Cried But Did The Thing Anyway is a highly truthfully named series of blogs about freelancing, writing, and life in general as experienced by Maria Stanislav, who is too young to be an X-er, too old to be a Millenial, and likes to pretend she has much more of life figured out than she really has. Fake it till you make it, yo. (She also thinks she can pull off saying ‘yo’.)
This week, I want to talk about the importance of being bothered. As in, “I can’t be possibly bothered to [insert activity here]”. We say or think or act on this sentiment more often than we notice. Sadly.
Maybe you can’t be bothered to get breakfast this morning, on your way to work. Or, when working from home, you can’t be bothered to get dressed. Or you have a perfectly good espresso machine at your disposal, but you subsist on instant coffee, because – Sigh, So Much Trouble. Or maybe, in the evening, you’re so tired that you can’t be bothered to wash your makeup off.
Most of the time, the things we can’t be bothered to do are things we do (or, as the case may be, don’t do) for ourselves. Consistent shirkage of commitments before other people can result in loss of jobs or clients, unhappy friends, family troubles, and, if you’ve got a decent conscience somewhere, feeling like a terrible person. Commitments to yourself, however? Phah! Shirk away, that bitch can take it, and who cares about her, anyway?Well, I don’t know what your support system is like (and whether you, like JD (pictured), have to rely on a pair of emotionally crippled narcissists), but I know someone who definitely should be taking care of that bitch – and that is, in fact, that bitch. Which is my overly elaborate way of saying…
You should be taking better care of yourself.
Seriously. Whatever your current level of self-care is, I’m willing to bet money that there are corners you frequently cut, putting your work, family, friends and/or relationship before your physical and/or mental health.
Well, I’m not going to tell you to stop doing that, because it’s not a thing you can just up and stop. But I’m going to tell you to be aware of it, and try to do it less, whenever you can. There’s a wealth of reasons for this, and I’ll cover three of them.
But first, just to get the basics out of the way – YES, you deserve to take care of yourself. YES, you are as worthy of this as the next person (even if the next person is a few weeks old). And if you’re battling mental health demons who are trying to tell your otherwise, my heart goes out to you, and, well, just keep on keeping on, okay? Have a hug on me.
Reason N1 to take better care of yourself:
Because NO, it’s not selfish; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Chances are, you’ve got people who care for you. Chances are, you’re often neglecting yourself to take care of them. You think you’ve being wonderful and selfless when you do that. Well, genius, tell me, who’s going to cook three-course healthy meals for your precious children when you’re in a hospital with an ulcer earned by eating nothing but fast food? Alternatively, who will drive you (and them) to therapy sessions after you’ve completely lost your shit in front of them because you’ve been all about work, family, family, work, EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING but yourself, for weeks and months, and finally snapped?
So if you think that driving yourself into the ground in the name of people you care for is selfless – no. It’s stupid. Because in the best-case scenario, you’ll end up being taken care of by them. In the worst case, because we don’t always make the best choices of people to love endlessly, you’ll end up alone and destroyed, while they’ll waltz off saying, “I never ASKED you to make these sacrifices for me.” That’s going to do you a world of good, right?
You’ve all heard the ‘your own oxygen mask first’ analogy, right? Come on, it’s been done to death – and part of the reason for that is, it’s actually true. You want to take care of people around you? You want to be productive in the world? You want to be a useful human being? Then take some goddamn care of yourself. People around you will thank you for that. Me, I know I wouldn’t want to fly out of an airport with an underslept air traffic controller, or be on the operating table of a surgeon whose hands are shaking because he hasn’t had the time to eat today.
Reason N2 to take better care of yourself:
Because shirking self-care is a slippery slope.
The idea to write this post actually came to me when I was going to sleep after another 12-hour grueling day of translation work, and I almost fell into bed in my street clothes. I was so tired that changing into pyjamas felt like an enormous undertaking, even though they were right there, perfectly within my reach. I caught myself before I did, and forced myself to stay upright and awake for the extra ten seconds it took me to change and be comfortable. As I lay in bed, I remembered my university days, when I juggled academics with two jobs, one part-time, one freelance, and frequently couldn’t be bothered to put bedclothes on my couch (a habit that appalled my family to the point where they’d tell me off repeatedly, but never to the point where they’d do it for me; perhaps it was meant to be a learning experience for me).
I’d like to say that now, ten years later, I have a four-poster bed with satin sheets and throw pillows, a bedtime ritual involving an hour’s worth of grooming, and a wave machine. That is not the case. In fact, even though I do have a comfortable bed (with bedsheets, even), I often crash on the couch in my studio if I’m up working at ridiculous times, or if I have an uncomfortably buzzing brain that needs to stare at mindless sitcoms for a few hours before there’s any hope of sleep, or if I can’t reconcile my need for fresh(ish) air with my spouse’s allergy season. But I remind myself to always bother enough to change into pyjamas, and put enough pillows under my head so I don’t wake up with a neck pain, and, indeed, to put some sheets on that thing. I even, for the first time in my adult life, bought myself a matching set of pyjamas – and I genuinely enjoy wearing them.
