Self-care in the real world


“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.”
– Iris Murdoch’s protagonist in The Sea, The Sea

The quote above was number 27 on my list of 40 lessons learned in 40 years — I like it so much it’s even mentioned in my book. I’m a passionate believer in the wisdom of giving oneself regular small treats. It ties into my philosophy of showing myself kindness whenever I can. Because I’ve spent a lot of my life being decidedly UNkind to myself. Honestly, no one could ever say anything meaner to me than some of the rubbish I’ve told myself — still tell myself, on the bad days. But these days I try to do better by myself. I consciously try to be kinder. And it starts with the many layers of self-care.

The first layer: the quick fix

I have a tendency to spoil myself as if I were my own overly indulgent relative. If I want a latte I go get a latte.  I spend an absolute fortune on books. I buy myself flowers and scented candles occasionally. I own a ridiculous amount of perfume. On really icky days I get out the big guns: new music on iTunes.

I know I buy myself presents to make up for the fact that I’m single (“I haven’t had sex in *cough* a long time — I deserve this Diptyque candle!”) When I’m no longer single I’m sure there’ll be other reasons to justify the presents. Self-care that involves spending money in this way is more of a quick fix, though one that’s certainly pleasurable in the moment. And I’m okay with the occasional quick fix — it always brightens my day.

The second layer: the reactive

The next layer of self-care is responding to how I’m feeling at any given time with a kind action. Sometimes I worry this type of self-care is simply laziness. When I stay in bed an hour longer… when I go to bed an hour earlier. When I take a long bath instead of dealing with my inbox. When I give in to the mid-afternoon chocolate craving… it crosses my mind that I’m far too lenient with myself, because somewhere inside me is this twisted notion that Hard Work is the only way (and this applies to everything, not just paid work). But experience has taught me that it’s better to attend to my needs rather than push through and ignore them. This means that if I wake up with a headache I’ll do the bare minimum needed in the morning then let myself have the afternoon on the sofa. If I’m feeling upset about something I’ll be extra gentle with myself, doing whatever I need to work through the issue (phone my sister, go for a walk, journal); often I just need to get out of the house and reset my brain.

The third layer: the self-investment

This last layer takes a bit more effort but the benefits will be felt for years to come. At the moment my biggest self-investments are my weekly sessions with a therapist, my gym membership (I’ve been 3 times, people! I’m going to make this happen!), and going back on antidepressants. I view all of these as the absolute best way I can take care of myself right now. Working with my therapist gives me space to unravel my head; going to the gym will eventually bring health and stamina (I hate going but the smug feeling afterwards is worth it); and the tablets are helping to bring me back up to the surface so I can function in this world like a normal person.

At this time in my life I am my own biggest responsibility which means I have the time and income to invest in self-care, but even when my circumstances change I hope I’ll be able to maintain this practice of attending to my needs — I know it makes me a more considerate sister, daughter and friend. To me, self-care is really self-kindness, and I find the more self-aware I become the more I recognise what I need. In my twenties and early 30s I was less clued in to how I felt, and as a result my self-care rarely went deeper than the first layer. These days my deepest desire is to feel calm, balanced and safe: my three layers of self-care help me get closer to this.

This post is part of Mara & Tam’s fabulous self-care blog hop — inspiring posts from 19 bloggers telling the truth about their own self-care. You can read all the posts over here!

31 responses
  1. Megan Warren

    Hi Susannah – I’m interested in hearing about the book Writing down your soul – I googled it after seeing it in the photo above, but would love to hear your thoughts

  2. Jill Salahub

    This is brilliant. And I am with you on the books–in fact, when I saw the one in your picture, one I’ve been coveting, I took it as a sign from the universe that I should finally buy it. I am wondering, does it feel strange to say “when I was in my 30s”? :)

  3. Vicki

    Susannah,
    Oh, this is just what I needed to hear. Now I don’t feel so bad buying yet another book to stuff into my already crowded bookcases and another filofax – I mean really… how many filofaxes does one girl need?

    Peace,
    Vicki

  4. Nathalieso

    Everything you say resonates so often with what I’m living that I can’t help but be grateful to have your advice, hindsight, thoughts to reflect upon and follow sometimes. Thanks to be such a kindred spirit, you’re my favorite in blog world. xox

    and also: I’m eager to start the journaling course :)

  5. Jo

    Recently, thinking about little treats and rewards, I was shocked to find I couldn’t really think of anything tempting but affordable that wasn’t edible! Go dairy free for a day aaaand eat a Kit-Kat. Oh wait…

    My real world doesn’t run to perfume and Diptyque but I have managed to reframe my understanding of ‘treat’ and include the likes of Pinterest and Tumblr as quick fixes: less mouth-candy, more eye-candy. My current favourite is to allow myself to stare out of a window in silence for a couple of minutes. I probably look more gormless than I do dreamy and wistful but who cares, it feels fabulous : )

  6. Phoe

    This is perfect. The “must work hard” ethic can be helpful and it can also be really damaging.

  7. Puanani

    It must be in the air, or in the moon cycle…I too am facing the reality of my reality. Light Therapy Lamps, Vitamin D, Awakening. Self-care must come first. Xo.

  8. Mara

    This is absolutely gorgeous – thank you so much for joining in and sharing your self-care. xoxo

  9. Amanda

    Beautifully written. My doctor told me a few months ago that I needed to work on my stress level, it was wreaking havoc on my body. So I made it my mission this year to take better care of myself. More time reading, more time with my hobbies.. and less time worrying. It has been fabulous, and I am definitely seeing the results.

