Today, I turned off all the air-conditioning, opened every single curtain, threw open every single window, and turned on every single light. I flooded my home with the sounds of birdsong and the chaotic melody of my downstairs neighbor’s windchime.
I am going to write this post, and then I am going to turn on the classic Southern rock station on my Pandora and clean my house. I will dance to “Brown Eyed Girl” and belt right along with Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama.” Later, I will finally finish reading Clash of Kings, and then I will figure out a way to assassinate a general from around a corner in Assassin’s Creed III. My husband will get home, I’ll make Cardamom French Toast, and then we’ll cuddle under fuzzy blankets and watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
I am so fantastically, wildly, beyond-my-wildest-dreams lucky. I married an amazing man who kissed me awake this morning and told me to “have fun today.”
And I get to.
I had to work this morning, did a few errands, wrote a few letters I wasn’t looking forward to… but I can spend my afternoon cleaning (which will be exactly what I need, my house is a mess and it’s driving me crazy), and then goofing off reading fantasy novels and playing video games. Who gets to do this? Not even me, this time last year.
Being able to do this, being able to relax and truly, meaningfully, have fun, is a recently acquired skill. In the environment I grew up in, there is a pervasive attitude toward this idea. Namely, many of the women– young and old– that I knew growing up would tell me that, today, I’m being selfish.
Because of why I’m doing it.
It’s a concept called “self care.”
Yesterday was rough for me. Wait, no, it’s been rough for me since April 12, when I originally responded to David Cuff’s comment on NLQ. I spent all night Saturday night curled up on my bathroom floor, dealing with anxiety and panic attacks and trying not to throw up anything I’d managed to eat. I couldn’t go to church the next morning (which would have garnered me reprimands from the well-meaning, telling me that when I’m the most vulnerable is exactly the time I should have been in church), and I spent the rest of the day questioning myself, doubting myself. Was my reaction completely disproportional? Was I being a crazy person? My husband, and all of you, reassured me, that, no, my reaction was necessary– but it was draining.
Yesterday was rough for many of you, too– I only have to read your stories to know the effect that interacting with David had on many of you. Which is why I’m writing this, instead of just going to go do it.
If you’re anything like me, you come from a background where you’re constantly told to put the needs of others before your own. You’re told that anything less than constant self-sacrifice is selfish. You might be like Chrissy, a reader at Love, Joy, Feminism, who asked Libby Anne if “doing what she wanted” equaled being “self-centered.”
You might be used to being told that concepts like “self care” come from the “pseudo-science” of psychology, that “self care” is just psycho-babble for selfishness. You might have grown used to coupling “being a good Christian” with what is, in reality, burning yourself out. You might have been trained to dismiss the notion that “healthy people take care of themselves.” I’ve watched many of my childhood friends and women I grew up respecting have nervous breakdowns because of this. You might have been trained to be constantly looking for “areas of service.” You might have been trained, not even intentionally, to volunteer for everything.
If you’re like me, you were taught that having boundaries and respecting your own needs was wrong.
It’s taken me a very, very long time to learn that “taking care of myself” isn’t selfishness- it’s just plain necessary. If I don’t take care of myself, I’m going to go crazy. I’m going to push myself past the point of usefulness. I must take the time– and give myself permission— to heal. To relax. To decompress, to just breathe.
And this doesn’t have to look like anything I’ve been told is “good.” I grew up being told that the only thing I needed to do was read my Bible, pray, and praise God– and that would be all the “self-care” I needed. This idea does have a kernel of truth– I did spend Saturday night praying while I was curled up on my bathroom floor having a bout of anxiety so intense my entire body was twitching uncontrollably. I prayed, but I didn’t pray that God would take the anxiety, the feeling of dread and doom, away. I just… prayed. I can’t even tell you about what. I talked to God. I do read my Bible, and I’m sitting here praising God for the sunshine that’s finally broken through what seemed like an endless winter.
But that isn’t enough.
Which, to the people I knew growing up, is sacrilege. Blasphemy. Don’t I know that God is always enough? they might say, and I’d say yes– he’s enough for a lot of things. Spiritually, at least. But, I’m also an emotional and physical creature. And my body is telling me that I need to dance, and sing, and read a book, and yes, play video games and cook– and not write on my blog for a day or two– however long I need to come back rejuvenated and refreshed. That is what “taking care of myself” looks like.
What does it look like for you?