The Self-Care Conundrum: why those who feel they don’t deserve it are the ones who need it most.

Our volunteer, Lucy, talks openly about her challenges and confusions around self-care and how she came to regard it as crucial to connection, and joy.

I used to think that self-care was a kind of hobby; enjoyed by those who had the time and money for massages and manicures.

I also considered it a tad frivolous! I had real work to do, I thought: I didn’t need all that self-indulgent fluff (duvet days and strolls in the park) in my busy, ambitious life. I always ran instead of walked; I filled each spare hour with a useful task; I usually worked and exercised through coughs and colds and as a self-employed person I never ever took a full week off.

You don’t chill much do you? Some of my wiser friends said: maybe you should take some downtime?

Ha! I’d scoff: I can rest when I’m dead!

Suffice to say that my life felt less like a rainbow and more like an amalgamation of greys, blacks and whites.

But bit by bit I learnt my lesson. And yes, it was the hard way. After years of treating myself like a machine, I found my batteries disastrously low. I’d felt a bit down a while but that was fast turning into very depressed. My immunity was weakening and never seemed to fully recover from one virus before I went out and caught another one.

I also felt my brain go numb; the energy was all used up; my thought processes far less sparky than before. I started having panic attacks and often woke up around 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Suffice to say that my life felt less like a rainbow and more like an amalgamation of greys, blacks and whites. And, worst of all, I still felt lazy. As if I wasn’t productive enough.

At last it dawned on me what this self-care business was all about. It happened gradually though – like many of us in the Western World self-compassion didn’t come naturally and it took a while before I at last admitted caring for all parts of myself was neither indulgent or frivolous. Rather, for me self-care was the missing link. The thing I needed most to help me grow.

And so the self-care journey started there. With lots of small steps and some occasional big leaps. I began taking whole weekends and a mid-week afternoon off work. In time I even took a week-long holiday – amazed at how recharged and creative I felt when I returned to my laptop. I regularly walked away from my to-do list and went to meet a friend instead. When I was ill I didn’t exercise – I tucked myself up and read a book – and when I was struggling with something I asked for help. Not just when I hit crisis point, but a good few weeks or months before that happened.

I make self-care a creative act too, letting it chop and change according to what I have going on.

The results were quite literally life-changing. Learning to look after myself in a new way has had unexpected effects. Not only do I get ill less frequently and am I (conversely) more productive (when I take more breaks), but I’m also more fun and joyful to be around!

Allowing myself to spend more time amongst my favourite people and doing the things I love has injected a load more colour into my life. It doesn’t have to cost lots of money or take lots of time either (although there’s nothing wrong with spending money on yourself if you have it – my monthly massage has worked wonders). I make self-care a creative act too, letting it chop and change according to what I have going on. If I’m in a very busy phase, I can ensure I take small chunks out of my day to re-connect with myself and clear my head a bit, perhaps by taking a walk and focusing on my breathing for just ten minutes or by calling a supportive friend. Then, when things calm down, I know it’s time to give myself a few days off to do the things I enjoy like mooching around galleries, doing some creative writing and catching up with my family.

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