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Ugly Self Care

By Elliot Mears


When we think of self care - we often think of pretty baths and decadent hot chocolate; when we do this we neglect the more important but less instagrammable types of self care.


When you hear the phrase ‘self care’ it probably calls to mind baths brimming with bubbles and ‘treating yourself’ to a manicure, a face mask, a hot chocolate, something you allocate time for, enjoy and tick off the ‘self care’ box for the week. The polished and commercialised version of self care we are shown gives the impression that self care is something easy and enjoyable that you can achieve through expensive bath bombs and herbal tea - this is simply not representative of what self care actually encompasses. Self care cannot be purchased in the form of spa trips and skincare and the like; it must be practised. Yes, all of these things can be forms of self care but they are not the only ones that matter. Self care is not always enjoyable - it can be hard work and uncomfortable.


Self care is a collection of choices and actions one makes to take care of their mental or physical health. Sometimes this does mean a pamper evening with face masks and films with a friend but far more frequently, it means more difficult, mundane and sometimes ugly things. Many key forms of self care are a far cry from the decadent bubble baths of instagram, they can be difficult, anxiety provoking, dull, ugly..


Self care is dragging yourself to hospital in the middle of the night even though you’re ashamed, even though you think you can’t face it. Self care is taking a day off when your mental health is slipping and doing your best not to feel guilt or shame about that - acknowledging that your productivity and your worth are not correlated. It’s having difficult conversations with people in your life and resolving conflict instead of allowing people to walk all over you and accepting being treated poorly. It’s forcing yourself out of bed when depression weighs on top of you like a ton of bricks. It’s trembling your way through a challenging exposure, doing a task that most people wouldn’t think twice about but fills you with dread. It’s getting medical attention after you’ve self harmed even though you feel like you’re wasting doctors’ time. It’s spending 20 minutes on hold but not giving up and speaking to a crisis worker about how you’re feeling. It’s tackling the pile of paperwork you’ve been avoiding in the hopes it will disappear. It’s advocating for yourself until you get the treatment you need in a system that seems to fail you at every turn. It’s deleting people from your social media feeds who make you feel bad about yourself. It’s pushing yourself to see a friend instead of isolating yourself even though you want nothing more than to hide from the world. It’s making a constant effort to break habits and challenge thought patterns that do not serve you. It is all these things and more - vital regardless of whether you enjoy them and whether they make a pretty Instagram post.


Self care is hard work. The most important kinds of self care are often the most difficult - the ones where you have to build up all your strength and energy to push through the discomfort and see the benefit. Self care is an ongoing process; you can’t schedule in a massage and call it a day when it comes to self care, you have to put in the work every single day to make choices and build habits to take the best care of yourself that you can.


We cannot keep leaving the ‘ugly’ forms of self care out of our lives in favour of the glossy, pretty and surface level version that keeps us in our comfort zone. We need both - treating yourself well involves being uncomfortable and pushing yourself and I don’t think we remember that or praise ourselves for it enough.


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