A few years ago, I asked three of my closest confidantes to describe me. Two were good friends, the third was my mother. What followed were two kind, lengthy replies and one abrupt sentence: “You are someone always looking to better yourself.” Thanks Mum. So in 2018, when Self-Care hit the world like a freight train, I had already meditated my socks off, bought the yoga mat and familiarised myself with Eckhart Tolle. I’d been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt. But I hadn’t actually bought the T-Shirt because there were no T-Shirts to buy before 2018, and suddenly there were. So last year, I bought a T-Shirt. “Extreme self-care” is plastered on the front and there are a bunch of rituals listed which you should probably practice, like buying flowers and booking pedis and putting on a face mask. These are all quite easy and fun and achievable and when you get down to the essence of self-care it really is quite easy and fun and achievable. Until it’s not.
See, self-care is about making time for yourself, which is Easy Street when you have time. It is Mission Impossible when you have none. When you have meetings and deadlines and friends and family members to please. When you have children to raise and Billie the border collie to feed. But the thing about time is we know exactly how much we have in each day, week, month, year and so on. So why do we fill that time saying yes to everyone else’s needs and pushing ourselves to the bottom of the list?
Because of shame.
See, the problem with self-care is it sits in direct conflict with social responsibility. I know this because I am now writing about it every week and every time I write down a topic I think, ‘No, that’s selfish, you dunce. Don’t let everyone think you’re a selfish dunce.’ The alarm on my social filter goes off. But after 42 days of thinking every topic is selfish I’ve worked out there’s either a) no way I can write this newsletter without you thinking I’m a selfish dunce or b) self-care is, in fact, selfish. So I’m going with B. In turn, we will give ‘selfish’ the rebrand it’s been waiting for. Let’s call it ‘self-centric’ which sounds like a much friendlier version. One you’d be happy to hang out with and willing to claim. Eg. “Oh no, I’m just being a little self-centric this weekend.”
Every time you think, ‘I would love to do this for myself BUT my [insert friend, husband, Billie the border collie, sister, boss, child, Alexa] needs me to [insert whatever thing you’re meant to do for them]’, you’re going to drop the BUT and do that thing you’d love to do for yourself. Because self-care requires respecting yourself enough to move yourself to the top of the list. It requires being self-centric sometimes. Because if you’re not at the top of your list, you are no good to anyone above you. As Oprah says, “The number one thing you have to do, is to work on yourself… to fill yourself up, and keep your cup full.” Think about a Negroni. No one wants the watered down ice, awkwardly tainted with the leftover rind once belonging to a proud orange garnish. They want the rich, biteyness of the cocktail in full. If you’re full, you begin to overflow and those in your life enjoy the rich parts of you flowing out in abundance. They want that part of you, not the watered down version.
“To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.”
So you’re doing this for you. But you’re also doing this for them. And if you’re still not convinced I will hand my case over to my good friend* Joan Didion. See, like Oprah, she wrote about self-care well before it became a T-Shirt. Because self-care is a matter of self-respect. When you don’t respect yourself enough to care for yourself, what you experience, Didion claims, is alienation from oneself. “In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something,” she writes. “Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the spectre of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that one’s sanity becomes an object of speculation among one’s acquaintances.”
Didion understood the weight of social responsibility, which is such a strong biological urge because it’s been instilled in us for centuries. The need to stay with the pack was one of survival, and in order to stay with the pack, you needed to please the pack. That may not have included going to brunch with Jenny, or staying on for every children’s birthday party, but simple tasks to maintain the loyalty of said pack, so you weren’t eaten by a lion. We no longer worry about lions (win!) but the extent to which social responsibility and it’s sneaky partner, shame, enter our lives is endless. Yet the time we have is not.
So that is why we’re here. To help you cultivate enough time for self-care to keep your Negroni in overflow. It all starts with handling social responsibility differently; by replacing shame with self-respect. As Didion says, “To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”
This newsletter is a friend giving you a little nudge each week; a reminder to put yourself at the top of your list. For the sake of full disclosure, this isn’t some persuasive con-man luring you into uprooting your life to Tibet or Bhutan or Ubud. This newsletter understands self-care can co-exist with a Regular Life™ by implementing small changes and habits in your daily existence and, in doing so, help you avoid reaching Breakdown Mode and a move to Tibet/Bhutan/Ubud. It’s about operating better in your life, not drastically changing it (unless by all means you want to), with an understanding your life isn’t segmented into you The Professional and you The Personal. There is just you, and this newsletter is designed to treat your professional and personal life as one. Each week we will tackle a topic – whether it’s working out how to find space, handle hyper-sensitivity, deal with guilt, or introduce gratitude in your life – and in the final week of each month I will answer a reader’s quandary. So write in your questions to [email protected] and stay tuned. Hopefully, each week, you will come out the other side Doing You a little better.
See you on the other side.
*Joan Didion is more of a muse than a good friend, image credits of Joan and her kitchen c1972: Henry Clarke/ Getty Images
Some Self-Care Reads To Get You Started
ARTICLE | SELF-RESPECT: ITS SOURCE, ITS POWER
Joan Didion’s seminal essay for Vogue in 1961 tackles the source and value of this powerful virtue. Fun fact: It was her first article for Vogue when a freelance writer failed to file.
VIDEO | EMBRACING BEING ‘FULL OF YOURSELF’
Oprah explains how to find your ‘power source’ and why you must use this to keep yourself full.
ARTICLE | THE HISTORY (AND FUTURE) OF SELF-CARE
We go back to the origins of self-care, as a simple political act becomes a billion-dollar business.
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