After working at Elephant for more than six years, it’s safe to say I’ve probably read a couple hundred articles about self-care.
Some walk through a detailed how-to list for engaging in self-care, every damn day.
And one boldly and definitively declares “Screw Self-Care.”
As someone who spent the past year transitioning (mentally, physically, and emotionally) from living alone in my own space with no one to care for on a daily basis but myself to moving in with my partner, getting a puppy, switching up my routine, and going from a family of one to a family of three almost overnight (during a pandemic, nonetheless), self-care hasn’t exactly been at the top of my priority list.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
Today, while scrolling through TikTok (which I often categorize as “self-care time”), I ran across a video that completely redefined self-care for me.
@thoughtcatalog What self care really means. Words are from 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think, recited by @sophie ? #booksthatchangedmylife #booktok ♬ original sound – Thought Catalog
The video begins with a simple question:
“What is something you found out late in life you should have known earlier but just didn’t?”
But it’s the answer that stuck with me:
“Self-care is a very unbeautiful thing.
It is making a spreadsheet of your debt. Enforcing a morning routine. Or even cooking yourself a healthy meal. It is often the ugliest thing you have to do, like sweat through another workout, or tell a toxic friend that you don’t want to see them anymore. Or get a second job so you can have a savings account.
It’s figuring out a way to accept yourself for who you are and how you are without having to take deliberate breaks, like do a face mask or take a bath and calling it your ‘self-care’ time. A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick.
True self-care isn’t doing a face mask and eating a bunch of cake, but it’s building a life you don’t have to regularly escape from. And that often takes the least things you want to do. Self-care is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone with true self-care knows that face masks and chocolate are ways to enjoy life and not escape from it.”
The last year has been a huge period of growth for me, and that growth has been—as growth often is—hard and uncomfortable and forced me to look at myself and my habits and what I’m prioritizing in my life. And honestly, I never feel like I’m prioritizing myself enough.
So, this past week, I made an appointment for a massage and two days later took an hour to get a pedicure…because, well, “self-care.” I told myself it was because I deserved it, because I work so hard and should have some time that was just for me. And while that’s absolutely true, I also did it because I needed a break from my life. Because for an hour or two in the day, I wanted to escape my reality, my responsibilities, the idea that I needed to show up for everyone and everything else.
This video helped me see that self-care shouldn’t be about running away from our lives. Self-care, if we’re doing it right, should be about doing all the “unbeautiful” tasks that keep our lives running smoothly—the practical but less glamorous things we have to do in order to create the life we want and deserve.
Self-care is putting away my laundry instead of leaving it unfolded and wrinkly in the basket.
Self-care is creating reminders in my phone so I don’t forget to pay my credit card bill.
Self-care is getting up when my alarm goes off so I can finish work before 6 p.m.
Self-care is taking my dog for a walk, even when the weather is bad, so we can both get fresh air.
Self-care is making dinner when it would be so much easier to just DoorDash some pizza.
Self-care is spending an hour or two on my day off cleaning and vacuuming the entire apartment.
Self-care is making (and not cancelling) the dentist appointment.
Self-care is taking my car to get the oil changed and checking my tire pressure.
Self-care is submitting the insurance claim and doing my taxes and sticking to my budget.
Self-care is having the uncomfortable conversation with my partner even though we’re both so good at avoiding it.
Self-care is crying in my closet when I’m overwhelmed and then wiping my tears and moving on.
And once we’ve taken care of the not-so-pretty tasks, we create the space and the freedom to truly enjoy the massages and pedicures and face masks rather than using them to run away from a life we’ve been neglecting.