For much of my first year-18 months of chronic illness, I thought that self care was an over indulgent activity that explained away laziness or spending too much on a face mask I didn't need under the guise of helping myself to decompress. I actively researched various self care activities in an effort to 1) avoid having to practice self care and 2) stopping myself from feeling lazy at the sheer insinuation that I might actually take the time to look after myself.
Then, towards the end of 2017-beginning of 2018, my self 'care' took on a very militant form. You see, I am VERY MUCH an all or nothing kind of person. It comes back to the Type A, perfectionism that I talked about in an earlier post. If I cannot do something perfectly then I should not be doing it at all. Incidentally, this has been my attitude for anything from starting a TV series to marathon training and everything in between. I digress...my self care had become militant.
How can self care become militant, I hear you ask. Surely that is the OPPOSITE of self care? Yup. Sure is. But when you have a brain that can make a mountain out of any mole hill, you better believe that if I set myself the target of sufficiently 'self caring' for myself and then fail to meet said target, my critical voice (she goes by the name of Sylvia and she works in accounting) WILL make sure I hear about it. I would write myself excruciatingly detailed self care to do lists every week, self care day was Sunday afternoon (regardless of whether I needed it to be on Tuesday, or simply at a different time of day) and I had mandated self care activities that I was required to do. There was no time for intuitive behaviour. If I was giving myself a manicure when what I needed was a nap...I would have EXTREMELY well done nails.
Militance turned into obsession. The extremely well done nails I just mentioned? A chip could mean disaster. A broken nail turned into a full blown melt down. I would rush home, desperate to sort myself out, diligently remove the polish from every single finger (even if only one that had let the team down) and repeat the process. If a scuff happened, regardless of how long the nails had been done, the process would be repeated however many times I needed to do it to make sure it was right. If I didn't make it home in time to sort my nails out? At worst, I would pick and peel at my finger nails, at least until my fingers were throbbing and sometimes until the skin around and under my nails bled. At best, I'd have chewed my finger nails beyond recognition providing Sylvia with as much ammunition as she could want about my lack of willpower and control over the simplest details of my life.
This was the approach I took with every self care activity I tried. Until one day, about six months ago, I was in my bedroom folding some laundry. I was taking some time to make sure that I would have everything I needed at arms reach, no second guessing of 'where the hell are my comfy pants? I need my comfy pants!' or 'did I not wash my favourite star blouse? I really like that star blouse'. As I was Marie Kondo-ing my underwear drawer that day I realised, "right now, THIS is self care". It was a case of present Florence making sure that future Florence's life was easier but doing so in as simple and relaxed a manner that I could possibly manage.
I honestly feel like, in our Instagram age, we have gotten bogged down with what self care should LOOK like. If it's not Insta worthy or approved by our favourite glossy mags or the shops ostensibly stocking items for self care purposes then it's not good enough. Since that day with my laundry, I have moments now where I stop myself and just think 'what simple task could you do right now that would genuinely make your life easier?' Taking the time to think about what I need and taking steps (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) to bring those things about IS self care. As is embracing the need to do nothing. So today, for this Sunday's self care, I changed my bed linen and washed my face cloths so that future Florence will have crisp sheets to climb into and the (genuine) joy of completing her skincare routing. And when I sat down to read a book and realised 'I've got a headache, what I really want is a nap' I put my book down and had a nap instead.
It may not be exciting, I may not have had the MOST luxurious bath ever or treated myself to a spa day but as self care goes it is exactly what I needed when I needed it. And THAT is priceless.