I always thought I had self care down to a fine art. I take baths, drink copious glasses of wine and take time to watch trashy TV. I’ve been known to make myself a faaaaancy latte. But recently I’ve realised those things are just surface level ‘self care signifiers’ and what I really needed was something much deeper and more difficult to achieve.
This week has been hard for me. Nothing awful has happened but there have been a few bumps in the road and each one has left me more depleted and less resilient. Each evening I’ve got home and tried to do something nice for myself, to be kind to myself. I’ve soaked in the bath, had an early night, and eaten more biscuits than should be humanly possible. In the moment, those things have made me feel temporarily better but they have been like wallpapering over a crack in a wall.
You see, self care is more than a manicure and a glass of wine in front of this week’s episode of Dr Foster. Not that self care can’t involve manicures and alcohol and TV. But it has to also be more than that or else it isn’t going to give you real lasting benefits – or I’ve found it doesn’t with me, anyway.
I noticed this week that while I may decide to have a ‘relaxing’ bath, or ‘chill out’ watching telly, or to do some yoga, I do these things like any mandatory item on my to do list but with an added side of guilt. Whilst I’m floating in the bath I’m counting down the minutes until I have to go and tackle the monster pile of dishes in the sink, or I’m listening to a podcast to better utilise my time. Whilst I’m watching TV I’m also reading a newspaper, or I’m feeling guilty about the 34657 more ‘important’ things I could be doing.
Self care is being kind to yourself. Berating yourself for needing to veg out on the sofa, cocooned in a blanket, for an hour is not kind. Feeling your stress level intensify each minute you soak in the tub because you actually need to be doing something more ‘worthwhile’ is not kind. Never listening to music in the morning because you feel like you really should be watching the news is not kind.
Doing kind things only works when you cut out the internal monologue that tells you you only have five minutes to read that book, that tells you that you should be cleaning, not painting your nails, that whispers ‘this is essentially just procrastination’ as you curate your very own 90’s love song playlist.
Enter my new mantra: you deserve this.
When you deserve something it’s a reward. It has been earned and here it is, a lovely gift in recognition of all your hard work.
“You can squeeze in a quick bath but afterwards you need to clean the kitchen,” does not have the same ring to it as you deserve a deep, hot bath and a bath bomb.
Then I started thinking about what I truly deserved. What did I deserve in my life? What did I deserve to experience as part of my day.
I deserved a glass of wine but also, I deserved a healthy green smoothie because that was going to help me feel energetic.
I deserved to listen to cheesy pop music on the way to work. I deserved a long, hot bath followed by enough guilt free time to moisturise both my arms and my legs in one session. I deserved an early night without worrying I was sleeping my life away (I’m tired dammit!)
As the week wore on what I felt I deserved evolved. I deserved to speak up in that meeting. I deserved not to spend hours second guessing a decision I made at work. I deserved a night off the house work – to leave the dishes in the sink and the laundry in the hamper. I deserved to take the time to read poetry. I deserved to write and to do so without apology or shame.
Today, I ended up having to walk home. The walk is long (an hour at least) and through winding country lanes. I spent a lot of the day dreading it. But when the time came, the clouds parted and the sun came out.
I deserve to walk home in the sunshine, I thought. And I did deserve it and it felt so unbelievably good as I stood looking into the valley where my house is, all lit up by golden autumn sunshine. I turned my face up to the sun and the fresh air hit my skin and I smiled. I realised the thing I had been dreading all day was something I actually wanted to be part of my life, it was something I felt I deserved. Do I think I need to walk an hour in the rain? No thank you, I’m not insane.
When I got home I realised I deserve to live in a clean house and I cleaned it. Was it glorious and life affirming? No. But it felt like I was doing it for me and not just because it was something I had to do. Sometimes I feel like I only ever do things I have to do and it takes all the joy out of living.
These are the things I want in my life: poetry, love, wine, music, writing, long walks, slouchy jumpers, singing and dancing, laughter, cooking, doing my job well, being a good friend, helping make the world a better place, eating cake, drinking tea, long baths, candlelight, terrible period dramas, a good book and a better blanket.
And I deserve all of these. I deserve them.
I earned all those things and I have a right to claim them and in claiming them I have the right not to feel guilty for carving out the time to enjoy them.
We all deserve to live the best lives we can. We’ve earned this, you deserve it.