I don’t have ‘self-care’ rituals. Note I put them in inverted commas. I’ve done this because I’ve seen ‘self-care’ mentioned a lot in that I’ve read lately, and it seems to mean things that are extraneous to actual bodily survival, but that are helpful to the people writing. So ‘self-care’ is not eating, sleeping, or wiping your bum, but anything from skin care masks, spas and extra work-outs in the gym, to weeks away getting sun. Also eating things does play a part in this, but it’s eating things deemed special in some way.
The reason I don’t have ‘self-care’ rituals in the more usual sense is partly because of the amount of problems I have with my body. And I’m not talking about the big ones. Not the pain or EDS or twisted spine. But the little ones. The acne, psoriasis on my scalp, self-harm, trichotillomania. I don’t have facials because my skin would react by trying to kill me. I don’t dye or ‘treat’ my hair because I’d be left a mass of scabby lumps. My nails have never been ‘cured because if I grew them, I could not feel anything in the tops of my fingers. They grew once, when I was in hospital for a month. I was so chuffed I painted them amazing colours. But I associated them with being ill, so once I was free, I cut my nails and my hair (which I also associated with being ill). So, I can’t really treat my body – unless you count the weekly laxative- but can I ‘self-care’ in different ways?
Yes. And I do. And this is where things become ‘normal’ for me. Where I join the general rat race. How do I make sure I do this? How to I make this important enough to do it, considering that I find it difficult to make sure I do my physio… My recent spat with my Dad has clarified that lot of the things I need and don’t do to keep me well and moving are not done because of years of comment from my Dad. When I used to go to do physio, he’d comment ‘Doing your workout?’. When I used to make art things: ‘Doing your art therapy?’- ho ho. And this has never left me. It’s affected lots of things. I’ve written before that I find it difficult to do anything to the way I look because of his comments. And this spills over into everything, including cooking. ‘What are you eating, what are you cooking, trying something new out?’. Innocuous looking comments, but they aren’t written in his tone. Which I can’t even describe – perhaps I can- it’s bitter and pointy and snide. People would pay him to voice subtle baddies. Everything has a commentary, and that is what is replayed in my head. Depressives and people who suffer with anxiety frequently have an amplified voice of criticism in their heads. Add to this an actual voice, and implied criticism, unclear comments and negative tone, and you get a shitstorm of self-hatred. Or you do if you’re me.
So back to the original question: how do I ‘self-care’ – how do I make life nicer and better for myself while also fighting the comments and criticisms racing round my head and life? With difficulty, and with determination. I do little things that are practical helps, that make life better quickly. That solve problems. And that I can do without help from my Dad, or others. A recent example is looking after my art equipment. I don’t have the money I once had to keep buying stuff, even lovely useful long-lasting art stuff, so I have to maintain that I’ve got. I have a lot of paint brushes, some over 20 years old, but I’m harsh on them and since I began painting, the quality of brushes available to me has changed. This is the case for all artists – companies have closed and materials have become noticeably more expensive. Some materials are not being made at all . In addition to this, the oft quoted line that you get what you pay for is not true. The gap in price between a world-class brush and average brush and a cheap brush is huge. The gap in quality, isn’t. At the top you get a brush that will last 20 years, but the middle and bottom are very close. So I buy student brushes that have good bristles, but that are not attached well to the handles… This is a recent development in brushes. Middling and cheap brushes have shit ferrules (the metal bit) and shit handles. Also I now buy almost exclusively synthetic brushes that can be used with all media rather than buying squirrel etc. for watercolours, as the squirrel available for my l budget is shit and synthetic tech has moved on massively. I have a lot of brushes, but eventually they need maintenance. Recently they needed it all at once – 10 brushes lost their heads, so I made sure I got glue and I made sure I didn’t lose it and I made sure I cleaned the end of the handle and I made sure I glued the brushes back together and fixed the heads in place while they dried and re-varnished the naked handles (the paint coming of the handles contributes to the ferrules getting loose- you used to be able to clamp the ferrules back on with pliers but now the metal used is so weak it won’t take it and pliers cut through it…). And this is my ‘self-care’. Managing to remember to get the damn glue was a highlight. Other things include buying new trainers when mine wear out – I can’t walk without them and my pain increases rapidly once they’ve reached the point of no return. I wash my make-up brushes, make sure I give myself enough time to do my Calligraphy practice, sew up the holes in my tights. Hell, I bought new ones this week. All these things add to my comfort in living, some directly but others because they reduce worry and anxiety. The brushes are a perfect example of this. I now know I can pick up any of my 70+ brushes and they should keep together. This will save me money, and money is anxiety in paper and disk form.
Comfort is very close to happiness for me. And that’s an achievement.