A wider view of self-care

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” ~Parker Palmer

I had an aha moment about self-care earlier this week. I was talking to a friend about the idea of having the commitment to do what needs to be done in a relationship or a situation to take care of someone who is depending on us. I was having a hard time relating to this because I don’t have anyone that depends on me for anything.

However, as we talked further, I realized that I depend on me. I am also the only one I have right now to depend on in that way. (This is not to disparage my friends, who are a wonderful support and a great help! It’s just an acknowledgment that I don’t have anyone in the kind of relationship that I can depend on in the way that we were discussing at that moment—a significant other or biological relative that would have a deeper obligation than friendship would entail.)

So if I am depending on me, how well do I do in doing what must be done for my own support?

Then I realized, it really comes down to: how well do I do with self-care? Do I do whatever is needed to make sure my basic needs are met? Am I truly committed to self-care? And if so, what does that really mean?

I generally tend to think of self-care as self-pampering—giving myself extra luxuries now and then, taking a hot bath, treating myself to a massage, buying myself something special for dinner, taking an evening off to read a good book, or letting myself sleep in. And indeed, these things can all be great forms of self-care when they are what I need. But if I look at as making sure I’m doing what must be done to take care of my basic needs, it may also mean pushing myself to do housework or yard work that needs to be done but that I really don’t enjoy doing. It may mean taking care of chores and errands and difficult phone calls that are necessary but unpleasant. It may also mean forcing myself to give up things I love—time alone, reading time, lazy weekends—because there is a greater need that I need to meet.

This last weekend was a hard one for me. It was the one year anniversary of my ex-husband and I separating, and it involved major milestones for both of my former step-children that I was not able to participate in. This wasn’t an overwhelming kind of thing, but it did bring a sense of melancholy and sadness. Normally when I’m feeling this way, I tend to treat myself with extra gentleness with lots of reading and hot baths and lazy moments. This past weekend, though, there was much that needed to be done in the yard and a lot of homework to be done for yoga training, so I put my nose to the grindstone and pretty much kept it there all weekend.

As I talked to my friend on Monday, I realized that it had actually turned out to be the best possible self-care I could have done. Keeping busy not only kept me from wallowing in the sadness, the sense of accomplishment from all I had gotten done was enormous! I felt such pride (and relief) at being able to mark so many things off my list. I felt taken care of in a way that self-pampering would not have done. That was a huge insight for me.

The challenge as I go forward from here is learning to recognize when self-care really does mean a little self-pampering and when it means a little self-discipline to do what must be done. Unfortunately, that line is not always immediately clear. However, now that I have broadened my perspective of what self-care may mean, it gives me a wider palette of options to choose from when I am deciding what needs to be done in the future.

And no matter what I decide is the best self-care for me in a given moment, I need to remember that my choice is not a selfish one. It is good stewardship. That takes the guilt out of it.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.