Self-Care as a Second Language
I have a friend who fills out the gift tag option when ordering products online – for herself! When her item arrives, it comes with a love note, from her.
Another friend, who I went to Alaska with for six weeks during college, wrote herself letters. She put pen to paper before we even boarded the plane. When she received it mid-way through the adventure she told me she had done because explaining she anticipated she might be lonely.
In both instances, when I first heard about their practices, I thought, WACKO… I didn’t say the word but am certain the puzzled look on my face expressed how odd I thought each one of them was.
“You might not want to share that with people” is what I thought. Maybe they didn’t know it seemed selfish and strange and kind of pathetic.
It’s years later and I wonder not about their choices but about my response.
Clearly they were both ahead of their time. Now, there is a language for self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love. But these friends weren’t doing online exercises with Brene Brown or reading Cheri Huber’s book There’s Nothing Wrong With You No Matter What You Think. No, they were attending to, nurturing and doting on themselves because they learned or taught themselves to relate to themselves in loving ways.
It seemed so crazy to me at the time. Then, I was barely conscious of the way I talked to myself. I’m not sure I would have even understand what having a relationship with yourself meant.
“It’s o.k. to talk to yourself,” My Great Aunt Jean used to say, “As long as nobody answers.”
Writing notes or letters to yourself seemed too close to answering. And maybe it scared me. But why?
After all, I was a journal writer even way back when. It wasn’t the notes, per se, that struck me as strange, but the planning and ahead and admitting needs and taking steps to meet them. It was how they each gave attention to their comfort and delight. They acted so deliberately, with intention and without shame. They recognized and admitted their needs and wants.
As a kid, I was told if you asked for a piece of candy from the candy dish you couldn’t have it. Asking was rude. You had to be waited to be asked. Pretending not to be staring at the white rooster dish wondering what was inside was the goal at my great-grandmother’s house. Trying not to obsess about or drool over the chewy caramel candy in a glass bowl at my Nana’s was hard.
If you could wait you might be rewarded. If you got greedy or impatient, if you asked or admitted what you wanted… Game over. You lose. Don’t ask. Don’t expect. Don’t want. Or if you do, at least don’t say so out loud.
What was a candy dish for if not for sharing candy?
I learned to be coy about getting needs met and owning up to them. The only thing worse than being needy was seeming needy. That was weak and weak is bad.
However, waiting to be asked and pretending you didn’t care a bit about your needs or wants was more dignified and restrained. Strong even. If you could go a step further, say “No thank you” even to something you wanted, that was strong, almost regal and triumphant.
It’s not like anyone said it in words. But that is the message I got. Denying the self and overriding desire was admirable. And what makes me think of it now, isn’t the past, but the cold.
Wednesday, my daughter headed with her guitar to the door wearing only a sweatshirt. It’s seven degrees out.
“Put your coat on” I say, “It’s cold.”
“It’s just across the street.”
And the truth is, I never put my coat on, even when it’s seven degrees or below zero. Same for my mittens or a hat. And I don’t carry an umbrella and I judge the light weights who do. A remote starter? No way. All of those things are for wimps. Who has the time or the money and can’t be cold (or wet) for a minute or two?
And maybe I’m even a little proud of myself when I tough it out. But why?
I’m not happy to have taught this to my own daughter. Not proud. I don’t want her to think self neglect is better than self-care. I don’t want her to shiver in the cold for even a few minutes. It’s not tough. I want her to be know how to make herself comfortable even in the elements. But I haven’t shown her that I’ll do that for myself so now she’s copying me.
I don’t know if I will ever write myself a love note when I order a package or mail myself a letter before boarding a plane. However, I’m going to start wearing my red mittens and maybe even a matching scarf.
I want my daughter to know that her needs are not optional. Life stretches our tough muscles plenty without us trying to go without or make due with less for “practice.”
It’s one thing to give a pair of mittens to someone who needs them more. That might be noble or virtuous. But to leave them on the counter, by the door, where they are warm when my hands are cold, that’s something else.