Monday, September 5, 2011

Self-Care, Picasso, and Dental Floss

I have the beginnings of about 5 different blog posts, none of them particularly interesting or worthwhile, and all of them very stuck.  I can’t seem to land on a topic and stick to it right now, and when I do find a topic I want to write about, the thoughts stick and can’t pass through the birthing canal from my brain to my fingers to make it onto the page.  It’s painful, I’ve gotta say.  There are lots of reasons, some of which I’ve even identified, none of which I want to go into.  So they’re just going to stay stuck and we’re all going to be happier for it.  Maybe. 
So instead, I’ll write about something easy, fun, important.  I’m going to write about self-care. 
Stop laughing! 
No, really now.  Stop laughing. 
C’mon, that’s not nice.  Just listen.  I might have something to say.
Are you quite finished?  Thank you.
So, self-care is important.  I should do it.  You should do it.  The world would be a happier place if we all just self-cared more often.
Hmmm…this post isn’t working out so well, either.
See, I have a problem with the word “deserve.”  Many people, when they say “take care of yourself,” follow it up with “…you deserve it.”  The concept of being “deserving” indicates to me that there are some people, then, who DON’T “deserve it,” and I just don’t believe that’s true.  If we get into the “deserving” piece, I can always think of people who are more “deserving” or whatever than I am, and can’t really think of anybody who ISN’T deserving.  Maybe it’s because the media always tries to shove down our throats that we “deserve” whatever it is that I am so opposed to the idea. 
For example, think of all the women you know.  Can you think of one woman who doesn’t “deserve” to have shiny, thick hair that smells like Strawberry Breeze?  Me either!  I mean, really, when you get pissed at somebody (since you were older than junior high), do you ever think, “I hope your hair gets thin and smells like swamp scum, because you SURELY don’t deserve to shampoo your hair after THAT behavior.  Noooooo siree, no shampoo for you.  I’m taking my Strawberry Breeze Shining and Thickening shampoo AND the Clean Rain conditioner and GOING HOME.” 
When I was a kid, we had a tape of stories we listened to in the car.  One story’s main character was an elderly woman who lived by the motto, “people get what they deserve.”  I have heard this, particularly over the past year and a half, from various people, in various ways.  “Karma’s a bitch,” some people say.  “What goes around comes around.”  “They’ll get what’s coming to them.”  Basically, I don’t believe it’s true.  People DON’T get what they deserve (good and bad) and, in fact, many people get things they don’t deserve.  That’s just a fact.  I’ve seen it happen.
So, when people tell me “take care of yourself, you deserve it,” I kind of get unnecessarily irritated.  (“So you’re saying there was a time when I didn’t?” or “oh I do, do I?  Well exactly how much self-care do I deserve at this point?  Do I have enough “you deserve it” points saved up to earn a hot bath?  How about candles?  Have I earned candles?).  Maybe I am thinking about it wrong, but it irks me.
It’s different, though, when people say, “you ARE worth it.”  That, to me, is completely different because, yes, there are times when I haven’t felt/don’t feel like I am “worth it”—with “it” being time, or money, or just plain and simple attention.  To say “you’re worth it” is reminding you/me/whoever that it’s okay to take that time.  That your body, your mind, your spirit, is deserving of that love and attention.  It’s taking away the “deserve”—which indicates that you had to do something in order to earn it, and just says “you are worthy of that love, simply because you are.”
Deserve feels like I’m working for something, although I didn’t know the rules of what I was working for.  It’s like I worked, worked, worked, and suddenly, I “deserve” something, although I never know how much I “deserve,” quite how much I earned.  If I’m going to work like that, give me a token economy chart so I can cash in my chips at the end of the day.
Worthiness feels like something more inherent.  It’s present on a more bodily level.  My body brought me through another day.  It put up with the wear and tear, withstood the physical and emotional miles I put on, and for that, I should take care of it.  It is worth taking care of so it will continue carrying me.  My emotional and spiritual self withstood the trials and tribulations of another day.  For that, it is worth caring for, so I can ensure it will continue to help me through the day.  I don’t always believe this or know it to be true, but it’s easier for me to swallow than the whole “deserve” thing.
Or at least, that is the distinction in my mind.  If you have a better way of thinking about this and I’m completely off base, let me know.
Back to self-care.  We all know the drill.  It doesn’t have to be something that costs money.  It doesn’t have to be something big.  It just has to be something that makes you feel good, that replenishes you, yada yada yada.  Right?
The thing I’ve never understood about all that is this: what if you don’t know?  What if you don’t know what’s going to feel good, or what is going to replenish you?  What if you can’t figure out what’s going to work?  Or what if you just can’t bring yourself to take the time?
One of the bigger “a-ha” moments of my life in regards to self-care occurred while I was flossing my teeth.  I’m not kidding…flossing, for me, is generally an act of pretty radical self-care. 
About a year ago, I was making a concerted effort one evening to engage in some basic self-care, so I was flossing my teeth.  As I flossed, I looked in the mirror to see what I was doing, and when I did, my eyes found my eyes in the mirror.  I put the floss down and stood for a few seconds, looking at myself, holding my gaze and looking—really looking—at my face, my clothes, my body, and in particular, my eyes.  As I did this, I started to cry and realized: it had been about 6 months since I had looked at myself in the mirror and really allowed myself to see inside.  Of course, I had looked in the mirror, but I had only seen the pieces I was fixing: my hair, my teeth, my make-up.  In those 6 months, my entire world had changed, and I was unwilling and unable to look myself in the face.  I felt sure I would see someone else entirely looking back at me, but also couldn’t bear the thought of looking the same when everything about me and the way I thought about myself had changed.  When I finally allowed myself to look, it was powerful, and emotional, in a way I can’t find the words to describe.  It was like allowing myself to see myself as whole.  Like seeing myself in a photograph, when I had been picturing myself fractured and abstracted like a painting by Picasso.
Self-care is hard work.  It’s harder than taking care of others.  It’s harder than putting one foot in front of the other and marching steadily forward.  It takes real, conscious effort, and most times, I’m not even 100% sure what it means. 
I have a feeling, though, it might start with some dental floss.


  1. I thought you didn't have anything to write about? Ha! I love the comparison between deserving and worth. I've always struggled with deserving too. It doesn't work, the whole idea of people getting what they deserve. I don't see that in action. I'm pretty sure what I deserve--based on what I've put into a job or a relationship or the care of possessions--doesn't always happen. Sometimes I give out sunshine and I get a pile of dog excrement in return. But my sunshine is definitely worth something. I guess I need to be more careful where I spend my sunshine.

    Good ideas here. :-)

  2. Thanks.

    And you're right, of course: your sunshine is definitely precious and should be spent on people and situations who will acknowledge it for the treasure it is.