care of ourselves. We need to take responsibility for our own well being, which honestly, is a big feat unto itself. I can’t even remember to drink enough water throughout the day, let alone to be self-reliant! But self-care is also self-learning so here are some things to remember:
Be Kind to Yourself
Let’s be real. Taking care of yourself is hard, hard, hard work. So you promised yourself that you would start exercising, or writing every day but you have yet to pick up a dumbbell or a pen. Now, you feel bad and you’re disappointed in yourself. First of all writing is excruciating and difficult work –the emotional equivalent of ripping off your fingernails— and dumbbells are heavy–for no reason. When you find yourself feeling guilty about not meeting a goal and that guilt starts to develop into a cycle of anxiety, remember that it’s ok to feel bad! It’s ok to fail! It’s ok not to meet our own expectations! Remind yourself as to why you want to do these things in the first place. If they are to take care of yourself and bring you satisfaction, and if those goals are not serving your peace of mind and emotional health–revise and rewrite them.
Find Your People
Though a lot of research on self care practices center around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which states that your basic needs of food, shelter, and clean water need to be met to feel subjective happiness, research by psychologist Edward Diener has proven that Maslow’s hypothesis is not necessarily true. Every group Diener researched and surveyed across the globe had different ideas of what happiness meant. Yet everyone agreed that they were happier when they found support among their social groups and communities–even individualistic societies like our own. Part of being human is making and maintaining meaningful relationships, yet a lot of us live and participate in communities where meaningful relationships are hard to maintain. It’s corny, cliche, and a little sad but most people need people. If you can, try to find your tribe. Find internet forums where you can get support, join meetup groups centered around your interests, join Facebook groups, church groups, stitch-n-bitch knitting groups, whatever hobbies and political goals that you may have, someone out there has them too! Find those people. Connect. Get the support you need to meet your needs.
Science keeps telling us 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day will make you feel better, so I try to do at least five minutes a day! I figure it’ll add up. Seriously, move as much as YOU CAN according your abilities and desires. Even if, like me, it’s to walk down to the dollar store to buy knickknacks or to twerk to Beyonce. Just a little dancin’ will make your day go a little better.
Honor All of Your Needs
What do YOU need? Think about it. Go ahead and make a list of what you need to feel happy. No matter how silly you think that need might look to other people, if you qualify it as a need: “something that a person must have : something that is needed in order to live or succeed or be happy,” then give yourself permission to at least try to meet those needs. Be gentle with yourself but be persistent. You want to wear pink everyday? Do it. Do you want to only share cat videos on your Facebook because the world is too horrible of a place? Do it. I believe in you!
Writing this post has made me feel like Oprah. You get self-care and YOU GET SELF-CARE!
Seriously, it’s important that we are kind to ourselves even more so as our political, economical, and social environments become more hostile. It’s also important that we find people that will also be kind to us. We all need our humanity reaffirmed to be able to meet our needs. We can do it!