Self-Care For Spoonies: More Than A Buzzword

The National Institute on Mental Health says that self-care “means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.”1 I would include emotional health in that definition as well. Simply put, so important, but (as I know well) not always easy to do!

If you watch TV, scroll social media, or even browse online shopping websites, it’s hard to avoid the concept of self-care. It’s highly marketable as self-care skin routines, electronic devices to relax your muscles or create a comfortable environment for bedtime, or day/weekend getaways to spas, mountain retreats, or beachside resorts.

While I’m not doubting the effectiveness of these examples of self-care, the self-care that I’m talking about is more about daily practice than commercialized products or exclusive retreats. Self-care is about enacting practices to improve and maintain one’s well-being.

Why self-care

I’m not sure where exactly the idea of "self-care" came from, but I can understand why it emerged. More value is often ascribed to work and the economy in some western cultures than rest or wellbeing, which means many people feel the need to work more, longer, and harder.

Today, whether out of necessity or habit, it’s common practice to work nearly non-stop. Many of the millennials I know work a full-time day job, a second job in the evenings, and then have at least one side hustle to bring in some extra money.

I include myself in that category. I work a full-time day job, write for AnkylosingSpondylitis.net and AxialSpondyloarthritis.net (which I consider both a side-hustle and a great way to connect with other spoonies to create community), and teach Literature and Creative Writing courses as an adjunct instructor.

Working all the time leaves little time to care for oneself, hence the need for the trendy and commercialized "self-care" market. But for those of us with chronic illnesses, "self-care" is hardly just a buzzword or an opportunity to "treat ourselves." Self-care is a necessary daily practice.

My history with self-care

I don’t know when it began, but I’ve trained myself to feel like I need to be busy and productive ALL the time. As a teenager I took honors and AP courses, worked part time, played sports, and took art classes. I worked multiple jobs as an undergrad while also enrolling full-time in courses. I spent eight years in graduate school with few minutes to spare between reading, working, writing, teaching, and everything in between.

After decades of conditioning yourself to "waste" few precious free minutes, it’s difficult to turn that ship around. When I was diagnosed with AS, I was sick and physically and mentally could not go on living the lifestyle I lead for as long as I could remember.

For me, my AS diagnosis made me face the reality that I could no longer push my own well-being to the back burner. The fear of flares, the anchor of chronic illness fatigue, and the nearly constant join pain forced me to make self-care a priority in my life.

But just because I realized I needed some more self-care in my life doesn’t make it any easier to fit it in. Can anyone else relate? How do you make time for self-care in your life?

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