“I had a stressful week, I'm going to need some self care tonight!”
“I know that this isn't very healthy, but it's self care!”
“If I don't relax, I'm going to lose my mind! Time for a self care movie.”
Self care is of vital importance, especially when you know you it's up to you to provide the much needed tending. When I get knee deep in a project and it's 4AM, I have to remind myself that running ragged isn't going to help me produce a better product. It IS imperative to put work down and heave a much needed sigh of relief and put your needs before work needs every now and again. We are all here on earth for such a short time and living 100% for work won't help you accomplish what you need.
We have to be reminded sometimes that our job does include taking care of ourselves. It means putting something down and getting a fresh perspective, getting out of the endless loops, and limiting the frustration and other stress building hormones. “Living for yourself,” can have the connotation of screwing other people over selfishly where “self care” has seemed to focus on taking a break, eating a cookie, and relaxing before the stress eats you away.
Still, a lot of times my “self care” looked more like “self hurt.” Although I'm no tea-totaler, my drinking has dropped off so significantly that those rare times when I do enjoy a cocktail it hits me pretty quickly and even just a few will come back to haunt me the next day. I remember heading to the bar for “self care” and celebrations but I've really come to doubt that the bar was the right place for self care. Having a party can be self care but the two are not totally the same. Doing something to avoid confronting emotions or problems is at best procrastination. That was when I started to reflect on the times when I would enjoy one bomb-ass, epic, artisan cocktail versus those times when I took my stress to the bar for a few whiskey sours. Which ones were about self care and treating oneself and which times were about avoiding a problem?
I picked drinking as an example because I've never been a regular problem drinker. Sure, there were a few times when I've been right and proper hammered but drinking is something that has almost always made me feel awful physically. I came with a defacto cap on the sauce that made limiting myself relatively easy and was one of the first things I considered a fun but ultimately toxic substance to be handled with great care. Really, anything that is done compulsively can lead to a negative spiral for an individual.
Working out, for instance, is healthy but most of us know the gym rat who seems to have taken things a little too far. When it starts to get linked into a negative shame spiral, then it stops being about self care and becomes more about serving an error window in the psyche that keeps demanding that you “Push OK To Continue” but never actually lets you continue. Addiction and other forms of compulsive behavior are all about that error window that never goes away, no matter how many times you push that “OK” button. Humans can get into compulsive behavior loops for any behavior. It might be porn for one person, working out for another, gambling for someone else, religion for their cousin, and hoarding for their best friend.
Self care, for me, is about catching yourself at the beginning of those loops and realizing that it's time for a re-start on the mental browser. It also means keeping my browser up to date so that spyware (aka, shame) don't get in and to make sure that I'm getting the most out of my multimedia internet experience (aka, life).
Self care can mean that it's time for me to go take a long soak in the tub because my muscles are getting stiff from hunching over a project too long and because I'm losing perspective on why I'm engaging with that project in the first place. Self care also means that I take the vitamins I need and minding the nutritional content of the food I eat. For me, self care doesn't mean grabbing fast food but does mean I am thoughtful and deliberate about the food I put into my body because I deserve to eat the best I can find, grow, gather, or scrap together. Self care doesn't mean that I scold and call myself names for skipping a workout but does mean that I take time to honor my body by giving it exercise everyday.
I do like to take in some entertainment but I do like to think about whether or not this media is helpful or hurtful to people. I've made it a point to ignore tabloids and most magazines because even though I might like to say I'm enjoying mindless entertainment, there's a lot of mind being paid to lauding certain bodies and denigrating others in a long stream of advertisements for pointless products that don't help anyone at all but the corporations that shill them. I would rather engage in self care with something fun that doesn't limit itself to stories about rich, white, cisgender, straight folks. It does help “shut the mind off” but I question how helpful it is to shut myself off to the majority of the earth and its occupants. There's lots of funny, light-hearted, relaxing entertainment that doesn't involve the bullshit and stand-up comedy has been one of my favorite places to experience that.
Even self care takes a little bit of work. It's worth taking time to really think about what honors you and your journey and what might be taking away from that. I don't think it ever could be the same for everyone. One form of self care that took some work and change for me was quitting smoking. For a long time, cigarettes have been my go to form of “self care” for anxiety. They were rewards, pastimes, and creativity triggers. It was hard to imagine writing without smoke breaks and it took some radical self honesty about why I smoked and the compulsive loop that kept me trapped in it. The physical withdrawal is just a small part of the major paradigm change that goes into stopping smoking and most people will light up every now and again in their quitting process. When you decide to quit and restart your browser, smoking is going to bring up windows that say, “Are you sure you want to restart? You have your ‘cigarette and a cup of coffee' program running.”
Self care, for me, meant saying: yes, I want to restart and update my browser because there is so much internet to be seen and new ways to see it all of the time. I don't want to limit myself, I want to expand and engage with ideas and excitement and challenges and love for as long as I can. I can't do that with my outdated browser that is crawling with all kinds of spyware. What does self care mean to you?
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