Self-care. What a trendy buzzword. But what does it really mean? Well, like I always tell my students, “when you come to an unknown word try breaking it down.” If you take it at face value it just means care for your self-care for you. Sounds simple, yet even my 8th graders could tell you it is more complicated than that.
What is care anyway? It’s a word we use a lot. My therapist always ends our session with “take good care,” the HR director signs her emails with “take care,” I tell the 8th graders a story and they say, “I don’t care.” These are not all the same kind of care. At the surface level, self-care matches the ‘take care’ email sign off. It sounds good in the same way that bubble baths feel nice. There’s nothing wrong with either, I myself am obsessed with a good bath bomb. But pleasantries and bubble baths were not what helped me through deep grief.
First of all I didn’t even have a nice tub when my husband died because we were in the middle of renovating a Victorian house built in 1874. The first floor was completed and, not to brag, it is a thing of beauty. The second floor was…still firmly in the 1970s and lets just say the green tub/shower combo with frosted glass doors wasn’t exactly screaming, “here’s a great place to relax and unwind after a stressful day.” And to be honest, at that point, any place I sat was just another place I could cry some more.
So what was the deeper self care-what my therapist was encouraging me to do when she said, “take good care”? That was a lot less glamorous than spa days and manicures. For me, it started with the acknowledgement that my partner was gone so it was up to me to take care of myself. That’s not to say I didn’t have support-I definitely did, and still do; but the person most responsible for my care is me. So how do I take care of me?
Budgeting. Self-care is a spreadsheet of income and expenses so you can know where your money is coming from and where it is going. Self-care is making sure you know how to log in to all of your financial institutions and that all of your bills will be paid. Personally, I like using the Mint app (not sponsored) to track my spending but there are dozens of options. My husband died suddenly and I felt completely out of control. Managing my finances helps me regain some of that control. Tangentially related to this is making sure all of your paperwork is in order. I have a will and a medical power of attorney, my wishes are clear and documented. This is self-care (and you probably only need to do it once and then you can tuck it away and feel good that it’s there if you were to ever need it).
Hiking. Research has shown that spending time in the woods relieves anxiety and leads to better sleep. For me, it was also a way to work out my thoughts as my feet pounded the trail. I do my best thinking in motion. It was also a way to build trust in my body. I have always been a clumsy person and athletics were never my strong suit (I’m still bitter over that B in 9th grade gym class-apparently my push up form was terrible). Through hiking I learned to trust that my body could get me where I needed to go. It could climb the hills, while wheezing, and cross the creeks, even if I didn’t quite stay on the rocks and ended up getting my feet soaked. I actually have about 30 more reasons I love hiking so I may just have to make my love letter to hiking a separate post.
Therapy. This also deserves it’s own love letter. Self-care is asking for help when you need it and I needed it. Having a trained, unbiased, outside observer to help you clarify your own thoughts is essential. At first I went once a week and I still go once a month. Grief is utterly unpredictable and I love knowing there is time set aside to work through whatever might come up. Apparently not everyone brings a list of topics they would like to discuss…but that’s what works for me.
The Bachelor. I’m not kidding. I have always loved reality television and sometimes self-care means turning off your brain and just being entertained. I would also highly recommend themed watch parties with friends and over the top snacks. For those two hours a weeks (and whenever I broke down the episode with youth group kids, colleagues, or really anyone else who was interested) I didn’t have to be the widow. I didn’t have to be working through my grief, gaining wisdom, or meaning making. I just got to talk about something that had zero impact on my life-the most dramatic season of The Bachelor (or the Bachelorette, or Bachelor in Paradise…or Listen to Your Heart).
Community. Humans were not made to go through life alone. And that’s hard to say for an introverted, type 8 who has a phobia of being dependent on any outside forces. Most of my favorite activities (piano, reading, hiking) are solo endeavors. Turns out, I can’t do this by myself. Everyone’s grief is their own which makes it incredibly lonely, but grief does not have to be a solo endeavor. In fact, it shouldn’t be. One of my main sources of community was church.
My church prides itself on being “four generations of glad and grateful people trying to live generous, grace-filled lives.” They say the four generations thing a lot…so much that I often make fun of it. But when my world shattered around me I needed those four generations. I needed people who had experienced their own world shattering moments and found their way through. I needed people who would say nothing as I sat and sobbed through my first All Saints Sunday (the Sunday where we remember people who have died). They would simply hand me a tissue as they remembered the All Saints Sunday where they were the ones sitting and sobbing. I needed little ones who would smile and talk about the silliness they had shared with my husband as they remembered him on that same All Saints Sunday. I needed people who would knit me a scarf with a pattern inspired by the sermon preached the Sunday after my husband died. And I needed people my age who would invite me to dinner and treat me like a person, not just a widow.
I asked what people did for self-care on my Instagram. Many people talked about getting outside: looking at the clouds, finding a scenic vista, or getting their hands dirty. Others raved about exercise or mindfulness. There are so may things we can do to take good care, everything from budgets to bubble baths. What do you do?