There is a lot of talk about self-care these days and we tend to picture it as something that we would like to do to reward ourselves or relieve ourselves after working as hard as we can for as long as we can, or something that we should do to look after ourselves that is separate from our everyday lives. We wonder where we are going find time to fit in yet more doing into our already-full days …
But what if self-care is not about doing anything in particular, not something that we have to add to our days, but rather how we care for ourselves in every minute of our day … for self-care is a quality of being.
The way we are with ourselves is self-care, not just what we do.
Sure, we can do some things which are more caring for ourselves than others, and some things which are not caring for ourselves at all.
Going to bed early and getting good quality sleep, resting when we are tired, eating clean fresh food when we are hungry, drinking water when we are thirsty, exercising regularly with respect to how our body is feeling, are all caring things to do.
Paying attention to how we are feeling, and adjusting our movements accordingly, is self-care.
Choosing to be with people who love and support us and leave us free to be who we truly are, is self-care.
How many of us live in this simple caring way, in every moment of every day?
And if we don’t, what gets in the way?
We have pictures of how life should be, and of how we should be in life. We think we have to try hard, work hard, play hard, which leaves us … well, hard!
In the culture of medicine, we are pushed to live this way. We are not given time and space to rest, relax, unwind, and recharge. We are pushed to and beyond our limits, and if we cannot cope and fall by the wayside, there is always someone waiting to take our place. This creates an enormous amount of competition, mistrust and isolation, which is the opposite of how we are meant to live, for we are not designed to live or work alone.
We can tick all the boxes, and look after people in a perfunctory way, but we cannot truly care for others unless we are first and foremost caring for ourselves. For true care is not a mental activity, it is a felt bodily experience. We have all been treated by doctors/colleagues/bosses in a tick-box polite and perfunctory way and if we are fortunate, we have also been treated by people who truly care. And the felt difference is monumental.
Who are we kidding if we think we can get away with treating ourselves harshly and expecting this to not affect our treatment of others? The way we are with ourselves is the way we are with other people – this is a simple, unavoidable truth.
There is an arrogance about us in medicine that thinks we are somehow special or different or that we don’t need to play by the same rules that other people do. But we are human beings, living in a body, just like other people do, and sooner or later the body tells us the truth of how we are living and if that way is not loving and caring, sooner or later, the body, or the being in it, will break down.
Why wait till then to get humble and honest?
Why not learn from the bodies we look after every day, and see them as a reflection of our own?
I know there have been periods in my life when I have not cared for myself, and I have ended up very unwell. Then I get it together and look after myself and my body recovers and heals. Unfortunately I can then become complacent and slip into old ways, and my body has to bring me to a stop again. And then I take greater care of myself, rest and recover and my body thanks me and all is well again…
Why do we do this? Why do we live in a cycle of disregard, illness, and recovery, or of continuing disregard leading to an inevitable decline?
Why are we so lacking in care for ourselves?
Do we not think we are equally as worthy of care as everyone else?
Do we think we are too intelligent to need it, that it is too simple, beneath us, or that self-care is for other people?
Do we think we are somehow special and should be able to get away with not caring for ourselves?
It is worth exploring our own ideals and beliefs around our body and our care of it, to see what gets in the way of us being truly loving and caring for ourselves, every single moment of every single day, so that we can bring that same level of love and care to ourselves, our friends, families, patients, staff, colleagues and everyone we meet … now that is great medicine.