Writing about self-care is as difficult to me as has been embracing it in my life. The reason being, what should come naturally to all living beings, the act(s) of self-preservation that is, wasn’t introduced in my life until recently.
Let me begin by dispelling a myth that’s pretty rampant in my part of the world.
MYTH: Self-Care = Self-Pampering
The concept that self-pampering, indulgences, expensive vacations, shopping sprees make up self-care is both harmful and misleading for two important reasons;
Firstly, a person who spends on shopping, indulging in a luxurious lifestyle isn’t necessarily in love with themselves.
Secondly, true love is totally free. It can’t be bought.
Loving ourselves looks like sleeping in an extra hour whenever you get an opportunity. Making time for regular exercise to keep our body and mind healthy.
Spending time eating healthy, making time to do things we love, pursue our hobbies and everything that makes us feel loved and cared for.
Self-care is the basic act of tending to the basic needs of our living selves.
“Self-care is not self-indulgence or self-pampering, but choosing behaviours that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors like exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, practicing yoga or meditation or pursuing creative outlets” – Dr. Christine Meinecke
My first introduction to self-care!
My first introduction to self-care came from my boss at my first job overseas. As ironic as it may sound, but she was the one who showed me that the constant anxiety I had been experiencing had been because of a lack of a self-care routine.
My boss, who at that time had daughters of my age, and was particularly fond of me, once during a staff going away party, casually questioned me about my routine. Without giving it much thought, I blurted out my schedule that incorporated mainly of work, cooking and the long commute with occasional outings in the evening with my ex-husband.
“What about the weekends?”
“Nothing much, just grocery shopping, occasionally entertaining guests, catching up on missed TV shows, some Internet time, occasional movies and prepping for food to get a headstart for the cooking through the week.”
All this while, what sounded like a small-talk, soon shifted gears to become the talk that gifted me food for thought that changed my life forever.
After a pause of around 15 minutes when she was interrupted by the formalities of the event, when I thought that our conversation was over, she got back to me.
What she said then left me confused but makes perfect sense to me today.
She said, “Era, you need to make time to do things you really enjoy. Make time for yourself, else this hectic schedule at the hospital will not let you go on at the same pace for long.”
I must have looked amused by her advise because she left me with a gentle, “think about it.”
I tried to make sense of her words on my train ride back home that evening. Nothing seemed to make sense. I guessed, maybe it was the cultural differences in our background that led to the divide in our thinking process. I came as close to co-relating indulging at the spa, window shopping or going for a girl’s night out (that was pretty common with the staff at my workplace, but something I often shied away from) was what she hinted at.
At that point, to find a concrete answer, I did something I habitually do while seeking answers. To take cues from my childhood. My parent’s life has been the yardstick for seeking answers, all my life, until recently.
During that train ride and in the hours that followed, I remember recollecting how my mother had led by example a life of putting everyone (dear to her) ahead of her.
I have always drawn parallels between my life and my behaviour with what I have grown up seeing in my mother, grandmother and other women in my family.
Not only in her role as a mother but as the woman in the family, the one role I saw her playing every minute of her existence was that of the nurturer. The self-sacrificing, forever giving, a tireless caregiver who’d emotionally and physically invest her time, resources and energy to care for everyone’s needs.
While doing so, I’ve grown up seeing my mother put her health on the back-burner. Be it fever or her shooting blood pressure or a chronic illness like diabetes (and cancer, recently), nothing could deter her from working all day to keep meeting everyone’s needs before hers.
This was exactly what I’d seen my grandmother do and felt pride in following their footsteps. At that time, more than a decade ago, I couldn’t even in my wildest dreams had imagined what was I missing in the whole scheme of things.
With that kind of a mindset and my limited life-experience, every time someone came up with the notion that I should make time for pursuing things that made me happy, go out and spend my time taking a break from the family duties, I would promptly dismiss them considering them to be selfish acts.
I believed, my happiness lay in the happiness of my family. I was part of a bigger picture and was not an entity on my own.
The concept of loving ourselves has been foreign to the women in my family.
Not only because we’d misunderstood what self-care entails but also because didn’t even knew who our real ‘selves’ were.
I know it sounds rather crazy, but nevertheless, it highlights the underlying problem that lies in the root of us, especially women struggling to be self-aware, be unapologetic about self-care rituals and most importantly being accepting ourselves as ourselves.
We have painstakingly learnt to put our values in what we can do for others, to seek validation from the outside world for everything. We try to appear attractive, nice, good, valid, legitimate or worthy of someone else instead of discovering what we actually feel and want for ourselves.
Feminism and self-care are interrelated!
It was only later, around a year or two from that eventful day, when I was introduced to feminism that my understanding of the society, the patriarchal set-up and the traditions that dictate the lives women lead began to broaden.
Ever since I have read a lot about how feminism (in its pure, holistic approach aims at equality for women in every sphere of life) and self-care for women are basically interconnected.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
Did learning to believe “I’m important and that taking care of myself is important” change my life radically?
Yes and No.
Yes, because I had finally found the key to my emotional and mental well-being. I now knew how I could revive my wallowing in sorrow, battling anxiety and depression, life back on track.
No, because, though I was awakened about what I ought to do for my emotional, mental and physical well-being but my family was yet not ready to accept this new thought process. I was still part of a system, a family that believed that as a woman (who was now a single parent) I must focus my time and energies taking care of my young child while tending to the needs of the family.
The status quo had to be challenged and that needed an investment of time and energy with the need to making everyone around me understand that what I was beginning to do was not a selfish act but was intended for self -preservation.
Losing sight of this new insight is pretty easy.
There have been endless episodes of me going back to my old, giving-more-than-I could-handle self. It was at times like these, listening to my body and its needs helped me get back on track.
The benefits of prioritising my health have had encouraging results and my mental health is nowhere close to where I was, say, two years from today.
Self-care is often seen as a manifestation of individual identity. It couldn’t be further from the truth!
Women practising self-care in the day to day life is considered a threat to the culture of considering families above individual identities.
Bringing about a change, at this core level, in my family hasn’t been easy.
And the irony of the situation has been that I cannot make it to the end without having my family embrace it.
But, I’m not giving up.
It might be tough, it might be tiring but is definitely a battle I ought to fight, to teach my little girl to care for herself, unapologetically, just like her mother did.
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The song on my mind: Main koi aisa geet gaoon – Yes Boss