Back in 2015 I had no awareness of SelfCare at all, at least not for myself, or professional women like me. I had been working in stressful jobs for years, training as a social worker, supporting women with domestic violence problems, women in prison with addiction issues, and finally developing a project holistically addressing issues faced by women who offend. I was commuting 2-3 hours a day by car, and had also had issues in my personal life. I slept poorly, ate poorly, and did VERY little exercise! The whole idea of looking after myself was alien to me. To be frank, it sounded self-indulgent, as I would say if anyone asked, I was ‘fine’. I worked with women with real problems. I really just needed to get on with it. I was ‘fine’!!
The crunch point came whilst on holiday in Bali - the holiday I really needed due to the pressure I was putting myself under; you know, the magic bullet two weeks a year that apparently make the other fifty totally worth it. I had had niggling issues with my back for years, and things had got progressively worse, but typically, I had just been carrying on as normal as, after all, I was ‘fine’. Except this time I wasn’t. My back went completely a few days before my 17 hour flight home, and I could hardly walk. I did my best not let this hold me back, refusing to accept I wasn’t ‘fine’, and still spent the next day at a water park. You’d think I would have go the hint when random people kept trying to sell me diazepam in the street; clearly I was not pulling off my novel new way of walking like a crab.
On returning home after a particularly fun flight, I was diagnosed with a disc issue in my back. Perfect, something I could just solve, and then immediately continue living my life exactly the same way that had led me to this point! Except I couldn’t. Treatment that was supposed to solve the issue didn’t and I was in constant pain. What I never would of thought then, was that this was actually a blessing in disguise. I was forced to reflect on my life, and how I was living it. And I really do mean forced, because to be honest it really wasn’t something I was comfortable with.
To me, a classic yes person, a people pleaser, saying I needed help, or couldn’t carry on the way I was, felt like weakness. It made me feel vulnerable. I was a coper. I coped. I helped other people, not the other way round.
What was most ironic about this, was that I had spent my entire working life trying to encourage vulnerable women to look after themselves. To put their needs first. To have strong boundaries, and say no when they needed to. To see the need for help or time for themselves not as selfish or weak but as real and necessary. I had developed psychosocial programmes based around this whole subject! Yet I really couldn’t see it for myself.
I still remember the feeling when I had to tell my manager at the time that I needed to go from full time to four days a week as I couldn’t cope with the pain and the appointments I needed to make. I was so uncomfortable, I felt so much like I letting people down, that I had to e-mail her as I knew I couldn’t do it face to face. She was completely supportive, I really don’t know why I would have expected anything less. When I reflect on this now, it seems totally crazy. It’s not like I was asking for anything unreasonable. But it felt like I was, it felt excruciating to prioritise my needs over others.
Since then I have had to adjust my lifestyle and incorporate SelfCare. From being totally uncomfortable to me to being routine, so many little things about my life have changed. But they are all things I now love, and wouldn’t be without. That doesn’t mean the process was easy or quick, or is even now complete, but it was definitely necessary and worth it. I walk everywhere, and I am so much fitter (and slimmer!). I commute by public transport, which takes the same amount of time but stresses me out much less and means I have the time to read or listen to audiobooks. I have a better sleep routine and have found ways to calm my mind and relax enough to sleep. I still feel pain, but I am finding ways to manage it. However, most of all, and I think this is the most important, I have changed the way I think about looking after myself. As in, I actually think about it! And I’ve tackled some of the thinking that stopped me: the I’m not important enough, the constant yes’s, the feeling responsible for others wellbeing to the detriment of my own.
I shifted my thinking from seeing SelfCare as indulgent, to seeing it as my absolute responsibility. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot better than they were. I’ve take my own advice.
We live in a world today where everyone wants something from us, and they want it all the time. There is no escape. From twitter to work e-mails to WhatsApp to Facebook, we are in constant contact. And as women we have so many roles; we need to be mums and daughters and partners and wives, as well as successful and ambitious, and often, still, we are responsible for the bulk of housework. In short, we are expected to be superwomen, and that is not any easy or even always possible task. Add putting everyone else’s needs above our own and not attending to our needs, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
All of this makes me so passionate about the message of self-care.
Real SelfCare isn’t airy fairy bullshit made up by people with too much time and money and a penchant for incense. It’s real life.
And not doing it has real consequences; for our short and long term psychical and mental wellbeing. None of the things I have changed have cost me extra money and I have had to incorporate them into my daily life, because after all, there is no extra time in the day. I truly believe that if I had looked after myself, I wouldn’t have had the issues I have had. I don’t want other people to have to get to the point I did to have their own personal epiphany- rest assured I can confirm it’s not ideal. My aim for this site is for people to think about what they’re doing and how they are treating themselves; it’s SelfCare for everyday people, with real lives, shit to do and no magic money tree.