“Self-care should include the cold shower as well as the scented tub.”
― Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life
Too often we get our self-care advice from companies who only want to sell us something and other social media users who only want us to like them so they too can sell us something later. Too often we get our self-care advice from people who have never been depressed or think the answer is as simple as veganism, more sunlight, and a better attitude.
Not all of this advice is harmful or even wrong, but it’s only half the story. You only ever hear the good stuff, the easy stuff, the feel good and comforting stuff. But self-care isn’t always about feeling better, it’s also about growth and healing, and we all know growing is hard, and healing hurts.
I love Bateson’s comparison of self-care to the cold shower and the scented tub. It reminded me of my struggle to get a morning routine that got me to work on time. When I wake up, I crave a warm shower and low lights. I tell myself that the best way is to ease into the day, but it’s a lie. I just want to do what feels better.
I read somewhere that a cold shower is the best way to start the day. I tried it, I hated it, but I can’t deny that it worked. The cold shower hurt but it woke me up, it energized me, and it put the world into perspective. Not much can happen in the course of a regular day that will be worse than that cold water all over me. The cold water was what was best. It got me up and out and off into the world to do what I needed to do.
It kept me from lingering in what is only comfortable.
And just like the cold shower we sometimes have to do what makes us uncomfortable to help ourselves do better and be better. Sometimes your happiness and everything you want is just on the other side of hard work and a little bit of tough love.
When you love someone you have to be honest with them. When you love someone, you don’t enable them. If you love yourself, you do the same, even when it’s hard.
Doing what we have to never feels as good as doing what we want and heading the truth always hurts more than the sugar-coated lie. Life can’t be all happy feelings and sunshine. Being alive is hard, and the world is harsh. If we want to survive, we have to learn to live and find what peace and happiness we can in all the frustration and suffering, and you can’t do that if you live in a bubble keeping all the bad thought at Bay with bath bombs, shopping, and expensive frappuccinos.
I’ve written about this before, about being mindful of the ways you take care of yourself. Escapism is the only answer but even when you decide to confront your self-remember to stay with what you need not just what you crave.
Self-care can be as simple as your food choices. Sometimes I crave sweets a lot when I’m feeling down, or tired. I crave all kinds of bad foods. Fried foods, salt, fat, butter, I’d eat them every day if it were up to my emotions. I want what feels good, what tastes good, what releases dopamine into the brain, but that isn’t what I need. I need fuel for my body and my brain. I try to opt for fruits and veggies, nuts, rice, and water. It’s a fight I don’t always win, but I try because it’s better for me.
Sometimes self-care means protecting yourself from yourself. Sometimes we hurt ourselves more than anyone else, and we have to be strong enough to stand up for ourselves when that happens. Sometimes I tell myself I’m ugly, or I’m stupid, or I’m the worst and I’m always messing things up because it’s feels satisfying to reinforce harmful thought patterns. The truth is I’m just like everyone else, no better, no worse, and just as deserving of love and patience and forgiveness. It’s hard to accept that, but it’s what’s best for me.
Sometimes self-care means giving up your pride and asking for help from others. I suffered from fatigue, stomach pain, and shame for years because I couldn’t let go and go to the doctor for help. I couldn’t go because I was scared. I ended up getting really sick by the time I was able to get an ulcerative colitis diagnosis. I tried changing my diet, and self-medicating, all the while telling myself that was self-care but it wasn’t, it was doing what was comfortable and easy. I was enabling myself. It wasn’t until I put my foot down, with myself, and did what was scary and painful that I really began taking care of myself.
For some of us, self-destruction can look a lot like self-care because people are broken and what hurts feels good and what should feel good hurts like hell.
Looking back on all the things I did for myself that ever felt like real love and caring were always hard to do. It was always uncomfortable and scary. All the indulgences and the gifts and the times I’ve done something in the name of “treat yo self!” were temporary. They were only comforting, not caring.
So today, on internet self-care day, give yourself something you need, not just the things you want. Take a moment to take in your current self-care routine, if you have one, and make a small change. Look at all the places you might be hurting rather than helping and make an effort to do a little better for yourself.
I’m not telling you to only ever take cold showers, the scented bath is necessary too. Just, try saving it for the end of those hard days when you’ve taken all your meds, drank more water, eaten more and better, for getting up and giving a shit and dragged yourself from sun-up to sundown doing your very best.
You still deserve comfort and the things that make you feel good too, but you deserve the tough love just as much. Never deprive yourself of either one.
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