20-something miseries, being a writer, mental health

Today’s Hard-Won Lesson in Self-Care

I used to think self-care was long, hot showers and buying cutesy coffee drinks. A few years later, I thought self-care was taking days off and lying in bed when I felt awful. Recently, my thoughts on self-care have started shifting again. I’m finding power in mundane self-care.

Today was not a great brain day. No matter how badly I wanted to work, I continued procrastinating and feeling awful. Once I got half of my work done (taking double the time it usually takes), I trudged home, feeling ashamed but relieved I could be done. But when I got there, my husband gently but firmly suggested I try to get a little more done, since I still had a decent amount of the work day left.

I was…infuriated and deflated. Here I was, working so hard, trying so hard, and he wanted more. I felt like he didn’t get it at all, didn’t understand what he was asking of me. But at the same time, I knew he did. He was asking me to contribute to our life financially. It isn’t his fault that I’m like this, I thought, it’s mine.

So, fueled by shame and no small amount of angst, I sat down to work some more. I started on Pinterest, both on my phone and my laptop. I wrote a bit. I moved to tumblr, then wrote a bit. I did some research for my writing, wrote half a sentence, texted some friends, then came back and finished the sentence half an hour later. All in all, it took me twice as long as it usually did to get it done, just like it had before, but I accomplished what I set out to accomplish this morning. It was hard and not fun and I couldn’t put myself through this every day because my brain would explode, but I fucking did it. And that’s a form of self-care that I haven’t explored much yet.

Self-care is about taking care of your self, that being that you are. There are lots of ways of doing that, but I’m learning that sometimes I use “self-care” as a way to avoid issues I need to address in myself. I take breaks and make deals with myself that allow me to do less work than I need to do because I know the only way to motivate myself to actually get it all the way done is using shame, and I know that’s not a healthy motivator. But instead of combatting that shame or finding better motivators, I simply give up for the day.

Unfortunately, when I don’t get things done, that makes me ashamed of myself too. I’m not contributing, I’m not writing, I’m not anything I said I wanted to be. I’m just…a mess. Most days, it just feels like there’s no winning.

But here I am, after a long, horrible day of pushing through my brain to get work done, and I feel…accomplished. The sense of shame I initially used to push myself into the work faded after the first few hours, and now I’m left with some optimism for tomorrow. I’m learning that my brain is a closed positive feedback loop. If I get into a negative mindset, that negativity grows and grows until I can’t see another way. Unfortunately, my natural brain wiring is a bit mixed up and there’s a lot more negative than positive. But if I can open up the loop just a little, or if someone I love dearly can gently pry it open (hem, hem, thank you husband), the positive can grow too.

There’s still plenty of issues with how today went: the time it took to get so little done, the energy it took to get so little done, the shame I had to take on and further internalize in order to keep working, the burden my husband had to take on to be the bad guy and get me to work—but it was still self-care. I also got a cutesy coffee drink and worked in bed for half of the day because self-care is more than just one thing, but the biggest self-care win of the day was actually reaching my work goals when I thought there was no humanly possible way.

To everybody out there struggling to take care of themselves, to get their work done, to take a shower, to get out of bed, to breathe in and out, I get it and I’m with you. We can get better at this self-care stuff together.


4 thoughts on “Today’s Hard-Won Lesson in Self-Care”

    1. My dude, you are so right. The thing is, my brain does not typically allow me to do the things required to be a typical adult. So when I can function like most other people my age, I call it a win.
      Also, I totally know shaming yourself into working isn’t self-care, which is why this day definitely wasn’t perfect. But it’s also not a basic element of being an adult. Shame-based motivation is super sucky for everyone, and if you’re finding that that’s the only way you can get yourself to get things done, you might want to consider reading my other posts on how to get into therapy. There are ways to function like a normal adult without having to feel deeply ashamed of yourself (not that I’d know, but I’ve heard!)


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