What I’m getting on to here is that it takes conscious effort to establish certain standards of self-care, and to stick to them as much as the situation allows. Maybe it’s good coffee you make (or buy) every morning. Maybe it’s a bubble bath you take every Friday evening. Maybe it’s breakfast in bed you have every Saturday. Maybe it’s a jog you go on every evening. Whatever it is that’s good for you and you enjoy doing – work it into your routine until it’s part of your self-care standard, and stick to it, and make it clear to people in your life that this is what you do at this time of your day/week, that this is your ‘Me Time’, and that, your affection for such people notwithstanding, they can, bar emergencies, go hang.
We all know a person who won’t talk business until they’ve had their morning coffee, or who won’t answer phone calls between 9 pm and 9 am, or who will NOT do overtime on Fridays because it’s date night. BE THAT PERSON. Establish certain boundaries within which YOUR LIFE happens, and let the rest of the world deal with it.
Bonus point: the first person who has to stick to those standards is yourself. So if you’re a freelancer who’ll stay up as late as necessary but would rather die than work in the mornings, don’t set one last bit of work aside with the note to self to “finish it in the morning”. Sure, you’ll hate the world for the extra hour you’ll have to stay up tonight, but if you give in, give up, and then get up early tomorrow, you’ll hate the world for the rest of the day.
(The events of the above paragraph are entirely fictional and are in no way inspired by any true stories in the life of any blog writers I know.)
Reason N3 to take better care of yourself:
Because good habits are surprisingly hard work.
Do you brush your teeth every morning? Is not doing that as unthinkable as casually peeing your pants instead of going to the bathroom? Me, I’m religious about my teeth when I’m at home, or when I’m travelling alone – less so when I’m staying over at a friend’s house, or travelling with friends. It’s simply not ingrained in my routine so deeply that I can’t be distracted from it.
The truth is, I had to re-teach myself a lot of personal care habits after abandoning my full-time job in 2009, for a life of
sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll freelance, art and existential crises. In uni, I was too busy to care about little things like what I sleep on and in and with (kidding; monogamously committed since 2001, so don’t rush to buy me drinks just yet). In my new artist life, I was soon too bothered about everything in the world except myself – and the glorious ability to work from home meant that I could slip on personal hygiene now and then.
That was the case until the summer of 2013, when I had another close brush with probably-depression and definitely-anxiety, and started working to minimize the amount of chaos around me, in the hope that the inside of my head would follow. I started at the bottom – by making sure I brush my teeth every morning. Bit by bit, I’ve been adding to this routine – little things, like remembering to moisturize my face, stretching my back, drinking water, and other things I should’ve learned to do as a teenager. But you know, it’s tricky acquiring useful habits when you’re still young and healthy enough that lack of them doesn’t hurt you. Ten years later, in your late twenties, you realize why people do these things and go, ‘ahhh, that makes sense now’.
And while I’m hardly a paragon of self-care right now (and doubt I will ever be one), I’m getting better bit by bit. And that chaos minimization method of dealing with internal anxieties? Does wonders for me.
Now, I was going to summarize this section as – go form good habit, gals, it really helps. Then I remembered reading somewhere that it took 40 days to acquire a habit. As I went on a Google hunt to find the source of that (yogic philosophies), I came across this post by one Lela Davidson, writer and motivational speaker, and I couldn’t wish for a better conclusion for my blog than her quote (emphasis mine):
“Because you know the drill. It takes 30 days or 40 days or 60 days to create a habit that sticks. I am a sucker for a formula. Any formula. And I have believed every single person who told me that this one would work. The only thing holding me back were those 40 days.
That’s science, right?
Wrong. It’s bullshit. Nothing sticks. At least, not the good stuff. Negative habits are easier to adopt. But for the positive things we all ought to do more of, there is no magic, no easy out, no get rich quick. You have to choose over and over. That’s what I know for sure now. This knowledge is valuable, but it still sort of sucks.”
So there you go, then. You have to choose. Over and OVER. Things that are good for you in the long run AND things that will make you happy in the short run. Those are important too. I’ve talked about skipped breakfasts and not getting dressed and going to sleep with your makeup still on, as random examples of things we might be not bothered to do for ourselves. But if you’re leaving the house so early that trying to force cereal down your throat would make you sick, if you have a onesie you want to wear today instead of squeezing into jeans, if you like sleeping with your makeup on so that you wake up with rockstar-worthy eyeliner smudges (guilty as charged) – then grab a brunch instead of breakfast, snuggle into a onesie, and smudge that eyeliner like a boss!
Because to me, self-care means keeping just the right amounts of chaos and order in my life. To you, it may mean having a routine that would put the US marines to shame. To that guy over there, and that girl over here, ‘good day’ may mean shopping at farmer’s market, or baking cookies, or going to the gym, or riding their bike in the evening, or any combination of wonderful and ridiculous things we humans do on a daily basis. The only bottom line is: figure out what it takes for you to be comfortable in your home and your body and your brain. And be bothered to be comfortable. You deserve it. Promise.