Self-care: I’ve heard it often enough to understand that we live in a culture where we keep too busy. Many times ‘we’ don’t even make it on our very own to-do list. Serving the demands of our agendas is more important than slowing down to allow time for introspection. It is much easier to disregard self-care since it doesn’t yield the same reward as a clean kitchen, a mowed lawn, an empty inbox or a home-cooked meal. Self-care is not just putting your name on the to-do list – it’s slowing down enough to listen to what you truly need. It means being vulnerable and not just the one in charge of checking-off a list.
It was Saturday night, ‘quarantine vibes’ – which is a way of saying another night with the same person I’ve been quarantining with for weeks. We weren’t getting dressed up and meeting friends for dinner at a restaurant – it was comfy’s and ‘stay home’ fun. I grabbed my hobby basket, in it a journal, pen, a few books (I switch back and forth depending on my mood) and yarn for knitting socks. I stared at each item contemplating which self-care activity I should do. An uneasy feeling began to surface as the minutes passed. My journal, books and yarn began to look more like items on my to-do list than self-care activities. I had no motivation even for these hobbies, and that made me feel guilty. “Surely I cannot be that unmotivated”, I thought to myself…but I was. I was utterly exhausted from being in quarantine for weeks. The lack of human interaction even for an introvert like myself was getting to me. As I stared at my basket with no motivation to pick up a single activity, I had to admit to myself that I needed to let go of a ‘controlled’ way to self-care. With some hesitation (and a little bit of fight) I surrendered to my emotional and mental fatigue. I crawled into bed, laid on my back, placed my hands on my belly and closed my eyes. My body appeared to be in a state of relaxation but it wasn’t. My mind raced with thoughts, “Keep busy! Distract yourself! Be productive! Knit that sock! Finish that chapter! Journal your feelings!” All of this felt like work and an unhealthy way to accomplish ‘self-care.’ My mind and body were at war and I knew that I needed to tame my mind and let my body have the win. I needed to let go.
I directed my thoughts on the sensation of my hands on my belly, rising and falling with each breath. Next, I imagined each breath as letting go of the need to be productive. I pictured a wall weakening – crumbling brick, by brick, by brick with each exhale. I felt uncomfortable at the thought of welcoming ‘ugly’ emotions but I repeated “Be kind to yourself” over and over again. As I allowed myself to let go of the need to be in control, I entered a place of true honesty where my body and emotions were in unison.
While self-care is important, listening is most important. We have many protective layers of self-talk that prevent us from getting to a place of honesty. Knitting, reading and journaling are all great ways to calm a busy mind, but I discovered that peeling back layers of self-protection takes a lot more work. I didn’t need a hobby basket, a movie or some other type of distraction – I needed to lean into the uncomfortable repercussions that weeks of isolation brought on. Laying down in bed and repeating “Be kind to yourself!” freed me to align body and emotions. Shedding layers one-by-one felt like stepping off a treadmill into a warm salt water bath. I could be productive by ‘doing nothing’ because this meant I was listening and letting go, experiencing relief and being replenished.