‘Self-care’: What Are We Really Talking About?

October 25, 2016

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59 Comments
  • Love the article – can’t wait to hear more. Also who’s the painting at the top of the post?

    • It’s Mary Magdalene! Isn’t she lovely? And so sumptuously attired…

  • I love Max! I’ve read her newsletter ever since you linked to it years ago. She’s right on.

  • Wonderful! Can’t wait for more from Max… so just signed up for her newsletter!

  • Just signed up for Max’s newsletter. I’m intrigued!

  • Such a timely topic… Self-care and the healthy mindset that goes with it… Perfect for talking with my pre-teen. Thanks for your insight and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

  • Max is an inspiration. I remember her working on this amazing sweater before she left our umbrella employer and headed down this path full time. Her knitting, and approach to live, inspires creativity and confidence. So glad she’s contributing to MDK to help us all figure out how to take care of ourselves!

  • Mary Magdalene just keeps appearing. Only a few Sundays age, she got a shout out on the Podcast On Being that MDK linked us to as ” the patron saint of showing up.”. That she did! Probably she was a knitter as well.
    I love your perspective on life.

    • The “patron saint of showing up” – Love, love, love this! Sometimes, that’s all it takes. 🙂

  • OMG!!! What amazing info & writing! Thanks. My self care begins tomorrow when 3 of my girlfriends & I leave for SAFF!! Our third annual girls trip!

    • Jamie, I, too, think this is awesome!! We need Max’s book. I wish I was at SAFF with you guys…sallie

  • So useful! Thanks.

  • um- know a good pedicurist?

  • My grandmom was a psychiatrist and she always said a mani/pedi is great for your mental health. She had one once a month and lived till she was 91. She was also a knitter 🙂

    • Once I told a psychiatrist that I felt terrible about getting a pedicure while there was war in Iraq, and she said “ARE YOU SERIOUS TODAY?! The salons in Baghdad have never been busier. This is how the women in those communities cope.” And she had reason to know. Psychiatrists: RESPECT!

  • Okay. That seals the deal. Teen daughter asked to go get mani/pedis after school and I didn’t want to spend the cash. But we need more good bonding time to offset the terrible teen episodes… So you know what I’m doing with her at 3:30 today!
    And I’ll sign up for Max’s newsletter, as well as share it with hubby. Thanks, MDK, for the breadth of topics you enlighten us with… 🙂

    • It’s wonderful how you have to sit still to get a mani/pedi!

  • If you’re living on 1,100 a month in social security, you’re lucky to be able to afford sugar, much less massages. Rich women have such terrible oroblems. Boo hoo.

    • Mimi, you are not alone, so maybe you could share something you do for yourself that nourishes and sustains you? Most of the things I do that fall into this category are not costly, but are very valuable to me. Being outdoors as often as possible, every day, even for a few minutes, for example.

      • This was such a lovely, kind response. Thank you Quinn.

    • I don’t have much “fun” money after bills, food, and gas are paid for. And I don’t care much for pedi or manicures (I keep my nails quite short). But I took that suggestion as a symbolic placeholder more than an absolute. I took it to mean find what gives you pleasure, what gives to yourself rather than to others, what do you do just for you, and pursue it.
      I like gardening… on a nice summer day even the weeding gives me that feeling of connecting with the sun and earth and the buzzing and chirping of life around me.
      I pay attention when I pet my cat… how soft the fur, how sweet the half closed eyes, the way the purr rumbles through my hands into my body.
      I fill the tub with hot water, and with a cold drink on the rim, and tunes playing, I soak and melt.
      I play music. On the radio, on the computer, on an instrument. I sing aloud… as loud and as soulfully as I want.
      No one is denying that having money limitations doesn’t limit your options. It does. But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to care for yourself as well. Max does point out, self care is an internal position. She got there by starting externally. Some of us will have to find other doorways.
      I’m looking for mine. I hope you can find yours.

      • What a thought-provoking comment, Kathleen. I have a lot to learn about “self care as an internal position,” which is one reason why I drink up everything Max writes. I feel like my passion for tidying is a kind of self care. Of course, it has an element of anxiety and image-projection to it, but ultimately even if nobody ever saw my kitchen drawer I would still want it to be calming and tidy inside when I open it myself.

      • It is so great to have a fat playbook of free self-care things. I have a tub, and can go weeks without thinking of running a bath. I’m taking a leaf out of your book, Kathleen 🙂

  • This is very timely for me, as i’m battling with how to balance self-care around my new marriage, caring for a sick and grieving father, trying to step above childhood sibling tendencies, a new position in my company… i feel empty from the giving. Even when given the time to do “something for me” (my husband “gives” me time to take off from cooking, cleaning, caring for my dad… to get a manicure, or just chill out)– and i sit and think of all the things i *should* be doing. and the time is wasted. I’m struggling to find my voice that says: i want to take my time at THIS time, not on your schedule… I need help consistently, not intermittently… praising me for handling this all “like a champ” is not the same as lightening the load… just because i can handle it, does not mean i have to. I do find that i make the time to get ready for work, do my hair/make-up, paint my nails… and it does help. How do you advise those who are pushed to the extremes of caregiving to consistently be mindful of self-care?

