“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
— Maya Angelou
Looking back on the worst chapters of my life, I’m able to realize now that a lot of what made those times horrible was me. When I was in college, the idea of self-care was the absolute last thing on my mind. Even in the first few years after college when I was moving a lot and skipping between jobs, I wasn’t doing anything to support my physical and mental health. When I was alone in Baltimore and sinking deeper into depression, a lot of the reasons for that were on me.
Sure, my job was stressful and had moral dilemmas that made me guilty. However, I wasn’t working nearly hard enough to distinguish myself as a writer and move into greener career pastures.
Sure, I was lonely. But I wasn’t putting myself out there. I hardly left my apartment. I let fear and hesitation control my life and that isolation just put more holes in the sinking ship of my happiness.
On top of all that, I was eating horribly, I constantly felt fatigued, and I was the epitome of a sedentary lifestyle. I was gaining weight, had back pain, headaches, all sorts of different problems. And I was only 24. The biggest comprehensive problem was that I let my disappointments shape my life and my reactions. Instead of taking care of myself and building myself back up, I wallowed in my misfortune.
You can’t avoid every misfortune in life, but you can control your reactions.
This is a fairly common thought, but I think taking a closer look at it is important. I used to truly believe that people did not and could not change. This was mostly because I’d seen so many people repeat the same toxic routines and commit the same mistakes over and over again.
Pattern breaking is incredibly hard. Changing yourself is incredibly hard.
But when it comes to learning to truly practice self-care in your life, it’s a trial you’ve got to attempt. It’s vital to work toward, no matter what is happening in your life right now. Even if things are going great, misfortune has a way of blindsiding you when you’re least ready for it. This is where the art of self-care and controlling how you react to difficult circumstances is vital. Psychology Today emphasizes the important practicality of self-care. It can be as simple as knowing who you are and your limits, getting enough sleep, and having proper nutrition.
Do your response routines set you up for failure or recovery?
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
— Audre Lorde
You can either retreat and lick your wounds or retreat and let them fester. I know that sounds nasty, but if you don’t take care of yourself, that’s the nasty reality of what you’re doing. Healing doesn’t happen without a little help. These metaphors are unpleasant, but just like a physical wound needs to be cleaned and dressed, you can’t ignore the setbacks you face in life.
Take a hard look at how you respond to disappointment, failure, or any other kind of pain in your life. There are, unfortunately, quite a lot of ways that things can go wrong in life. How do you respond when it happens? Do you give yourself time to process? Do you start to take the steps toward processing it? Do you treat yourself kindly in the interim?
Looking back on Baltimore, all of my routines just made things worse. I punished myself for my shortcomings and dug myself deeper into these feelings of failure and misery. I’d eat nutritionally vacant food, watch Netflix until I fell asleep with the lights on, and wondered why I felt tired and awful day after day.
Give yourself permission to practice self-care.
Punishing yourself worse and worse for not reacting well just turn this into a cycle of self-hatred and self-sabotage. I’m embarrassed to admit that this was the story of my life for three years as I stumbled through finishing my bachelor’s degree, shuffling through different jobs, and applying to grad school.
Every time something went wrong, I’d beat myself up. I’d tell myself I didn’t deserve a break, a treat, or any form of self-care at all. I couldn’t muster up the energy or determination to practice any routines consistently that could turn things around for me.
Self-care is very demanding.
“Self-discipline is self-caring.”
— M. Scott Peck
The types of self-care that have made the biggest difference in my life surround nutrition and exercise. I know these are the most exhausting sounding and perhaps unpleasant forms. When I was in bad places in my life, I’d cringe whenever I heard advice like this.
Things like being a newbie with a skincare routine are simpler forms of self-care that I started doing after I got the big hurdles out of the way. However, looking back, permitting myself to show me love could have made a big difference. If I could go back in time, I’d try to start with these smaller forms of self-care that are a little easier to implement. If I’d started smaller, I might’ve started sooner.
I lost two years of my life to sabotaging myself and not taking care of myself. Even now that I’m doing those things and working toward my big goals in life, I can’t help but wonder how much farther I’d be if I hadn’t let myself wallow like that. Don’t make the same mistakes — start the process. Learn to take care of yourself. Learn how to care for yourself in difficult times and easier ones. It makes all the difference.