I do not know know how to take care of myself. Not in a cutesy, “I’m having ice cream for dinner, aren’t I a wacky young adult” way, but in a “I’m a woman on my own with a kid and no partner and no child support and no extended family and no immediate friends to talk to and wow sometimes this shit is fucking hard” way. As I come to the close of a year where I learned a lot of costly professional lessons, and the close of four years since the person I learned how to rely on left without much decency or explanation, I’m realizing that to finally grow past it all, I need to finally figure this self-care thing out.
For people who have always been told their needs are valid and important (hi men, how’s it going), it may seem unusual to have to put so much time and effort into learning how to take care of oneself. But, for others, it’s a monumental effort to even to the point where you feel comfortable enough to start. Or are able to start. It’s been many years for me of working just to get by, and it’s almost a shock I’m now in a place where I don’t have to put off buying myself something because I have another expense that comes first, or that I can afford to get help taking care of daily tasks. Or that I can take some time for myself.
This lesson is so difficult for me to get used to living that earlier this year I made the ultimate reminder: a tattoo of a traditional heart with name banner, except in the banner is not written another person’s name, but the word, “myself.”
Women are socialized to think that being branded as selfish is the worst thing that could happen to them. Especially mothers. Society expects mothers to take care of all things and please everyone and give unconditionally, all the time, without fail. Fail at that and you’ve failed at being a woman. Except this is a practically impossible thing to do and if you do manage to do it, I guarantee you do it at the expense of your own wellbeing. It’s a game you cannot win.
I have begun to learn that I am more effective and impactful as a mother, as a professional, as a speaker, as a community organizer, as a woman, if I take care of myself better. I’ve learned that all of those things I could technically do because I’m now technically an adult aren’t any good when their cumulative cost comes out in later years. If talking about getting older sounds like an annoying cliche to you, then you just haven’t done enough of it yet. It hits everyone, and at one point you just can’t get away with spending your energy and health—physical, mental or emotional—like there’s no tomorrow. Now, I get a lot of sleep and eat well and have a great therapist and focus on finding balance and peace because if I don’t, I can’t keep any of this up, and I would not be able to do any work to help others get to the same place.
I’m in a period where life is great, but I can’t quite enjoy it yet because I’m still dealing with the fallout of having been so overwhelmed in the past. Pushing ahead and playing with injuries is not going to get me anywhere. Instead, I’m learning to be gentler and quieter with myself. Right now, I don’t read social media. I read a lot in longform, online and off. I write a lot. I process and think. Instead of more information, I have decided to go after wisdom. I am paying attention to what I need and finding sustainable ways to get it. I’m taking care of myself. Which, in some circumstances, seems like one of the most revolutionary acts an individual can take.