Written by Rowan Whiteside


Self-care is not a dirty word

Or rather, it’s not two hyphenated dirty words, says Rowan Whiteside.

person standing in sunset landscape
It was one of those monikers that always made me sneer.

Self-care. Self-indulgent wankery, more like. Essentially, narcissism packaged up in one of those peachy keen quick-fix millennial life cures.

I heard ‘self-care’ and I thought of hazy landscapes plastered with crappy inspirational quotes. I pictured that girl who was always whining for attention while talking about her journey and her feelings and how she’s growing as a person. Ugh. (I’m aware this shows me as a judgemental bitch, but let’s be honest, there’s something about self-care and its inane bundle of overly sympathetic life tips, which feels like being patted on the hand by someone you don’t really like as you weep pathetically.)

But see, here’s the thing. I suddenly found myself having panic attacks. (Although did I? Do I? Somehow they never seemed dramatic enough. Even when I thought I was actually genuinely about to die, it always felt a little bit like I was doing it for attention. Turns out, panic attacks are your body’s way of getting your attention and saying DO SOMETHING TO FIX THIS.)

“You can take a leaf out of Kurt Vonnegut’s book and stop and notice when you’re happy and say, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

Suffering through mental health issues is the absolute pits. It can ruin absolutely everything. It can make you feel like life isn’t worth living, and it can make you feel as if you’re about to die. It can make you feel like you’re a loathsome little worm who deserves nothing but misery.

That’s a lie.

Poor mental health is a genuine, debilitating illness. It is not your fault.

But you can do things to make it better. You can talk to people about it; a professional therapist or counsellor, or your family, or your friends, or strangers on the internet. Pull the monster out from under the bed and let someone else point out that it doesn’t even have teeth, and actually, its fur is quite fluffy and cute.

You can do exercise. (I know, I know, it’s sickening.) But blah blah blah endorphins blah blah body chemicals etc, etc. Even a little walk can help.

Cut down on how much alcohol you drink, and up the amount of water. Stop smoking, if you can. Try to cook a meal once in a while. (Oh boy, look at you! You made this delicious thing all on your own? Champion!)

You can carry lavender around and smell it when you start getting stressed, or Rescue Remedy, or take your prescription regularly, if you have one.

You can find touchstones. A piece of jewellery to anchor you, or a nice shaped stone.

You can take more baths and light more candles and change the bedding so you’ve got nice clean sheets to slip between at night.

You can avoid depressing news. (Hard right now, I know. But you’re allowed to take a break from CNN or Sky or the BBC or wherever you hear about all the things that are happening in the world.)

You can take a leaf out of Kurt Vonnegut’s book and stop and notice when you’re happy and say, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

You can say no. “No, sorry, I’m busy.” “No, thanks for asking, but I’m OK.” “No, actually I just don’t want to.”

You can put yourself first. You can be selfish. You can be protective.

And that’s what self-care means. It’s about looking out for yourself. It’s about avoiding situations that are going to make you freak the fuck out. It’s about establishing coping mechanisms, and heading off the nightmare.

Sure, the name self-care still makes me want to gag, but the principle is sound. It’s rewarding yourself for surviving in a painful world. It’s saying ‘well done’. It’s putting a nice warm scarf on before you head out on a cold day.

It’s just common sense, really.


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Written by Rowan Whiteside

Rowan Whiteside is a writer, reader, and consummate gin-drinker. She is never without a book and sheds to-do-lists wherever she goes. Like everyone else, she is currently working on her first novel.