On self-care

It’s been exactly 3 months since I’ve engaged with this site. For any readers who were enjoying the old momentum, my apologies. I (briefly) considered adding new content and saying nothing, but I decided against it because there’s a lesson here. It’s not one I feel super comfortable about sharing, but fuck it – life is too short to hide certain experiences because they don’t measure up to an arbitrary ideal of myself you probably were never expecting I meet anyhow.

The lesson is not only that grad school, moving, and starting new jobs are all stressful af – literally all experiences I’ve had in the past 30 days – but worse, and maybe more relatably for most of you not enduring so many transitions together, is that once a period of intense stress rapidly ramps down, and suddenly you have some time on your hands, this is when the emotional recoil snaps the hardest. Like every emotion you stuffed back in order to just. make. it. through. has fused together into a hydra and all the feels come at you all at once and overpowering and seemingly multiplying the more you process through them.

Last month at this time I had the sunny expectation that, with the school year over, I could soon get back to my life: personal writing projects, including adding content to this site, practicing one of a couple musical instruments I’ve been neglecting, eating breakfast, exercising. Instead, when not working, caring for my dog, packing, or unpacking, there have been a lot of evenings where I’m capable of doing nothing more than laying on the floor petting the dog, too tired to cry, wondering how I could possibly be so bad at this “self-care” stuff.

You see, I’ve been a licensed acupuncturist for 7 years now. I became interested in Chinese Medicine long before that, even before I worked as a volunteer offering Reiki to low-income women with cancer. What drew me to Chinese Medicine was precisely its concern with what we in the West now fetishize as self-care: the promotion of health, including the prevention or management of chronic disease, through fairly DIY measures such as diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, and general regularity of one’s life. All of these can be summed up with the term “regimen,” and through the development of biomedicine in the nineteenth century, they also composed the bulk of what Hippocratic/Neo-Hippocratic medicine had to offer. Rather than rejecting these as outdated superstitions, personal experience with the effectiveness of these measures in tending to depression and warding off migraines, as well as years of living as an uninsured person struggling to pay cash out of pocket for medical treatments, motivated me to learn about these issues of regimen in an active medical tradition more fully, leading me to where I am today.

This is all to say that I’ve known about the complex interplay between stress, environment, and illness for so long that coping to how long is a definite/inherent admission to being old. More importantly than this, I’ve known how my specific body reacts to stress, weird meals at weird times, and sleeping badly or not enough. And despite knowing all that I do, I still fuck up sometimes, nay, a lot of times. I still get overstressed in the morning and decide to call the extra soymilk in my coffee breakfast. I still come home after a late day at work and, rather than pounding a bag of chips in one sitting or deciding to call the random sampling of snacks from my fridge dinner. (Hummus, baby carrots, something salty: the avocado toast of people too lazy to toast bread or poor to buy avocados out of season, the snack turned meal of the patron saint of single diners across the global north, the “we’ve all been there” convenience combo of the ages.)

It’s really hard to admit this, and it’s harder still to not beat myself up for doing it when I know better, and teach patients better, and would gently suggest any of a dozen strategies for doing better to any friend who came to me asking for help with these issues. Acceptance of our own fallibility, though – even those of us who totally know better – forgiveness, hoping we can simply do a little better next time, is such an important part of self-care. In this new era we’re living in, where self-care been fetishized and/or commodified by a growing army of social media influencers, I just want to say –

Be gentle with yourselves, folks. We all get stressed out. We all cope with our stress in variously shitty ways. The trick is to learn to do a little better every time, and, as always, to try not to be a cunt to others as we’re going through it.

“Everyone is fighting their own battle, try not to be a cunt.” – Sticker available from an awesome queer female owned store here.