Self care, and making sure to stop the daily rat race in order to check in with yourself, is so incredibly important. And it’s all the rage these days. There’s article after article about how you need to stop and take care of yourself. I love that. And I really love that the conversation has moved beyond the “fun” self care.
It’s easy to do the fun stuff, like bubble baths and candies for yourself. It’s certainly easier than doing the hard work of self care. Hard self care looks like being honest with yourself about yourself. It looks like delving deep into why we are the way we are, why we react to problems in a certain way, why sometimes we are selfish, mean, unfair, and unjust. It’s gritty and often painful. But boy does it do wonders for building our character.
My fun self care often looks like cross stitch and other crafting. I love to create things. I love watching something beautiful appear on my canvas as I make tiny stitches in it. Every stitch heals my heart.
My harder self care also takes the form of creating, in a way. I write letters to myself when my mind goes dark and I’m trying to find my way out of difficult times. Like so many of you, I’m my own hardest judge. And my letters to myself aren’t love letters. They ask difficult questions and demand action. Somehow, writing those letters helps me to see past my own blinders.
Both of those kinds of self care are extremely important. But what happens when no amount of self care can refill your cup? How do you justify it to yourself and to the world when you can spend literally all day doing “nothing” and still have a cup that is almost bone dry?
When you suffer from a chronic illness that steals your energy and causes constant pain, often times there is nothing that can refill your cup. You can sleep all day and wake up exhausted. You can rest your body and your mind and still have nothing to give. You can write a thousand letters of self reflection and still have no answer to why you lack any energy.
Chronic illnesses, and especially chronic pain, steal so much of what makes you you. Before my diagnosis, one of my favorite self care activities was walking in nature. I loved finding a quiet path to walk along. I’d stop often to smell wild flowers and pick up interesting rocks. I wend my way through paths and somehow I’d always find my way back to myself. Now, I can’t walk more than a little while without having to sit down. And that lack of energy makes me hate myself a little. I call myself names as I wheeze for breath. My muscles ache and my joints cry out, and in my head all I can think of are the names I have for weakness.
Where did my strength go? Where did my endurance go? Surely there is something I can do to find it again. I end up having to write letter after letter of apology to my body for sitting in judgement of what it is not capable of. I know that I should be kinder, gentler to this body that fights so hard to exist in constant, gnawing pain. But the voice of judgement is loud. And it is exhausting to fight that judgement. Almost as exhausting as it is to live every day in a body that doesn’t know the peace of walking through nature any more.