Monday, January 30

Wait, Self Care Isn't Selfish?

Believe it or not, self care doesn't come naturally to some people.

Self care is NOT second nature to me. I constantly have to force myself to do it, not because I don't care, but it's just....not there. Like math skills and a cognitive map - I am just simply deficient in that area.

Some is nature, some is nurture.

My mom was not into appearances or pampering yourself. She had the unfortunate belief that women should NOT be too involved in their appearance or self care, because doing so was selfish  and something to be condemned. For her, "taking care of herself" meant she cared about her how her hair looked. She worshiped the sun and prided herself on how dark her tan could get. She spent hours upon hours sitting in a stretched out lawn chair on our deck, reading a Danielle Steele and sipping on Dr. Pepper, or else just napping if us three kids were otherwise occupied. (Nintendo: probably the world's best babysitter.) The few things she insisted on were:
- Diet Dr. Pepper. Each week it was included in the groceries and it was hers and only hers.
Oil of Olay (before it was changed to just Olay and the bottles still looked like this:

image source

That was pretty much it. Focusing on your own comfort, joy, beauty, happiness - all these things were for women who were: vain, stuck up, and selfish. 
When I started using my babysitting money to buy make up and face wash (instead of the bar of soap from the shower) my mom would roll her eyes and make a snippy comment. 
(Obviously, as an adult, I am aware that she had serious issues. As a kid & teen, I didn't really know or understand.) 

Well, take this for example: when I read Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster and she discusses that in junior high she began blow drying and ironing her hair every morning before school - I was stunned. Literally stunned. I actually had to stop and absorb this. I checked other sources - meaning I Googled shit - and found out that it's actually quite common for girls to do this. I mean, I know it is now, but we kind of live in different times. Even my old Seventeen magazines from back in the day didn't include ironing your hair as part of the AM routine. 
My morning routine had been: climb out of bed, put on clean clothes, eat a bowl of cereal, brush teeth, and be at the bus stop by 6:37 for pick-up and nap on the bus until we reached the school at 7:50, first bell at 8:05. (Yeah, growing up in the country kinda sucked in some ways.) 

I honestly had no idea that girls could . . .get ready. I knew girls who wore make-up to school. (Also, when my mom saw these girls she would comment on how vapid and self-righteous they were.) It just kind of didn't occur to me how the make up was getting on their faces.

The first time I saw this image (which was sometime in the past couple years)

I was blown away. I had multiple sessions with my therapist about it. About self care, and about my mom and her influence on my idea of self care.

So I grew up believing that taking care of yourself - emotionally and physically - was inherently egotistical. (Serious issues, I'm telling you.)

Eventually I did take care of myself more. I had been shaving my legs since I was 11, but I began begging my dad to buy me Gillette Satin Care Gel instead of just using soap. I always washed my hair, but I started insisting on Pantene moisturizing conditioner. I bought a bottle of Biore when it was first released. I started spending hours a day riding my bike around the yard and dirt roads around my house - not for exercise, but for "me" time, to be in my head, or to get out of my head - to be away from everyone and just let my thoughts run free and to daydream. (Of course I didn't know the term "me time" back when I was 13, but that's what it was.) 
My mom made snide remarks when I gave myself a special foot bath and painted my toes. She was epically pissed when I spent babysitting money on Caress body wash because I didn't want to continue using the Dial bar. In her eyes, I was becoming narcissistic and vain.
Did I think I was so special I needed special soap and a special thing to apply said soap with? (This was when Caress was first released, also kicking off the idea of the body pouf, and you got a free peach-colored pouf in select packages of Caress Body Wash.) What made me think my legs needed gel to shave with when she had no problem using a soapy lather? 

I struggled with the kind of guilt only a mother can induce, I often pretended not to care. I pretended to agree with my mother's assessment of other women being too "into themselves" when a family friend would leave her son with a babysitter and go to a movie with her girlfriends. (Kids should always come first, was her thinking. Going to a movie, spending money on the ticket, the popcorn, maybe getting appetizers someplace after - and dear God, not to mention the effort put into doing their hair and choosing lipstick - yeah. I actually thought that all sounded like super fun stuff I wanted to do - but just nodded when my mom talked about how very selfish and immature these women were.) 

I spent a great deal of my life struggling to DO self care, fighting against the guilt I felt about being a bad person for wanting it. When I was in my early twenties, I kind of came out of it as I realized serious issues but by then my need to NOT focus on taking care of myself was indoctrinated. It was a battle in my brain, to say the least, and doing something like calling in sick to work because I was overwhelmed emotionally and needed a day to just spend with the cat - wracked me with so much guilt and self loathing it almost wasn't worth it.

And finally, in my thirties, I started weekly therapy on a long term basis. I saw the cat meme above. I started to learn that it's actually ok - and even necessary - to take care of myself - both physically and emotionally. It literally was not until I started working where I'm at now that I was able to actually stand up for myself and say "I am not going to do X for these reasons." 

I now know, logically, that self care is not selfish. I know it is vital to maintaining health and sanity. I just have to remind myself to do it sometimes. I have to remind myself that I'm allowed to have a $6 bottle of conditioner that I love as opposed to the cheapest thing on the shelf because whatever - and using and loving the good conditioner doesn't make me a bad person. 

I have to remind myself of these things. 
I have to remind myself that some days, I am overwhelmed and need to let my brain check out of reality for a bit, and spend an entire day playing video games and not dealing with the news, the bills, the worries over everything - for a little while I can do that and it doesn't mean I'm weak or selfish or vain or narcissistic. 
Self care is not usually an automatic response for me. 
I'm getting better. Therapy has helped me learn to be more in tune with what I feel and what I need. But it is still not what my "natural" mode. My default is the deeply held belief that I am undeserving and selfish. But I fight it. 
I write. I read. I take deep breaths. I talk to friends, I talk to myself. I listen to myself.
I am getting better. 

(Sorry for such a long post - didn't intend for it to be so long, but kudos to you and thank you if you made it this far!) 

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