By ALICIA WALLACE
We are supposed to be strong; there for everyone at any time. We are supposed to care; genetically destined to nurture and provide sustenance. We are supposed to be humble; never to draw attention to ourselves or the work we do. We are women, maternal by nature whether or not we have children. Expectations are high and there are no days off. Any moment we take away from the work assigned to women is evidence of ineptitude, lack of commitment and a failure. For these reasons and more, we stay on our toes, hide all signs of exhaustion, pretend to be perfect and forget to take care of ourselves. Until we face consequences that force a pause at best and a complete stop at worst.
Self-care has become a buzzword. Magazines and podcasts use it all the time, offer tips and promote products that are supposed to change our lives. If only it could be so simple. If only we could pour an ample amount of coconut oil all over our lives and call it a day.
Many self-care enthusiasts try to convince us all we need is an eye mask to block out light when we sleep, a bimonthly day at the spa and the occasional splurge. While these can contribute to a more enjoyable life (or day), they are not enough to compensate for the busyness and demands of our daily lives.
Video blogger Carla Moore co-hosted a Women’s Wednesdays workshop on self-care last week which focused on a self-care assessment worksheet. Owner of Honey and Lime Jamaica, Carla “focuses on the provision of products and services geared towards self-care, self-love, and self-healing”. Throughout the session, she encouraged participants to be honest with themselves, refer to their worksheet answers and share as much as they wished with the group. The assessment is divided into physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relationship and workplace or professional, with additional sections to review overall self-care and other areas relevant to the individual. Carla put emphasis on a few parts of the worksheet that are either highly relevant to or often neglected by women in the region.
At the beginning of the workshop, we were asked to remember a time when we felt light or whole. Then we were asked whether or not we felt light or whole in that moment and why or why not. We went around the room, sharing a word that described how we felt. For many of us, the word of the moment was “tired”.
Many of us are like cars that are never in park. Even when we are at a complete stop, our engines are idling. We never get to park, much less off. The gas gauge tells us the car is almost empty, but we “know” our equipment, so we push to the limit. Skipping maintenance, we only give due care and attention when it is forced. The car will not start and the problem is so complicated that we need new parts and many hours of labour to return to working condition. That costs us time and money and we promise to never do it again. And then we do.
A telling segment was the discussion about physical self-care. Only one person in the room gave herself a high score for getting preventive medical care. Another woman joked, “This is The Bahamas, you know.” Everyone in the room laughed or nodded in agreement, noting medical care is not very accessible for the average person. Many of us barely manage to get annual exams done. When asked whether or not we take time to be sexual with a partner or ourselves, very few people gave themselves the highest possible score. This prompted a quick pep talk on the importance of recognizing and honouring our sexuality, and a reminder of (or lesson in) the benefits of being sexual with ourselves including learning what we like, and not getting involved in unhealthy relationships to meet sexual needs. Other items in the physical care section include taking time off when sick and getting enough sleep.
Self-care is big business. One of the reasons capitalist ideas of self-care thrive is the perception that money gives access to quick fixes. Get a facial, have your nails done, go on a weekend getaway, treat yourself to a fancy meal and buy that outfit you have been eyeing for weeks. While these things are nice and feel good in the moment, they do little to improve the quality of our lives. We know quite well prevention is better than cure when it comes to physical health and the same applies to self-care. To take better care of ourselves, we need to be able to reduce stress, maintain a manageable workload and remember that we are humans, not robots.
In the psychological section of the worksheet, we were asked to consider the space we give ourselves to notice our “inner experience” which is described as listening to our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and feelings. This is another area that drew low scores from most people in the room.
On average, we have 6,000 thoughts every day and many of them are things we repeat to ourselves.
How much time do we spend paying attention to the narratives to we give ourselves? Carla recommended slowing down and noticing the emotions situations elicit. What do you feel? Are there any thoughts that trigger that feeling? Does the feeling result in a sensation in your body? We often avoid engaging our feelings, viewing them as inherently bad. We sometimes even label them distractions. While it may be counterintuitive, being able to sit with, interrogate and understand our feelings is critical to overall wellbeing.
When we got to the section on relationships, Carla realized we need to spend a fair amount of time on the importance of saying no. It is difficult to decline requests coming from loved ones. The women in the room told of their tendencies to say no, but feel the need to explain themselves.
We often feel obligated to give sound reasons for not being able or willing to do something. We want to be nice. We do not want to be seen as mean. We do not want to be on karma’s bad side. There are so many reasons to say yes when we need to say no.
When a participant said they did not want to hurt people’s feelings, Carla asked, “Do you want to hurt yourself?” We often put other people’s feelings above our own wellbeing, and in many cases, those people would not want us to do that. A participant noted that she often says yes when she needs to say no because she worries about how the person will get help if she does not offer it. At this point, Carla talked about the need to remind herself that she is not a neurosurgeon, and there is definitely someone else who can help. We do not have to be martyrs.
Women are not superheroes. We have definitely started to buy in to the hype and celebrate our strength and emotional intelligence. It can be nice to feel superior sometimes. This, however, does not serve us when we are overworked, living under the pressure of unrealistic expectations that we stretch ourselves to meet.
Weekly nail appointments, new lipstick, and eating moringa leaves are not heavy enough to bring the scale to balance. Self-care is not a single act, or a one-day affair. To be effective, it has to be integrated into our daily lives. It is eating well, exercising, setting and keeping boundaries, saying no, acknowledging our feelings, spending time with loved ones, taking regular breaks and asking for help.
Self-care is recognizing when we feel whole and light, asking ourselves why we feel that way and doing our best to replicate those factors so the feeling is as close to constant as possible. If we are going to be strong, and care, and nurture, it only makes sense to start with ourselves.