self-care is not a luxury

or, why stock photos of women in bathtubs surrounded by candles are bullshit

I learned the hard way.

Environment, genetics, and circumstances certainly had a say in it, but I can't ignore that my autoimmune disorder came in part from things I did to myself.

I ignored my body's signals. I listened to the oughts in my head, which were louder than my personal needs. I didn't ask for help, because I was ashamed to be so vulnerable.

I didn't even know I had a problem until I started crying in the doctor's office without fully knowing why. I went to therapy, got medical help for my disorder (which is a whole other story), and learned to pay attention to my body, emotions, and thoughts in a new way.

I don't accept the full blame for my illness, as I believe that an illness like this isn't something you can ever truly claim responsibility for. It's dangerously satisfying to put the blame in a single place, but entirely wrong to do so. However, if I ignore the habits and things I did that contributed to the problem, then I haven't learned my lesson and continue to do damage to myself.

I had to change my habits. I had to learn self-care.

And in searching out what "self-care" actually means for me, I discovered that our cultural representation of self-care is a big lie.


(this is bullshit)

Self-care doesn’t look like a beautiful woman sitting in a bubble bath surrounded by candles. NOPE. Self-care is made up of the small things you do that indicate that you're taking care of yourself.

For me, it's not a glamorous spa getaway. For me, self-care is about asking myself questions:

  • have I sat down for a meal today? when I ate, was I focused on eating and nourishing myself? was anything distracting me?
  • when was the last time I went for exercise (to a class, by myself, or with my kids)?
  • how many times did I have to reheat my coffee this morning?
  • did I lie horizontal somewhere for 20 minutes? did I stare out a window and take some deep breaths?
  • have I been able to get up before the kids and enjoy some quiet time? how can I make time for quiet and prayer today?
  • have I gone to bed on time? what's preventing me from getting to bed?

There are some times when the circumstances around me conspire to undermine my self-care. My kids get sick and sleep schedules get off, or exciting events or prevent bedtime from happening the way it should. But instead of readjusting, a single deviation creeps into a new norm. I fall into the familiar grooves of my old habits, all of which are rooted into wearing a badge of busy-ness and efficiency, and paint more concealer over the undersides of my eyes.

And so I try to ask myself these questions to snap me out of it. I have to check in with myself super intentionally, because I've been trained to ignore my boundaries. But these days, trespassing those boundaries has greater consequences for my health.

With my autoimmune issues, part of my self-care is staying within boundaries, and knowing when I’m stretching myself beyond my boundaries. Everyone—autoimmune issues or not—has boundaries beyond which lie illness, stress, anger, and more.

So we all have to make time to take care of ourselves in some fashion. I simply don't accept the "not enough time" idea. If we behave as if we don't have the time to do the necessary things, eventually it will catch up with us.

Looking back, I can see that I’ve always needed a little extra TLC, but was reluctant to carve out time for it or ask for it out of embarrassment, distraction, and pride. Needing that makes me feel vulnerable, because I still equate it with being weak and unwanted. I've been trained (culturally and personally) to think of myself as a machine of efficiency and productivity.

But people aren't machines--I'm not a machine. The metaphor is just that -- a metaphor -- and if you transfer enough of your machine-thinking into your life, you'll lose sight of who you actually are and what your needs are.

What questions do you ask yourself to check in with your boundaries? What does self-care look like for you?