My body and I have a long history. A whole lifetime, in fact. As a child I thought very little about my body. I was too busy running, jumping, playing, screaming, crying, laughing and being a kid to think about it.
Fast forward through puberty, weight gain, weight loss, dieting, stress, grief, injury, therapy and college, and here I am, figuring out adulthood and what it means to take care of myself. There are the basics–work, shelter, food. But as I’m finding out, the real kind of soul nourishing self care has to come from a place of self love–a somewhat unfamiliar territory for me.
2016 had a lot of ups and downs for me. I accomplished goals I never thought I could and other goals turned themselves on their heads, leaving me feeling more confused than ever.
In the past, “taking care” of my body came from a place of hate and insecurity. I ate healthy and exercised to lose weight, not to thank my body for all that it does. I took my body for granted. I pushed it through sleepless nights to finish papers and to party with friends. I bottled and dismissed my emotions when they didn’t fit into the image of who I wanted to be. And in the end, I always ended up unhappy and far from the life I wanted to lead.
Within the past year I’ve come face to face with growing pains and had to get real honest with tough choices. It’s been uncomfortable to say the least but I’ve begun to realize the value of patience. I like to think I know patience with others but I have never known patience with myself.
Patience with yourself and your life and your journey is the foundation of self love and self care. Buddhism teaches that the desire to end suffering causes more suffering. We need to sit with our discomfort to know contentment.
If you’re like me and think “well what the hell does that mean?” when you read that, I can’t say I have all the answers but I can tell you what it means for me.
For me it means that life is shitty but it’s not shit. I can suffer and feel pain but it does not mean my life is bad. I can experience confusion and guilt and jealousy but it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. To be human is to suffer and to be alive is to be in a constant state of flux. Pain will flow in and out of our lives and it doesn’t mean life is bad.
So, with that understanding, I am coming to know self care. These days, self care for me is sleeping in until I feel fully rested, even if I have a day-long to do list. It’s eating nourishing, enriching food when I’m hungry because I genuinely feel better when I do. It’s journaling regularly to check in with myself and unravel the jumble of thoughts in my brain. It’s running at my own pace, for pleasure, or not running at all and resting when I need it.
I saw a quote once that said something like “A lifetime is a long time to hate yourself” and I wondered then if I’d ever get to a place of self love. I am still on that journey but it feels like a sigh of relief to at least know what it really looks like.
But, perhaps most importantly, I believe that self care and self love is different for everyone. What makes me feel good and nourishes me might not be the same for you or even your loved ones. Recognizing that my self care isn’t the same as someone else’s has been half of my battle.
It’s so easy to idealize someone else’s version of healthy and neglect yourself and your needs in the process. So, that being said, take some time to be honest with yourself about what makes you feel good. Not “I would feel good if I could make myself do this because it would align with the idea of who I should be” Things that you do because you enjoy them and feel a little lighter afterwards.
For example, I avoided yoga for a long time because I didn’t regard it as a “real work out”. I figured if I wasn’t sweating out calories on a treadmill or building muscle with squats and sit ups, it was a waste of my time.
Within the past few months I sought out yoga, not as a work out but as a way to calm my nerves, and I’ve really fell in love with it. It feels like I’m taking care of my body and my mental health.
But maybe you hate yoga. Or self care for you is spending time with your loved ones. The point is, make space in your life for the things that make you feel good, outside of your self improvement goals. Then, go from there.