learning to take care of myself


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?

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  • Carrie

    Auntie Rai reminds me all the time that there’s a reason flight attendants instruct passengers “In the case of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. The fact is, you aren’t much help to anyone if you suffocate. My social work professors lecture us all the time on the importance of self care. The fact is, social workers who don’t actively practice self care burn out, and quickly. It’s just the way it is.

    I really believe self care is part of living a healthy life, something God wants for us. After all, he created me and doesn’t want me to burn out either. Just as it isn’t selfish to eat nutritionally balanced meals or to exercise, it is in no way selfish to take care of your emotional needs and keep your stress level under control. It’s not selfish; it’s responsible.

    I certainly practice self care through Scripture reading and prayer. And I especially practice it through praising God. But I don’t tend to think of “praising God” as something that happens only on Sunday morning while singing hymns. I praise God through sitting in a quiet garden and blowing bubbles. I praise God through swinging in the park on a sunny day. I praise God by playing with little kids who make me smile. I praise God through curling up with a book and a cup of tea and crying over the deaths of fictional characters, letting my own experience be opened up and sympathizing with a new perspective. I praise God through oil painting in bright colors, in strokes so broad I end up with as much paint on me as the canvas. This is how I praise God and how I pray and how I learn to quiet the chaos inside of me so that I can listen to what he’s trying to tell me.

  • “If you’re anything like me, you come from a background where you’re constantly told to put the needs of others before you’re own. You’re told that anything less than constant self-sacrifice is selfish.”

    Spiritual abuse at its finest.

  • Samantha, so happy for you knowing you’re cared for by such a good and loving husband. Blessings to your home.

    What does it look like for me?

    I’m a simple man.

    Give my an Adirondack chair and a Northern Sun.

  • I’m a SAHM. I sometimes sit in the corner of the couch and play simple games on my phone when I feel panic rising or depression becoming unbearable. When I am less spent I read whatever book strikes me fancy.

  • Imara

    dang…. I don’t even know what self-care looks like for me because I feel like I never have time to do it.
    Yesterday it was neglecting my pile of grading and getting lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood as I walked to happy feel-good love songs until it got too dark to feel safe being out alone.

    two weeks ago, it was camping on a friend’s couch doing a whole lot of little-more-than-existing in the company of two women I love.

    Recently, though, things such as that seem less like self CARE and more like a desperate attempt to simply survive the merciless onslaught of the topsy-turvy chaos of each day.

    • Hopefully you’ll be able to get out of the chaos soon. I love you– and you are strong, and capable, and amazing, and you can do this.

  • Oh god… This is my fault. I shared the post from NLQ on my Facebook, and David saw it. He’s my father-in-law.

    I explained why he’s wrong. I tried to make him understand. David didn’t mean to hurt you, and he was really upset that he did. Unfortunately, he can’t comprehend how he was in the wrong.

    Maybe that’s my fault too. I never talk about what it was like to grow up independent, fundamental Baptist, and a homeschooler to boot. Only my husband really knows about my experience, and how it’s affected me.

    I am so, so sorry for the hurt that he caused you, and I will continue to talk with him about this experience, so hopefully he can learn to speak differently.

    Again, please accept my sincerest apologies for all the hurt you have experienced.

    • Please, don’t blame yourself, Stephanie. I’m actually so happy that you pointed out my article to him– I think it’s probably going to work out to be a good thing for him to be exposed to stories like mine, and voices like mine. I also appreciated the opportunity, really, I did, to engage with David in this way. It was very difficult, and very triggering, but I think that comments like David’s can be made, in a sense, very “innocently.”

      I honestly didn’t think David had any idea of how he was hurting me and others– which is what I was trying to show him. The fact that his reaction was resistance and defensiveness is, to an extent, human, and I can understand it. I still think it’s wrong and demonstrates a lack of compassion and empathy and is probably driven by self-righteousness, but I can understand it.

      But, again, please don’t blame yourself. David’s words are his words, and only he can be accountable for them.

  • I, too, have gone through a lot over the past two years and someone told me to pretend I’m one of the kids and treat myself like I treat them.

    I’m still not sure what self-care looks like but protecting myself is part of the deal.

  • I, too, had this mentality that I had to just give up everything, all my time, all my energy, to serve God. This did lead to a lot of burn out in my life. God has since then shown me that rest and relaxation is ESSENTIAL for a healthy, joyful life. Even Jesus Himself went away to be Himself sometimes. Doing the things we love is very important. So I try to force myself to say no to too many actives. I try not to feel pressured by other Christians to do everything to look “good” and “holy.” I do what God has called me to do, period. Nothing else.
    For self care, I write and paint and draw and read. I watch movies. I take dance lessons. And God is pleased with these things. Me made me to enjoy creativity and expression. If I don’t do these things, I wilt. God wants us to blossom and truly lived joy-filled lives.

  • What does it look like for you?

    Since I’m lucky enough to live near that concert hall and that orchestra. That’s the main “self care” I grant myself in trying times, and it usually works quite nicely. Of course, I don’t reserve it for bad days. I go when I’m in good spirits too of course.

  • Oh, P.S.: it’s good to listen to music at home or many other places too, which is why I commented and left a link. For patrons at home. In case anyone might find it a satisfying listen.

    (But it’s better in person.)

  • Reblogged this on Dawn of Thoughts and commented:
    Excellent post!