I never really did New Year’s Resolutions, but when I came across the idea of a “Word of The Year” several years ago I fell in love with it. Having a focus word or concept was much easier for me than a specific goal. And for a while it really worked for me. 2015 was perhaps my most successful, as I chose “Surrender” and within a few days of the New Year I found out I was being made redundant! But every year since has been a challenge, because 2015 was also the year I fell ill with the virus that would start my post viral illness journey.
But I continued to choose words for each year, hoping that each one would be the year something changed. Sadly, that change was simply my health getting progressively worse. And the one year I chose “Change” as my focus word, I was hit with the worst relapse ever. I was already a couple of months into bedridden hell when the 2020 lockdowns hit, and it all felt rather pointless. Which is why I didn’t bother choosing focus words for the past couple of years.
Looking back, however, I can recognise that 2020 was the year in which I started therapy. It was the year in which I began to make the changes that got me to where I am today – still very, very sick, but in a far better place mentally and emotionally. It was also the year in which Thea came out as transgender to me, and I began to realise I wasn’t actually straight after all! I’d call that pretty big change.
So when I realised the other day that I was setting myself up to try and focus on self-care moving forwards, I decided it was time to make it more “official”.
Self-care puts me back in control
I’ve had a really rough December this year, it has to be said. Between multiple events and then us all getting a nasty virus just before Christmas, the past month has utterly exhausted me. I spent most of Christmas Day afternoon sleeping, and all of Boxing Day feeling horrific, and began to feel really sad about how Christmas used to be my favourite time of the year and how it really isn’t the same since I got so ill and can no longer do most of the things I used to love about it.
Which led me to wanting to treat myself to something to cheer myself up. Thea and I each have a small personal allowance that goes into our own bank accounts from the main one every week, giving us something we can spend on ourselves without feeling guilty. I’ve been saving mine up for months, in case I ever finish writing my novel and can get some help with editing and formatting etc. But I realised that it’s highly unlikely to happen anytime soon, and so I could spend some money on myself once in a while too.
But I just couldn’t think of anything I wanted. A friend suggested something like a massage or treatment, which sounded nice and I did consider going back for some more Reflexology for a short while. But then I realised that wasn’t right for where I’m at right now. I felt the need to do something that empowered me to treat myself, on a far more regular basis than I could manage if paying somebody else. And thus my focus on self-care was born.
Self-care doesn’t come easily to me
I’m a very caring person by nature, and I love helping other people. But when it comes to looking after myself, I’m not so good at it. You’d think I’d be better at it, after all these years of illness, but really I’m not. I mean I’ve developed strategies for helping me manage my health issues as much as possible, but actually doing things that make me feel good is a kind of alien experience to me.
I’ve touched on it a little bit over the past year, like when I decided I wanted to try playing around with some make-up (something which I have always felt super self-conscious about and still struggle with). I treated myself to some cute eye shadow sets and had a play around, seeing it more as an arty exploration than anything else. But I want to take it further – I don’t want to just have fun with my appearance, I want to do things like nourish me.
Again, I realised that I had started to touch on this already – it’s funny how when you look back you can see the little steps you’ve taken to get to this place, isn’t it? A couple of months ago I bought a Wellness Tracker from The Works, which has 12 months’ of pages to track things like fluid intake, your 5-a-day, mood, sleep, and exercise. Now, as someone with ME/CFS, I’m not going to be doing much exercise! But I’ve realised I can change that to mean gentle stretches in my bed that help my tight muscles and going out for a wheel around the village in my wheelchair.
Whilst tracking things every day is not something I am naturally good at, I do know the impact it can have based on my experiences of keeping a Gratitude Diary when I first started therapy. Back then the diary included things as simple as “audiobooks, chocolate, and Thea” because my life was so limited. But finding things to be grateful for each day made me realise that there was always something to be grateful for, no matter how small, even on the worst days. And I’m hoping to use that same process with my self-care routine.
Creating a self-care routine that works for me
So what does self-care even look like for me? This was a challenging question that I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer at first. I knew it included things like those listed in my Wellness Tracker (eg enough fluids and monitoring my sleep), but I wanted it to be more than that. I knew self-care had to be something to look forward to, something indulgent, and not just general well-being stuff, because otherwise I’d fall straight off the wagon.
But what on earth could that involve? As I’ve said already, self-care doesn’t come naturally to me, and so I didn’t have a clue where to begin. So when I spotted that Holland and Barrett had a 3 for 2 sale on, along with a further 20% discount, I decided to ask my friends to help me figure out what I should invest in. After all, they probably had way more experience in all of this than I had. And eventually we decided on rosehip oil so that Thea and I could use the jade roller and gua sha set we’d been sent for Christmas, along with a hydrating day cream, and a calming night cream.
This may sound overly simple for many of you, and I’m sure lots of people already do this kind of thing as standard. But I never have. Being chronically ill like I am severely limits your ability to have a daily routine like this, but even before I got sick I still only used shower gel (even on my face) and never bothered to moisturise afterwards. So this is a huge step up for me!
I also got some cocoa butter body lotion from Lidl, so that on the days I am well enough to shower I can moisturise my body too. And I’m going to add a tracker to one of the mainly blank pages in each month of my Wellness Tracker specifically for monitoring this. I considered doing it in a separate bullet journal, but it seems silly to have two different books for it. What I did do, however, was invest in some stencils to help me with building the tracker, and some new brush pens and pastel colours for helping me keep it pretty. I know from experience that the more colourful I make it, the more likely I am to stick with it.
Keeping self-care simple, yet flexible
As I’ve already said, I know this probably all sounds super simple to many of you. But I know the power of keeping things simple. I’m far more likely to succeed in making self-care a focus of my day if it is easy to fit in. But I also know I need a bit of variety too. Not just because I tend to get bored easily, but also because my health issues could throw a spanner in the works at any time.
Which is why although daily moisturising sounds simple enough, I’m not limiting myself to that one thing. I’ve decided to expand the concept of self-care to include anything which invests time in my wellbeing and makes me feel good about myself. So things like gentle stretches in bed or using the massage gun on tight, painful muscles will count. Or doing something fun like writing, reading, or getting out in the garden. They’re all part of self-care for me, and will hopefully mean that there will be a little bit of it in each day, helping me recognise all the ways I am investing in me.
I may be super sick. I may be very limited. But if I can do just one of these things each day throughout 2023, I shall be very happy indeed. Not just because I succeeded in making time for self-care each day, but because the very act of self-care is bound to improve my mood.
Wish me luck!
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