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.