Self-Care Ain’t Necessarily Fun!

A Story

Breaking my foot two weeks ago has made me think long and hard about self-care, including what I understand it to mean (past and present), the difference between theory and practice, and what self-caring looks like, practically speaking.

I’m not one to slow down, and I have a long-term habit of trying to cram as much in my day as possible: counselling, family duties, time to talk with my spouse and children, running my practice, housework and some leisure. Sometimes self-care can fall by the wayside.

After I broke my foot, I spoke with a dear person in my life who had been through a similar injury twice. She was replete with helpful self-caring suggestions, things like:

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Staying completely off the foot, as my doctor had advised
  • Getting adequate nutrition and hydration
  • Paring down my schedule
  • Asking for help from others with multiple activities
  • Watching an engrossing series
  • Other strategies particular to healing my injury

A Process

While I was listening to what she had to say, another part of my brain was rebelling, and in retrospect, I noticed that I was going through a kind of process:

  1. Brain scramble – What had just happened? Am I really that injured?
  2. Resistance – Seriously? I have to make all these changes? I don’t want to!!!
  3. Suckiness – just as it sounds, with a dose of low mood thrown in.
  4. Numbed-out acceptance – I can’t lie to myself anymore. I have to make these changes and it feels awful.
  5. Evaluation – What changes do I make and how do I do it?
  6. Practice – I’m modifying now and getting (slowly) better as I go along.
  7. Curveballs – Challenges come at me – sometimes frequently, sometimes not. I make adjustments.
  8. Vacillation – sometimes things feel ok, sometimes they don’t, which is what I”m working on now— particularly the part about “good days” and “bad days” and both being fundamentally ok.
  9. Keep repeating numbers 6 and 7. Number 8 recurs. 

Going back to the conversation I had, the message I kept getting was “self care, self care, self care,” said in a very serious tone. It was probably repeated at least a dozen times. Eventually the message breaks through!

A Re-Interpreation

This conversation made me question what self-care really means and I’ve been reevaluating my understanding ever since my injury. I realized that something had changed in the way I have historically viewed self care because I kept going back to the thought: self care ain’t necessarily fun! I would say that former ideas of self-care were more heavily weighted towards leisure and relaxation. Things like: knitting, walks, watching films and interesting programs, bread making, reading, seeing friends etc.

When I looked at my new self-care tasks, I came up with the following, and most did not hit the fun quotient:

  • Going to bed early – No fun. Interferes with leisure time.
  • Staying off my foot – Definitely no fun. Severely restricts my mobility and all sorts of daily life activities that I take for granted.
  • Getting adequate nutrition and hydration – Inconvenient. Much harder when walking around in a knee crutch. All food and water decisions are strictly only when necessary. Nourishment becomes strictly utilitarian.
  • Paring down my schedule – Hassle and bother; affects others’ schedules. Hours spent rearranging things; fears arising of disappointing others. Managing children’s expectations due to my limited capabilities.
  • Asking for help – Not my favourite thing to do; interferes with desire for control and identity as an independent person.
  • Watching an engrossing series – Not currently engrossing. Hard to concentrate.

But then I put these largely no-fun tasks to the test, and here is what I came up with, after several days in, and up until the present:

  • Going to bed early – Way more rested; feel more mentally sharp; increase in patience
  • Staying off my foot – Still no fun but am getting by slowly but surely on my knee crutch Given that I fell 3 times on standard crutches after my injury, this is a minor miracle and a great opportunity for gratitude. I can still do a number of things, the pace is just more slow and I have to plan!
  • Getting adequate nutrition and hydration – Challenging but allows me to be mindful and deliberate about food choices. Promotes intuitive, mindful eating.
  • Paring down my schedule – Less hectic pace allows brain to adjust to new reality. Allows more time to attend to appointments and tasks associated with recovery.
  • Asking others for help – Increases gratitude, people seem very glad to help, children become more independent
  • Watching an engrossing series – Working on it. I am finding that there is fun to be had when seated. Starting to knit again and may complete a fingerless glove in a shorter timeline.

A Conclusion

What do I think about self-care now? It’s an opportunity to let go (which helps me be more flexible), it still isn’t necessarily fun, and interesting things can come out of it! For example, I apologetically offered clients phone appointments on days that I couldn’t come into the office and several reported that they liked phone counselling even better than in-person sessions! Go figure!

And I am left with a feeling of gratitude for all the kindness I have received. Thank you! It goes a long way when it comes to recovery!