    • Oh, gosh, Kate – sending you love and perseverance <3. When I worked in the news office at Harvard, we published research on the caregivers of ill people, and the news, you will guess, was not good. Caregiving for a sick person is draining, we all know that, but the research shows that it's actually one of the *damaging* things for your own health. So whatever you can do for yourself is a necessity, not an indulgence.

      I find it helpful to remember that loss of control and freedom is maybe the most challenging part of caring for someone else. Any way you can find of maintaining a semblance of your own schedule, your own choices – even very small things help a lot. That, and a little emergency kit (book, knitting, journal) helps me a lot.

      This is the most-requested topic I've had lately – how to do self-care under extreme circumstances. It merits a long piece. To come! Hang in there.

    • Oh, Huge Hugs, {{{Kate}}}!
      Been there, done that – and the “What about ME?” screaming in your head can be excruciating!
      Much love, from Detroit….

    • It does get better, though –
      The more I read about ‘how to care for myrself’ and how to overcome ‘old relationship habits’, the more lands in my heart, and sticks. And then ‘what’s the next baby-step?’ just sorta shows up! 🙂

    • I sympathise Kate. I am battling with a teenage daughter with anorexia and it has consumed my every second, days and nights waking at 4am. Consumed not just my time but every part of me so that I couldn’t even face supportive phone calls with much loved friends and family. I could however knit and that did at least mark the passage of time so that I didn’t feel completely in limbo. Finally light appears to be at the end of the tunnel – she’s normal weight and I managed to keep her out of hospital and at school. Just got all the psychological stuff to sort out going forward, but hopeful. For people on a budget, self care can be difficult and it might be helpful to step back and think about what really gives you pleasure. Many years ago, with 3 small children, a busy professional job and a long commute, I was reaching to the biscuit barrel for comfort. I felt that I had no time and the food and wine marked the transition into ‘ time off’, whilst still juggling at home. When I thought about it, I realised that what I really wanted to do was to read novels so I gave myself the gift of time – the children had un-ironed school uniforms, housework done less frequently, the occasional dinner of beans on toast – and I registered with the library, got some books and read! And the world looked better! I don’t go for pedicures myself but the key is to identify what connects with you and makes you feel whole.

  • So Happy to see Max joining MDK! I just love the combination of knitting and self care. Too many of us only do for others, when we really need to take care of ourselves first.

  • Sorry, but I find this obsession with pedicures morally questionable to say the least. Why first-world women condone having having (usually) third-world women deal with their feet (yuck) for less than minimum wage and often horrid working conditions is beyond me. (See the excellent NY Times article on the subject.) I understand that women feel ill-treated and under-appreciated—certainly the odious Donald has reminded us of that—but “self-care” pampering that just exploits other women hardly seems the way to go. Having tidy feet is fine, but it’s easily DIY.

    • True! DIY pedicures are still self-care. I always wonder about what’s best for women doing hard labor though – better to boycott the service, or use it and tip generously? It’s usually some of each for me. Last year I went to a salon where the pedicurist told me (it was a Russian place so we spoke in Spanish for some privacy) that she was booked solid for 8-10 hours a day and was NOT ALLOWED to eat. AT ALL. I could never go back – but I think of her often. And I hope she started sneaking some protein drinks at least.

      • These weighty considerations can, for some of us, become their own burden against self-care. I’d love to hear from you, Max, about making choices about inputs. Example: I have decided to limit reading certain news articles, because of how sad it makes me. I recognize this as a form of privilege -the people in the news articles don’t get to choose- but I pursue it just the same.
        I assume that you didn’t go back to the nail place because you didn’t want to support that business owner – but to your point above – you could also consider going back as a support to the woman you met……tricky territory.
        Looking forward to reading more.

  • I love the article and am looking forward to hearing more – it is what I truly need.

  • The angels brought you to me today. And I thank them and Him.

  • I can’t wait to hear more!

  • Thank you for this post! I’ve been in a little bit of a funk lately, and I needed to hear this message.

  • Maybe I should be a life coach because I know the ultimate form of self-care: Sleepytime tea. Cures what ails you. Taken in the evening, makes everything right. Take that, trained life coaches!

    • I’m making a note! Tension Tamer once got myself and several colleagues through the implosion of our Place of Employment. We chipped in and bought it by the case from a co-op!

  • What a great column! I’m not much into pedicures (I too lived in Boulder), but I accomplish much self care by knitting, thinking about knitting, and like Kay says, tea – lots and lots of tea.

