The next time someone reaches out to you for help, please resist every urge in your body, your mouth, and your fingertips to suggest self-care as a solution.
I recently was overwhelmed and had a little breakdown. I’m lying right now. It was actually a big breakdown, one that had me standing in my kitchen at 8 a.m., shouting the F word at the top of my lungs. It took me almost two hours to fully calm myself down.
After I left the house, I did what a good, modern woman does, and went to an online forum that was specifically designated as a group to help with the specifics of the issue I was facing. I was looking for suggestions and tips.
One of the responses was that I needed to “focus on self-care” and “lowering expectations.”
It took absolutely everything in my entire body to put my phone down and not justify or explain myself to that well-meaning woman.
Here’s the thing: I am a yoga teacher. I do yoga for 28 minutes every day. Maybe for some that’s not enough to count for self-care, but I think it is.
I am a vegetarian, I cook my own food, and I try to eat organic when possible. I’m not sure if a 25-year track record as a vegetarian home cook is adequate self-care or not, but I believe it is.
A few years ago, I identified that I would enjoy some flowers. Because I skew on the extreme, I started buying them weekly, and they feel essential to the self-care mission as commonly prescribed. My flowers were factually wilting as I shouted the F word, and I grant you that a new bouquet was in order, but I count the flowers as self-care even if they were not as fresh as they could have been.
Fact: I have manicured toes and pedicured feet.
Last year, I Konmari’d my home. All of it. So I have the “exactly perfect” amount of belongings in my home, neatly organized into micro-containers of rolled and folded tidiness. My home is relatively clutter free and company ready at every moment. I am left wondering whether my home maintenance plan is considered adequate self-care to avoid painful emotional breakdowns. I guess not.
I wear cashmere.
I sleep at night, and the years that I didn’t were resolved by working with a herbalist so that I could. I consider that a foundational self-care base habit.
I went to a mental health clinic last year for a few sessions, so I am on track with stress levels and tips for managing.
I also read, take courses, have a photography hobby, volunteer, and have friends. Check, check.
I have a massage therapist, a cleaner, and a chef who come to my aid monthly. These border “self-indulgent,” to be fair, but I’ve read that the best use of your resources is to hire out your cooking and cleaning, and we all know that massages help you reach heaven. #Selfcare.
I’m not sure what in the actual hell that woman was suggesting. She doesn’t know me, but I have the 101s in place in the form of food, sleep, and exercise. I have the 201s covered by maintaining my exterior space as well as my internal space in the form of my mental health. I also have the slightly embarrassing advanced 301s covered by way of pedicures, cashmere, and flowers. I even have help (see: massage, cleaner, chef). 401s.
What I needed was not self-care. What I needed was community. What I needed was compassion, understanding, tips, suggestions, love, and a helping hand. What I really wanted was to feel supported, not to be told to go to my room and figure it out for myself by way of flowers and cashmere. There’s no food or exercise that can replace that need or solve for that desire.
There’s no amount of self-anything that could have replaced the thing I was seeking: to not feel alone, or ashamed, or stuck, or helpless, or unsure of what steps to take to solve the problem.
I don’t honestly know what more I could be doing to help myself, but it borders on the outlandish and luxurious when I write it all out.
Self-care is a privilege of a Goop-y world—one that only our modern lives can see and offer as a solution to the problem of community. Millions of women in this world don’t have the privilege to consider a “self-care” program because they are never by themselves, or they don’t have access to clean water or safe sleeping environments or a consistent supply of nutritious foods.
And I’m sure nobody is telling those women that the solutions to distress lie in pedicures or organics.
What is missing is not self-care. It’s community care. It’s the knitting clubs with multiple generations of women and a simple tip on how to deal with an unruly situation plus a pat on the hand and an assurance that “this too shall pass.”
We need to foster our multi-generational mix of advice and community. We need to stop micro-dividing self-care into compartments of self-indulgences. All of it is a privilege, and none of it solves the problem, if the problem is one of needing an elder who’s been there or a mentee who has not.
We have a responsibility to care for the basics of our body by way of sleep, food, and exercise. And we have a right to spend our money on self-indulgences that make us feel rewarded or relaxed. But let’s not mistake either of those things for a foundational human need to be heard and to be held.