The “Care” in “Self Care”

Sad, Longing, Love, Danbo, Danboard, Figure, Cute
Credit: Pixabay / Alexas_Fotos

On my weekly todo list, there is an item “do something nice for a friend”. Last week, I assembled a care package. I asked myself, “what does a useless man need but won’t buy for himself?” – the answer, incidentally, was an exceptionally fluffy blanket, some really nice chocolate, vitamins, and assorted skincare.

As I impatiently waited for it to be delivered, I thought about care, how easy it is for me to do things like that, and the journey I’ve been on to have that care for myself. That perhaps the clearest outcome of the year I spent in therapy (I finished at the start of December, a move that felt both completely right and completely time and absolutely terrifying), is the shift in my attitude and approach and how I relate to the idea of “self care”.

Self care as I’ve keeled over and am doing nothing.
Self care as suffering.
Self care as preparing for a future Cate.
Self care as care for present Cate.

“The harder, duller work of self-care is about the everyday, impossible effort of getting up and getting through your life in a world that would prefer you cowed and compliant. A world whose abusive logic wants you to see no structural problems, but only problems with yourself, or with those more marginalized and vulnerable than you are. Real love, the kind that soothes and lasts, is not a feeling, but a verb, an action. It’s about what you do for another person over the course of days and weeks and years, the work put in to care and cathexis. That’s the kind of love we’re terribly bad at giving ourselves, especially on the left.”

Laurie Penny, Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless

I am fascinated by love languages, the ways in which we show up for each other. But the point is, for the people we love… we show up. The love languages help us understand what showing up is, that sometimes, even if someone shows up not in the way that we want, they’re still showing up; they’re still there. Love languages tell us how to translate “I love you” from the love languages we don’t speak natively, and perhaps still more importantly, “love me?”

The different iterations of self care are manifestations of how my view of myself shifted and changed. As a defective utility that periodically stopped working, as a utility, as a utility with long term value, as a human being of inherent value, whose needs are important too. The move from keeping everything in runtime memory, to a Trello board named “life failures”, and eventually renaming it to “life admin”.

“How can you practice self-care if you don’t believe you are worth caring for?”

Sarah Baba in Shayla Love’s, The Dark Truths Behind Our Obsession With Self-Care

The thing about love languages and other people, though, is for the most part we can use the languages we feel comfortable with. It’s easy for me to assemble a thoughtful gift, get on a plane, plan an adventure, or listen to someone pour their heart out and love them as much as I did before. There is no-one on this earth I love enough to file a tax return for, but both the UK and Irish governments now insist I find a way to do that for Cate.

My weekly Trello list is, in fact, a list of all the love languages that I have identified I need to show to myself. After I wrote the item “do something nice for a friend” – because being a good friend and having good friends is important to me. I completed the pair with the item, “do something nice for myself”. A secondary thought, but still, a thought. Last week I checked the box for the piece of jewellery I bought at a museum, and this week I will check it because I actually took a sick day when I was sick (a low bar maybe, but at least it exists now).

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde

The more I delve into the idea of self care as care, the more profoundly this quote resonates. It is radical to care about yourself in a society that tells you, incessantly, all the reasons why you are not enough. This understanding started reading Burnout (a book that affected me so profoundly I have lost track of the number of women I have bought it for). Burnout is a symptom of the patriarchy, and the way through is, I get it now, to value ourselves. The operative word in “self care” is care.

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