  • Susan B – I think I neeed to dig into Mary Magdalene as “the patron saint of showing up”, too!
    Max – I’m not a knitter, or looking to lose any *more* weight, but I find your musings on ‘self-care’ invaluable, Babe! Thanks for the link here!

  • Max – thanks for the introduction to MDK via your newsletter. Now I can love your work in more places, and find knitting inspiration too! For me, knitting is part of self-care, btw. It can be so meditative.

  • I find it highly insensitive and elitist that nobody has even acknowledged, let alone had one iota of appreciation for, Mimi’s very pertinent comment. Ignoring the importance of providing for basic needs while kvetching about manicures and pedicures…wow. We Americans certainly are reaping what we’ve sown. I thought MDK was a kinder place than this.

    • Hi Dorothy,

      We receive all comments with respect, but often in silence. Personally, I tend not to know what to say to an angry comment from someone I don’t know, and I don’t feel an obligation to speak in that circumstance. Reading the comments on this post, I see thoughtful and inclusive conversation, as opposed to kvetching. To me, the article is about more than manicures and pedicures, and I think the comments above–all of them– reflect that. We don’t have to agree to have an interesting, civil and kind conversation.

    • It seems to me that any kind of comment would come across as patronizing. What can any of us do? Aside from perhaps remembering that we might have friends or family members in equally dire straights and that maybe we can treat *them* to a mani/pedi or some other kind of treat. Some might say necessity, but I say treat.

      Also – MDK is plenty kind a kind of place. It’s a knitting blog. How long have you been reading it? Sort through the archives. You’ll find plenty of kindness.

    • Well, as it happens, I just responded to Mimi’s comment. Maybe there will a conversation as a result, you never know.
      But with all due respect, your comment makes me wonder why you didn’t respond.

    • While the content of Mimi’s comment is indeed pertinent, I suspect that many have, in fact, not replied as a measure of kindness and respect. To me, her tone did not invite kind replies (or suggest that she wished to engage in respectful dialogue on the issue). Of course, when we’re reading and not speaking, it is easy to mistake tone – I may have had that wrong. I chose to steer clear.

  • It’s great to see Max here!
    Truly this sort of self care isn’t my favorite, I tend to treat myself to absolute vegging out, or candy, or an item I really shouldn’t buy (Super cheap sweaters, my gosh they can be cozy, like a robe that I’m allowed to wear all day!).
    But honestly, when I get a huge compliment, it’s almost always after a great invisible treatment like a pedicure. I think it just makes me *feel* extra good.

  • I LOVED this article!!!

  • pedicures and all are probably wonderful BUT for the first time in the history of the world, the majority of women are 65 and older. We earned less than the other gender (I maybe earned 59 cents for every dollar they earned) consequently poverty is the norm. I frequently have to choose between paying a bill or eating. SO lets wee more on the inner aspect of happiness

    • Yes, and we still earn less. However, you made progress for those following in your footsteps, and for that, I thank you. I hope everyone has some methods of self care no matter the budget. Some of mine are: a good cup of coffee in the morning, a shower to start my day, taking the time to chat on the phone with my friends or my mom and a good book. While i know a pedicure is a way some people love to indulge themselves, it isn’t my favorite. I think it is though a symbol of putting yourself first which we all should do from time to time, and I can appreciate the author’s intentions.

      • I am sorry that choosing between paying a bill and eating is a reality for you and others. That isn’t right, and we should be doing better. Thank you for the reminder to reach out in my community.

  • Love it, and I don’t usually love self help advice.

  • Oh man, do I ever need this. My question is: How do you get yourself to choose self-care over other, less effective methods? In the moment, I never want the self-care; I want the quick fix. Never mind the fact that the quick fix fixes nothing!

    • Oh, this is such a good question! Jen Louden writes about this a lot (she likes the term “shadow comfort”). Here’s how I think about it: Get out ahead of this. Don’t expect you’ll do the healthier-yet-unfamiliar thing in the difficult moment. Try to cultivate those things when you’re not under pressure. Let the real self-care crowd out the fake self-care / shadow comforts little by little. It’s actually the faster way. LEMME KNOW how you go! <3

  • Kay, Ann, Max, and everyone who has commented. Thank you so much for sharing. You have all spoken to my heart. In this past year I have suffered through huge health issues – in part from not taking care of myself – and as a result have become disabled. I am still trying to figure out why, how, when. But you have all shared and now you offer me some insight, hope, and the knowledge that it is OK to put out some effort and to love me a bit. Thank you!

    • Ach, love yourself a lot, lovey <3

    • Wishing you all the best. We all need help with this.

  • Wonderful! Thank you!

  • Very provocative thoughts. Being good to myself – that’s enlightening. Can’t wait to hear more.