On Responsibility, Self-Care, and Living in the World
Here's the thing. Self-care isn't about you. It's about us.
I mean, of course it is about you, but it's also not, and that's the thing I feel is missing from our many arguments and pronouncements about the importance of self-care. We all need care to live. We need to be fed and cleaned and rested and medicated and hydrated and nourished. If we don't do it for ourselves, then it has to be done for us, or we will die. Refusing to care for yourself isn't selfless, but the exact opposite. It's offloading that job, that necessary job that must be done, onto everyone else.
We talk about giving ourselves permission to rest, to recover from the many things life throws at us. We talk about how we know we "should" relax more, have fun more, work less. And then we go to work sick, stay up too late, mute our stress with alcohol, burn off the hangover with coffee, and keep going another day. Because ultimately, we don't think we are worth the sort of nurturing that we freely give to others and admonish them to take for themselves.
There's a reason for that, and it's a big part of the sick society we currently live in, an insidious, scary part that we don't talk about enough. Because we're taught that sense of worthlessness. Not just in the body-shaming, buy-more-products sort of way that is finally getting some decent press. But also in the values of modesty and humility that we revere. Don't be conceited. Don't brag. Don't say you're good at something. Don't be demanding. Don't be high-maintenance. All these messages boil down to one thing: don't believe you're good enough to deserve good treatment, from yourself or anyone else.
We're supposed to strive for excellence, but never believe we have achieved it. We are supposed to do our very best, but take no pride in that fact. And then we wonder why we have a population full of insecure, sad individuals who don't know how or why to take care of themselves. We excuse so many bad behaviors because "they're only harming themselves," as if somehow that's fine, only harming others is wrong. Everything about this entire belief system is broken.
Harming yourself is wrong. For you, and for the people around you as well. Self-care is the foundation for any care you may provide to others, and it's not just making sure you have whatever energy you might need to meet the needs of your SO, or your employer, or your community. It's believing that you are good enough to be valuable to those people. It's believing that you are worthy of being part of that community. You are good enough to be a good partner, to be a good friend, to be a good parent.
Refusing to believe this is an insult to the people who love you. It's a lazy, cowardly way to live. It's a refusal to have the courage to stand up and be valued, be loved, be important. It's understandable that doing those things is scary. Maybe you're afraid to be important, because to be important is to be responsible, and what if you fail? Maybe you're afraid the world will judge your self-worth and justified pride in yourself as conceit, and shun you.
I get those fears. But the truth is, it's too late.
You are already important. You are already valued, and loved, and worthy. You are necessary, and you are responsible. You are already connected to others, and to the world, in innumerable ways. By the very fact of your existence, you affect everything around you. The power is yours already. You don't get to opt out of that. You can decide how you're going to affect things, but you can't really decide not to. Even if you opt out of life altogether, you can't opt out of the effects that loss will have on the world after you're gone. Life is connection, is intimacy, is investment, is responsibility. You're alive now. It's too late to quit.
You are here, and so are your needs, waiting to be met. You can meet them yourself, or ask the world to meet them for you, but they won't be erased. Caring for yourself is the first and most crucial step to caring for the world around you.
Don't be scared.
Do your job.