Beating Yourself Up About Self-Care Is…Not Self-Care

I woke up this morning already feeling anxious. (Yay!)

My standard iPhone alarm is set for 6:45, but I prefer to get up a little before it and get some shit done. I am most productive in the mornings, and I like to ride that wave. It also means I can be at my coffee shop right when it opens. A positive of the pandemic is that most of the coffee shops on Main Street in Santa Monica are walk-up service right now (with a table at the doorway), so I can make walking Lucy in the morning a little less boring when it involves coffee.

But today I woke up right at 6:45, and it was well after 7 before I got moving, which made me feel behind the eight-ball already. I have a client at 10 and then a housekeeper coming for a deep clean, so I felt like I had a 10am deadline.

Seeing therapy clients (during a pandemic!) has really made me realize how important real and true self care is. I can’t be there for others if I can’t be there for myself.

Before 10am, I wanted to:

  • get coffee and walk Lucy (non negotiables)
  • and also go for a long walk!
  • or work out
  • call my aunt
  • grocery shop
  • get my 5 min of meditation in on the beach
  • shower and dry my hair
  • get some reading done for class
  • and maybe catch up on my client notes

(I know that if you have kids or an intense job, it might be hard to do any of those things in the morning. I get really lonely as a single person living alone sometimes but there is absolutely a certain freedom to it.)

There was literally no way I could do this all before 10, and I started beating myself up for not being able to do those things. But I’m listening to the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff and learning so much about the weight of our negative self-talk.

It’s helping me be a little more present. On a run the other day, for example, I really noticed my negative self-talk, comparing myself to a younger, faster me who could run much more easily.

Meanwhile…I was out running. In a pretty gorgeous place. But I could have been anywhere because I was so in my head. We carry emotions in our body, and no wonder running feels hard if I’m carrying that weight of comparison. I reminded myself I don’t have to run, I get to run, and I reminded myself how much more enjoyable the run would be, if I could just be present through the shitty first 15 minutes or so AND when it felt good.

And I employed that this morning: a short workout is better than nothing, meditation is non-negotiable, I can order groceries online, I can compromise with myself by sitting outside on a park that looks at the ocean rather than on the actual beach (I know this last part sounds silly but it did save me a good 10 minutes when I was feeling stressed about time.)

Self-care is realizing that something is better than nothing. Self-care is not doing one of these things and beating yourself for not doing them all—or trying to race through a list of things meant to take care of yourself while not at all being present.

Self-care is not writing a post like this and talking yourself out of posting it because you think it feels silly in the scheme of things. Are these things I’m stressing out about inconsequential in the grand scheme of things? Absolutely—but this is just an example of how the self-talk about the small things can begin snowballing to the bigger things.

Self-care is writing a post like this even though it wasn’t on your little list of things you should be doing this morning to take care of yourself. It just felt good to write this this morning, and like with anything I write, if it helps one person a little bit, even better. Self-care is not doing all the things you know how to do to optimize this post but you hate doing.

What’s one thing you’re doing today to take care of yourself? Not because you feel like you should—but because you know it will just bring you a little more joy today?

The Midnight Library Review

midnight library summary

I read The Midnight Library over the weekend, and I need to talk about it. With everyone.

(Trigger/content warnings of suicide attempt/suicidal ideation/mom loss.)

I’ve heard so much buzz about this book, but because of said trigger warnings was really nervous to read it…since those are personal triggers for me, too. But Grace said that it was actually incredibly uplifting, so I decided to give it a try and let myself stop if it became too triggering.

(Though, when I started to describe the book to my therapist this morning, before I got to the uplifting part, she asked me “where the fuck do you find these books, Theodora?!” I am known to fall into books, sometimes unknowingly, that are DEEPLY triggering.)

The book starts off with our young protagonist, Nora, losing her cat and then contemplating, and then attempting suicide. She falls into…title drop…the Midnight Library. The premise of the Midnight Library is that it’s kind of a land in between life and death. The library holds shelves of books of your regrets and all the alternate lives you might have lived.

She tries out a life where her childhood swimming led her to the Olympics, where her singing made her a rockstar, etc, etc—but realized that none of these alternate lives were what she thought they were. Every life, even the ones that look all bright and shiny, has its shit.

As someone who deals with depression—and had a pretty bad episode recently—the idea that there is a gray cloud over my head while everyone else is living in the sunshine is all too real. And of course, social media only magnifies this. (So I’ve stayed off IG a lot lately.) I got some really good news recently, and idly started scrolling through IG and saw something that made me feel deeply envious and terrible about myself. This negated the good feelings I’d just been feeling as I went quickly and deeply into a spiral.

But I don’t know what’s in her book—maybe she had to go through a whole lot of trauma to get to where she is in her beautiful house. (After being inside a 1-BR for 90% of the past year, I have DEEP house envy right now.) Maybe she has a sick parent or partner right now or or or. Maybe her shit to go through hasn’t come yet. Because, at some point, we will ALL have that shit—that feels more than we can bear—even if things look all bright and shiny now.

I like to say I have no regrets. I DO. NOT. BELIEVE. that something like a loved one dying or an illness happens for a reason AND PLEASE NEVER SAY THAT TO SOMEONE. But with that said, I think some of the decisions we make and paths we take are what—rocky road or not—get us to where we are today. My only two true regrets are not studying harder in high school/college (I did well in classes I liked but didn’t ~apply myself~ in ones I didn’t) and not getting any kind of mental health treatment earlier. I walked into my school’s counseling center either my freshman or sophomore year…and turned around at the door because I was scared. I wonder how that might have changed things, but I can’t change that and I have to have compassion for young Theodora who was struggling and was so scared to let others in.

Do I wish I had gone to treatment earlier? Or moved to California earlier? Absolutely—but I wouldn’t have been ready.

As I finished The Midnight Library, I was snuggled up in the corner of my couch, under my cozy weighted blanket, with my snuggly little puppy by my side, with the sun warming my face as I looked out at the ocean. When I put down the book and realized that, I realized how lucky I was—and was able to hold onto that. When I am having a dark moment, I am always very aware of how truly lucky I am in many ways in this life—and that makes me feel even worse that my brain won’t let me appreciate that, furthering the spiral.

Even when I am doing relatively well mentally, my mind can VERY quickly go to despair and a very dark place. Since finishing this book, when it does go to that dark place of personal despair (societal despair is a very different thing), I have been reminding myself that this is my book. There may be some pretty fucked up pages in it, there may be lots of espresso stains on the pages, Lucy might have eaten a corner of a page—but it’s mine. And it’s mine to write going forward.

I should also note that the author, Matt Haig, writes frequently on mental health and deals with depression himself. I’ve also read his Reasons to Stay Alive when I was looking deeply…for reasons to stay alive.