What to Know About Self-Care If You’re Cynical Like Me

Barbara B.
woman partially submerged in bath with flowers looking into camera
woman partially submerged in bath with flowers looking into camera

My therapist told me I needed to raise my quality of life through self-care. At this point, I couldn’t even care about myself enough to eat, so this seemed like a pretty big joke. I held back my cynical cackle because I thought inappropriate laughter in a therapist’s office would not help my case for sanity.

I had seen the Instagram posts about bubble baths and candles and moisturizing, which seemed nice enough, but I was depressed, damn it. I wanted to die. I was actually mid-way through starving my way there. I did not see how a fucking bath would help.

My therapist asked, “what do you do to take care of yourself?”

She might as well have been speaking in Parseltongue. I filled my days with class and work and the gym and homework. I spent my nights trying to ignore my hunger and walking through my neighborhood, burning calories. I thought my lack of care made sense; it would be like putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole.

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I fumbled for an answer. “I go to the gym.”

“Why?”

“To get skinnier.”

“Then that doesn’t count.”

“Oh.”

It amazed me how foreign her question seemed. The idea had simply never occurred to me. My fear of failure is what motivated me. I wanted to seem put-together even as I was falling apart.

My therapist told me to make a list of “natural antidepressants” — activities you enjoy like reading a good book or taking a walk. I filled in my list by copying one from online. I sat in a bath with lukewarm water and felt silly. I didn’t understand the point of self-care.

My therapist harped on about it and I took more lukewarm baths and stumbled and drank cups of tea and had a nervous breakdown and bought a plant and painted a pot for my plant and drank more tea and felt less silly taking baths and bought bubbles and went to therapy and did yoga and tried to take care of myself even though I felt like a fake — even though I really wasn’t sure I was worth taking care of.

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Sometimes I’m still not sure, but I’ve learned that self-care falls under the “fake it until you make it” umbrella. It’s less a Band-Aid and more a muscle you have to exercise to build up its memory. Mental health is a puzzle with many pieces but I promise self-care isn’t just for the hippy-dippy self-love “weirdos.” It slowly does start to help. Trust me; even the most cynical and self-deprecating can use a moment to breathe.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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