Self-care 2/4: Twelve reasons it doesn’t help

ID: glittery green graphic reading, “To Shower Or Not to Shower” with random goldfish ©CraftyFish

It’s a metonym, okay? ‘Shower’ stands for the whole concept, and my gripes apply across the board. And, yes. I’ve thought about it this much, because I suck at self-care.

The psychologist I had when the kids were about 6 and 8, thought I was fine, I just needed better organisation.

She wasn’t entirely wrong. If I get time to myself, sometimes I don’t know what to prioritise – being thirsty and needing a wee is easy, but being stinky and exhausted and a friend wants to chat? If the friend doesn’t win outright (dopamine usually does) I can overthink until the self-care window shuts, ending up neither clean, energised, nor rested.

Reason #1: “self-care” is a messy basket of competing needs.

Sometimes I intend to shower, but I forget. Consistency is, um, not a strength. I forget what I’m doing mid-stride, The Skeptic can only tell time at work, our kids fight routine like caged racoons. We’re all also anxious, curious, stubborn, and one is chronically ill. My life then was a litany of screaming, school refusal, mess, exhaustion, other people’s needs, and squirrel, so—sure, I guess?

Reason #2: Wiring. Wiring can make self-care hard.

You could say, “man that’s rough, you need several specialists, a nanny, a maid, and gin.”

Or you could say, “Try using a blank sheet of paper to represent the day. Divide it into blocks roughly proportionate to the amount of time you can spend on each activity. Say, 40% work, 20% housework and chores, 10% self-care –”

“Er, ALL my time is childcare, but even if it wasn’t, for me work IS self-care?!”

“No, it’s not. No.”

ID: photograph of a 1980s comedy character called Kylie Mole, looking adolescently incredulous. accessed here. It’s an Aussie thing.

Reason #3: My self-care, may not be your self-care.

My cousin LOVES showering. It’s her safe space. Unfortunately my brain comes in there with me, and it has needs, too. Work meets my needs for interest, creativity, expression, and autonomy. Being able to feed myself seems bloody useful, too. It isn’t about caring for anyone else; it is literally about my whole, best self (and infinitely better for my mental health, than a boring bloody shower). But in my psychologist’s book, it didn’t count.

Reason #4: Capitalism detaches self-care from the essential, productive, activity that occupies most of most peoples’ time. It is ‘extra’.

According to my psychologist, self-care meant showering (um), seeing the dentist (oy), getting a massage (I mean?), going for a run (hahaha as if)—you get the idea. In this, she aligned with capitalism, seeing self-care as pertaining exclusively to bodies.

Reason #5: Our Selves are more than meat.

But hey, since meat-tending is the dominant paradigm, let’s play along.

Sometimes I don’t want a shower because it makes me itch. Dry skin plus Brisbane’s ridiculously hard water means that afterwards I’ll spend an hour or more scratching all the parts I can reach whilst rubbing against door jambs like a horse. Which makes me sweaty again. Rather than refreshing or soothing, it drives me NUTS, and sometimes I can’t face that.

Reason #6: Self-care can be unpleasant.

Of course, there are products for that: body washes, lotions, oils, and creams. So. Many. Products. I just have to find the combo that works for me, right?

Reason #7: Having reduced our Selves to meat, capitalism sells us tenderiser. Detached from work (productivity), self-care becomes consumptive.

Arwa Mahdawi dismantles commodified self-care rather wonderfully. She notes that besides being damagingly competitive, current use of the term discards Lorde’s intent, turning her politics into a tool of the very systems that oppressed her.

Note: I do NOT begrudge anyone a commodity that genuinely helps them. If lavender-scented candles are the only thing keeping you off a ledge, please, PLEASE buy all the lavender-scented candles you can afford. Staying alive is the goal here.

Let’s suppose, though, that my brain is content and I can face the itch. I get down the hall without forgetting, distracting myself, or being sidetracked, and make it into the stall.

Sometimes, I can hear the yelling and thumping. (Which for a hearing-impaired person under running water behind a closed door, is…alarming.) Sometimes I don’t hear it but get out to find someone in tears, someone else enraged, and the third person keeping their head down. Now I’m itchy with – sigh – emotional labour to do. This, people, is BACKLASH.

I need to write a whole separate post about backlash, but the TL;DR is,

Reason #8: Sometimes self-care is not bloody worth it.

Admittedly, backlash happens less, lately. But in the early days, there was always painful fallout. Always. And even with a nice husband and well-meaning family, I often couldn’t get help.

Reason #9: Self-care takes time and effort beyond the caring effort itself.

If I wanted self-care, I had to organise it. Between keeping the racoons alive, clothed, fed, and watered, stocking the house with racoon food and clothes, stopping the screaming, cleaning cat pee/spilled paint/cereal/Lego, and answering questions about if air wore clothes, I had to remember to find time to find a carer, negotiate time and day, book an appointment, coach the racoons, prep snacks, coach the carer, weather racoon wailing when I leave, attend appointment anticipating a phone call, and come home on the carer’s timetable.

Reason #10: We can’t do self-care alone.

For various reasons (including but not limited to, working two jobs + commuting 12hrs/week) the Skeptic usually couldn’t be the carer. Neither could my family, who were either geographically distant, unwell, or busy with their own jobs and children.

Reason #11: How we live now does not support us to care for ourselves.

Of course, IF I could have found someone willing and able to care for the racoons (hot tip: human parenting causes meltdowns), AND had spare cash (for a long time, we didn’t), AND had the spoons to cope with itch/backlash, I could have paid large sums (hello again, capitalism!) asking for help or advice how to make it easier.

Oh, wait. I did that.

ID: three progressively zoomed-in photographs of Kylie Mole again, looking disgusted. Original here, ©CraftyFish

Reason #12: Our systems do not support us to care for ourselves.

The political, it turns out, is personal.

So those are the reasons I find exhortations to self-care about as use as reminding the racoons to “be careful!” Done casually and from the sidelines, it is no help at all and may even harm.

Trouble is, we do, actually, still need to care for ourselves, hard as it is. That means thinking about it – and practicing it – in very different ways to the usual model. Next week. Right now, I need a rest.