Getting uncomfortable with self-care

I’m a huge advocate of self-care and even I am getting sick of those hyphenated words in a year where they are offered as the solution to so many ills. I have had people comment on how seriously I take it. For most of my adult life I have been navigating the highs and lows of the world of ‘wellness’ and in the three years since becoming a parent, it has been an important focus. I simply need my body and mind to perform for me every single day to fulfil all my roles and no more so than that of parent carer to Leo. I need to be strong enough to lift him, have the stamina to meet all his needs, be tenacious enough to advocate for him and be mentally fit enough not just to overcome the trauma we have endured together, but be resilient enough for whatever comes next.

It’s not all on me. I have help. I am aware that many who really need to look after themselves are not getting what they need. I have good family support. A brilliant local authority nursery. A personal trainer who cares about the whole picture. Understanding and supportive employers. I have drawn on practical and emotional support from charities. My boys provide the joy and the why, my home and my motivations. I invest in my health because my loved ones depend on it, but it’s more challenging that buying bath bombs, lighting candles and eating chocolate (but I do those things too.)

I believe that true self-care makes us uncomfortable. It is the harder daily route. I go out and run when I want to curl up and watch Netflix. I plan meals when I want to call for takeaway. I journal and work on my thoughts and fears when I want to bury my feelings. I meditate when I would like to scroll mindlessly. I prioritise the must do from the should do. I write emails of complaint when I would rather avoid conflict. These choices do not always make me feel kind to myself or relaxed, and they challenge me rather than soothe. But I know it’s what I need, and what I need to be for Leo. It’s about being accountable and responsible. Self-care can be fun, life-enriching and transformational; but it can also be very hard work. It is what you can control in an ever-changing landscape; but it doesn’t solve everything. It can also be an enormous privilege in the face of poverty, illness, discrimination and isolation.

What self-care is definitely not about, is fobbing people off when they should be properly served by authorities. I feel alarmed with the increasing reliance on teaching ‘self-care’ to carers who should be supported with respite. I am appalled that ‘wellness tips’ are offered instead of proper mental healthcare services to people who are suffering. Employers should not be offering ‘wellbeing’ leaflets when they cannot offer flexible-working, acceptable terms and conditions and defined roles and responsibilities.

For me, self-care is what we can do personally, so we can fulfil our responsibilities and potential to ourselves and others. But it does not replace essential public services that are legally and morally bound to provide for us.