#RUKIND: On Self-Care, Vulnerability & Being Kind To Yourself

By Maxine Kozak, Storyteller for RU Student Life

Taking care of yourself isn’t easy and it isn’t always pretty. It looks different on everyone, despite the mindless drivel the self-care industry constantly feeds us. The message is everywhere: feeling anxious? Go to a yoga class. On edge? Take a luxurious bath. Depressed? All you need is a $7 coffee to get you going.

Writers Kathleen Chen and Annie Truuvert note, “the commercialization of self-care has created a problematic industry that emphasizes class divides, and that disempowers rather than empowers. Curating the performative self-care aesthetic requires a certain level of wealth and privilege, as well as the means and technology to manage social media accounts. Even less ostentatious forms of self-care — taking time off work, seeing a therapist, or attending a yoga class — are inaccessible to many. Self-care, as represented in the market, has become a status symbol.”

“Taking care of yourself” in the modern realm often translates to distracting yourself with material objects but there is a difference between indulgence and self-preservation. Chen and Truuvert explain, “self-care is not what you purchase. Ineffective and absurdly unrelated products cheapen the notion of self-care by trivializing mental wellness.” True self care is doing the things you need to do to stay alive. It is eating healthy meals, drinking water, sleeping enough, moving your body, going to therapy and doing the things you love.

It sounds simple enough and yet it is nearly impossible to make taking care of ourselves a priority. There is never enough time to do everything you need to do. When you’re at school or work for eight hours of your day, something has to give. As writer Adebe Derango-Adem asks, “what happens when the very stresses of life make self-care solutions inaccessible? What if we can’t afford pedicures or ultimately are too busy to #mealprep or #eatclean?”

Mental illness only exacerbates the issue. Derango-Adem points out, “caring for the self may not come easy for many of us who have experienced trauma, anxiety, depression and the like”. In these cases, self-care becomes something different entirely.

Some days, I have to push myself to get out of bed before 3pm. This is self-care because there are also days that I can’t get up at all. Some days, I have to force myself to eat one decent meal. This is self-care because there are also days that I can’t eat anything. There is nothing insta-worthy about it. It is bare minimum self-care, it is survival and these are the moments when being kind to yourself is the most important. It is too easy to spiral into negative self-talk, guilt and shame. I hate myself because I’m not what I could be and this kind of thinking only fuels my depression.

“Even if you are exercising, eating right, and surrounding yourself with good people, if you are unkind to yourself internally then you may still feel overwhelmed,” licenced therapist and author David Klow says. “Developing more self-compassion is the real key to self-care.”

Mental health treatment cannot be reduced to a one-size-fits-all to-do list. Ken Yeager, director of the Stress Trauma and Resilience program at The Ohio State University said, “self-care isn’t in itself a treatment for mental illness, but it’s usually an important component alongside talk therapy and/or medication. It can be as simple as knowing your needs and when to put yourself first.”

Now, I’m not saying don’t buy bath bombs or face masks. Do what makes you happy. “[But] you’re not doing anything wrong if the only self-care you can handle is very basic or a long soak in a tub exacerbates your symptoms instead of alleviating them,” author Jenny Trout says. “It’s our cultural dialogue about mental illness that’s doing it wrong — not you.”

Ultimately, Chen and Truuvert identify that “buying into the self-care industry makes it easy to be complacent and to centre our conversations on forms of mental illness that we are comfortable with.” In other words: it is easier to post a face-mask photo than it is to have a real conversation about the complexities of recovery. But true vulnerability is the foundation of every worthwhile conversation about mental health. It’s time we take off the mask.