December 11, 2023

This Self-Care is Ugly & Boring.


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The year is nearing its end, and I recently had the chance to look back through mine for a manifestation challenge I’m doing with a friend.

The exercise of the day asked us look at the things we said we wanted in January to see how far we’ve come.

The start of my year took place in England, and I was too busy getting to the right airport terminal and dreaming of being back in my bed to make a proper list of intentions.

Rather than a list, I had an abstract nimbus of wants that could be teased out of my journal entries: I didn’t want to work a 9-to-5. I didn’t want to settle in my relationships. I wanted to finish my book and write more. I’d come to the conclusion that writing was the thing I cared about more than anything, and that was both a relief and a horror.

The next question in the challenge asked us to look at what came into our lives that we weren’t expecting or hadn’t intentionally manifested. That list was much longer. I realized that my year was actually full of wonderful things, most of which I hadn’t planned for at all. I didn’t get a job and I stopped dating people I wasn’t interested in, but more importantly, I began to take care of myself.

At first that looked a lot like a Pinterest board. I was at the gym four or five days a week, making salads, journaling, meditating, reading The Artist’s Way. Things began in a pretty aesthetic place. But as I continued this journey of good habits and daily routines, I actually began to feel worse. How was that possible? Some days, I opened my Morning Pages and thought that there was almost anything I’d rather do than sit and write—almost anything I’d rather do than face myself.

A lot of what I did for myself was, in fact, a distraction from myself. Even without a job, it’s incredibly easy to fill your days with things until there’s barely a moment for you to just look at yourself. Even on long walks, I was penned in by endless Spotify playlists and podcasts. The sound of birds and waves gave me far too much opportunity to spiral. I was addicted to anything and everything that gave me a buffer from myself. It turns out you can self-care without any real focus on the self part of it.

When I look back on this year, the things that actually changed the game for me were not the pretty or aesthetic ones. Even going to the gym became less about feeling good and more about feeling in control. This is a trap I’ve fallen into time and again. I can make an addiction and an escape plan out of anything. I would look at my workout spreadsheet, neatly filled in, and know that I was so powerful and good, and would feel like I would crumble without the routine. So, of course, a few weeks ago, I was forced to stop going.

The universe has stripped away everything in this past year, leaving me with nothing but a self and the inquiry of whether I can truly care for that person. Can I still love myself when I’ve slept in or eaten like sh*t or not gotten in my steps or completely avoided writing or ignored all the texts on my phone? The tough thing is that I would hesitate to say yes on almost all those counts.

If I had any love for myself before this year, it was conditional.

Self-care has meant boredom. I have sat on my couch staring out at the city and wondering what everyone else is doing and how much fun they’re having and when I’ll finally be able to join them again, while simultaneously feeling like the only place I’d like to be is my bed. At first, I thought the boredom must be good for something, and I waited impatiently to see what would bloom out of it. Turns out the point was to just be bored. Healing is boring.

Self-care has meant radical, unconditional acceptance. That includes days that I stay in bed until the afternoon, even as the guilt piles on so heavy that it feels like I’ve got a weighted blanket on. It includes seeing people for who they are and knowing that they’re fine the way they are and that all I can do is stay or go. It means being okay with both the staying and going, whichever one I decide on.

It’s meant ugly crying on the kitchen floor and then getting up five minutes later and forcing myself to dance in front of the mirror and play air guitar to a boygenius song, even if the tears are still running down my face.

I feel I may still be making this sound pretty, somehow. I have never gotten so far under my own skin. I have never hated myself more or wanted out of this whole thing. But even that was better than the numbness and apathy that characterised my life before this year.

To know someone is to see them fully, and I’d never done that before. After all, what if there are monsters in the back of these closets? And there have been, but they’ve been surprisingly friendly and funny. They’ve just been asking for someone to come and check in on them.

There are a lot of things that I’m proud of accomplishing this past year, not the least of which is writing here and finally doing what I want to do, even if it hasn’t cut me a straight line to a dream life or solved all my problems. But the moments I’m most proud of are the ones where I have sat with myself through all the sh*t that has come up, sat in the way siblings sit together in the back of the car on a long and boring road trip, so devoid of entertainment that they finally look at each other and try to get along.

It’s been a lot like that—realizing I’m in it now, and there’s not really any exit ramps out of this life (none that I want to take, anyway), so I may as well buckle in and get familiar.


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