  10. Gerri Smalley

    Sweets, I absolutely love how you broke this down. I never thought about it in layers…
    I’m great at the occasional quick-fix but learning to expand better into the reactive (I too deal with telling myself to be ok with not pushing through to get to the “real work”). I really need to get a clue in the long-term investment area. I really want 40 to be the year of health for me. You are a magnificent woman and I’m glad you treat yourself with the love you deserve. Whoo Hoo for 3 times at the gym! xxO

  11. Claire

    Hi Susannah. Thank you for showing us that it’s ok to treat yourself! Do you have any thoughts on how to go about finding / choosing a therapist who is worth the investment? thank you x

  12. Alice

    Keep it up.
    Self care is the greatest gift you can give the world.

  13. Sue Fox

    Hi, I love your self care thoughts. A thought occurred to me that finding an activity at the gym or elsewhere that you actually enjoy would serve you better, mine is yoga a gentle exercise that soothes the mind too, I also love dancing! x

  14. Diane

    I too googled the book Writing Down the Soul, seeing the cover made me wish I was taking a journalling course with you.

  15. AC

    Thanks so much for sharing! I am learning self-care practices and experimenting with what works for me, and it has been slow going after a cycle of ignoring and/or pushing through until I had some sort of spectacular collapse that would make me tune in. For a little while. Until the cycle repeated.

    I loved that you said “the smug feeling” that happens after the gym — so true! I did not exercise for five years, and then got into yoga. I hate that I am one of *those* smug yoga people, but shit, it feels good so I keep going.

    Thanks again, I really appreciate reading these thoughts. xo

  16. Heather

    I have been getting to the gym once a week, it’s not a lot and I want to add more, but it’s regular and if nothing else it’s 52 times a year, which seems quite a lot really and just about covers the membership fee!! x

  17. Angela

    Sometimes I wish that I had the option of making it appear to be light outside, when it’s really dark (and I’m up half the night). That would help with my self-care. I love this light as it’s moving towards Spring, sitting on the couch, drinking tea and reading a book on creativity.

    I had one blissful day about a month ago. I decided around 11am, that I hadn’t had enough sleep, so I wasn’t going to exercise, I was going to eat something and take a nap. The nap didn’t happen, but my food was good, and I allowed myself to just stretch out on the couch – rather than the elusive nap bugging me, I felt totally at peace. <3

  18. michelle gd

    so interesting to consider these layers of self-care. it’s a great perspective you’ve shared…{per usual}
    xo

  19. La plume et la page

    Get out of the house and reset the brain… Oh! I know that!
    A very interesting post.

  20. Jaana

    Hi Susannah,
    The mailman brought me This I Know yesterday. I was going to read a chapter or two before bedtime, but could not put the book down before reaching the very last page. My life has taken very different paths than yours has, yet I could find myself in your story of unraveling. Thank you for being such an inspiration (via your lovely blog also)! xo

  21. Elizabeth

    I enjoy reading your blog but I’m pretty sure I’m a bit older than a lot of the others who follow along. But let me tell you – this particular post is something I can really relate to. After a terrible emotional upheaval this past August, my doctor prescribed a low dose of an antidepressant and some therapy. Six months on and I feel like I’ve been reborn. The pill really take the edge off, helps to keep my stress down and levels off my moods. Therapy is helpful, I think, to point us in the right direction, to straighten out our course a bit. I am so thankful every day that I was able to get the help I needed. And I do believe something positive does come from even the most awful situations if you can just hang on and wait it out.

  22. Maureen

    Another amazing soul comes out of the dark closet!! Yay for you.

    (The dark closet is my word for depression.)

    Thank you, dear girl.

  23. keishua

    i totally agree with this and struggle with it, too. love reading your thoughts as always.

  24. Laura

    I agree with giving yourself small treats as part of kindness to self and self-care. I really enjoy these, a latte, a pedicure, a massage, flowers, a hot bubble bath with a book, new music or book, etc. But, I would also have to include the best self-care rituals I have found that aren’t so glamorous but pay off in big dividends of less anxiety/more peace…learning new skills, paying my bills on time, having an emergency fund, or taking care of the maintenance on my home/car are some good examples. Those are also investments in me. Thanks for the great discussion on a very worthy topic.

  25. Pilar H

    We are similar. I justify my inclination to indulge by telling myself that self-love requires discipline… just like anything else. Duh :)

  26. naomi

    hello Susannah :)

    would love to know what anti-depressant you are taking please :) I have tried a few but with horrid side effects and would appreciate yr input as I do not want to give up just yet ;) Thank you x

    I take Citalopram — if you haven’t tried it yet chat to your doctor and see what s/he says. good luck and look after you xx

  27. Diana

    Thanks for sharing! I big hug from Switzerland :-)

  28. Janet Conner

    A facebook friend sent me a link to this beautiful blog. It’s the best photo of Writing Down Your Soul I’ve seen! And the perfect message. Soul writing (which goes so much deeper than journaling) is the sweetest self care there is. You show up on the page as you are, living the life you’re living, feeling what you’re feeling, and you leave the page carrying comfort, wisdom, and grace. Bless you for sharing my sweet book with your world. If I can help explicate soul writing, let me know. Janet Conner

  29. joy borum

    Along with the lovely comments above, my all time best self care is sitting in my spring green chair in the corner of my room at home, in front of a prayer shawl given me by a dear friend, and centering myself by sounding three chimes, saying OM 3 times, then doing my morning practice of reading, praying, listening, writing. Always with gratitude even when it didn’t begin that way or the gratitude is a tad shaky that day.

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