Self-care is sometimes more like self-preservation

Photo by Laurence BD

It was the beginning of November, and I felt like shit.

As the autumn leaves transformed from flaming red to muddy brown, that familiar pre-winter malaise started to sink in. Each day was becoming darker and colder than the last, and rolling out of bed in the morning went from a small challenge to an overwhelming obstacle. Like some twisted tradition, my annual ‘slump’ had taken form, characterized by a growing pile of assignments, a growing pile of laundry, and a sudden decline in my physical health.

Despite all the shittiness, I was still scraping by. I handed in my assignments, even if they were late. I made sure to eat, even if it was just bowl after bowl of yogurt – I really enjoy yogurt. I took things one day at a time, clinging to the holy mantra that had carried me through my entire academic career: just finish the goddamn semester. 

But a few weeks later, just as I was about to finish the goddamn semester, an incident occurred in my personal life. I won’t go into the details because, quite frankly, that’s none of your beeswax, but I will tell you this: it wasn’t fun, and I took a hit.

You know that scene in The Lion King where Mufasa is dangling from the edge of a cliff? I can’t help but think that, if it weren’t for that asshole Scar, he could have pulled himself up—he’s a lion, for f*ck’s sake, his muscles are like cinder blocks. But life came out swinging and that beautiful bastard plummeted to his doom.

After the incident, my assignments became less and less of a priority, my pile of laundry grew even more, and I ran out of yogurt. The whole thing was like the cherry on top of the cake, except instead of a cherry it was a hand grenade and instead of a cake it was a steaming pile of garbage. A question was beginning to form in my mind: am I taking care of myself?

The answer, I learned, was pretty straightforward: no. But if I wasn’t taking care of myself, what could I do to change it? What does ‘self-care’ even mean?

To figure things out, I decided to call my OG caregivers: good ol’ mom and dad.

First, I called my dad. Here’s the thing about me and my old man – we are exactly the same. We are high stress, high anxiety people who both tend to be very hard on ourselves. Since my dad is a few years older than me, though, and presumably full of wisdom, I was curious to hear his advice.

“If you’re feeling like shit,” I asked, “What do you do to make yourself feel better?”

“I would take a break,” he said. “I would probably aimlessly browse the Internet, or I would go for a walk with no particular destination in mind.”

My mom gave me a similar answer. The pinnacle of productivity and self-preservation, she has this remarkable talent for stress management that I, unfortunately, did not inherit.

“I need to be by myself,” she told me. “Without anybody asking me for anything.”

This is true. Every day after work, without fail, my mom settles into the corner of the couch with a heat pad on her back and a book in her hands. She’ll sit in her ‘nest’ for hours until it’s time to go to bed. It’s her happy place. Meanwhile, my dad is in his office, doing essentially the same thing: blasting classical music, he’ll spend the evening combing through Internet forums about remote control helicopters or medical breakthroughs or whatever he’s into that week (he’s a man with many tastes).

After I hung up, I wondered what my happy place was, and what I could do to take a break from it all. I’m still trying to figure that out, so I’ll keep you posted.

There’s something about my parents that I really admire: no matter how hard life gets, they take care of themselves. They feed themselves, they manage their space, and they get stuff done. When my grandma died last year, I think my mom was able to stay afloat because she had set herself a good foundation – she didn’t live her life clinging to the edge of a cliff. When tragedy struck, she didn’t fall into a pit of raging wildebeests, she simply just fell.

Here’s what I’ve learned these past few weeks: there’s always gonna be a new semester coming, and if it’s not a semester, it’ll be something else – a new deadline, a new job, a new life event. Personal emergencies are always going to happen, people I love are going to get hurt, and mental and physical illnesses are always going to be part of my life. The kindest and most compassionate thing I can do for myself is to set up a good foundation.

Take care, everyone.


Photo by Laurence BD

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