Self-care is trending right now and, as a self-care advocate, sure, I have mixed feelings about that. I don't want it to lose its value. However, I am happy that its trending.
I'm hoping that the current trendiness of self-care will lead more people to dig deeper and discover the importance of true self-care, develop their own definition of self-care and implement self-care practices. It may sound a bit dramatic, but, self-care saved my life. It changed the way I think about myself, the ways I interact with others, and the thoughts I have about others and the world.
It was after spending the bulk of my mid-messy-twenties doing the absolute most that I realized I needed to stop and reevaluate the way I was treating myself. What led to my exact self-care "aha!" moment? It was the day after my 27th birthday festivities, I woke up in my tiny bedroom in Bed-Stuy next to one of my best girlfriends, still wearing my makeup and outfit from the night before and feeling insanely ill. This ill-feeling wasn't your regular hangover, my entire body felt as if it was ready to shut down. I couldn't eat anything, I couldn't even stomach water.
I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. For me, this was a gut-punch because I was a "model who lived a healthy lifestyle" (serious side-eye to my younger self). In reality, my lifestyle wasn't very healthy at all, I ate and exercised for body-size at the time. I wasn't concerned with being healthy, I thought that thin = healthy. So, that meant I could eat steak and chocolate cake washed down with a couple of glasses of Pinot as long as I had some greens and made it to the gym the next day.
Finding out I had GERD was a wake up call. For the first time in my life, I had a health complication that, if not treated properly, could change my life. My mother is a colon cancer survivor whose beginning symptoms were regular digestive issues; it was time for a lifestyle change.
Initially, the notion of self-care sounded to me (as it sounds to many people) as something completely self-indulgent. As someone who was already being called-out for leading a "dangerously selfish lifestyle", I felt the last thing I needed to do was invest more time and energy into myself because I was already "self absorbed" as is. Clearly, I had no idea of the true meaning of self-care. I thought of self-care as amping-up the things I already did to make myself feel good--so that just meant more manicures, beach days, glasses of wine and shopping days. No? No.
So how did I begin to understand the actual meaning of self-care? Well, there were many factors, because it was also at this time that I was beginning to transition from carefree-ignorance-is-bliss-model-who-danced-on-couches to half-woke-baby-feminist but, the major influences were...
1) Talks with a woke-as-fuck-feminist-activist-educator friend.
2) Group talks with my roommates who were also Black women living the NYC hustle and becoming more intentional about self-care.
3) Seeing Angela Davis speak. Hearing her story, from her mouth to my ears motivated me to take care of myself so that I can better care for my community; specifically other black women and black girls.
4) Being introduced to Audre Lorde's story and work. This was the first time I'd heard of self-care, for Black women, to not only be necessary but a political act.
I began to take better care of myself. I started with my diet. I began to avoid certain foods and became more intentional about eating fruits and vegetables. I began to treat myself to a green juice after the gym rather than a doughnut. I began to cook for myself, using mostly vegetables (I couldn't afford much meat anyway on my starving-artist budget at the time). I began to walk more; from Brooklyn to Manhattan, from Midtown to Soho. I gave my spirit what it needed; I wrote, I found a church I liked, I took frequent trips to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I shared myself differently, I began to pay more attention to my friends and family, offering love and support rather than gossip and good times. I noticed my life starting to change. No, I wasn't "whole and healed" overnight, in many ways I was still messy and would sometimes dismiss my dietary restrictions; but I was different. I cared for myself in a new way, I cared about myself in a new way, I felt more worthy. I was doing the work.
Over time, I came to understand that self-care is not selfish it all. Self-care is a necessary part of life, as necessary as eating and sleeping. I began to understand that self-care is required, it is the only way that I can replenish what I give to the world, daily--so that I can wake up and give again the next day. I learned that self-care is not simply indulging or spoiling myself; its digging deeper and listening to what my mind, body and spirit needs; refilling the cup from which I pour.
My definition of self-care is the act of giving yourself what you need in order to create and maintain mind-body-spirit wellness. To me, it is the single most important practice in life. You have to show up for yourself, first, before you are able to show up for anything or anyone else.
How do you define self-care for yourself? What was your self-care "aha!" moment? Leave a comment! I'm always interested in hearing your thoughts.