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My Self-Care Is Not Self-Indulgent

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Each morning I sit down to write out everything that happens to be in my brain. It is a self-care practice to reduce symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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By taking all the tasks and worries and considerations out of my head and putting them onto paper, I relieve some of the mental pressure that leads to increased stress.

That list often includes affirmations that I deserve good, love, peace, food, shelter, entertainment, and self-care. These affirmations are common because I often feel that I don’t deserve these basic human rights. I feel this in part because of my disease but also because others tend to judge my life and tell me I do not deserve such things.

Marginalization happens. And it often affects those with disability and chronic illness.

When I open my Pinterest feed, of late, there are numerous pins that promote self-care. Read a book, take a walk, take a nap, and meditate are all usually on the lists of self-care practice. I think all people should take the time to care for their bodies, minds, and spirits. But for many like myself, that list becomes a judgment, rather than a helpful guide.

I have numerous diseases. Most of them are chronic, incurable, and difficult to manage. And while the world is enjoying the buzzword of “self-care,” I am living in a state where caring for myself is my one and only concern. Staying alive and as well as possible is my goal. And I don’t stray from that goal, but I feel guilt regarding that goal often because others make me feel like I am indulging in that which I do not deserve.

I hate that people make me feel that way. I hate that there are those in my life and in my society who would call me “lazy,” “selfish,” or a “narcissist” because I am pursuing the goal of life and well-being. I hate that I can’t have a goal of “climbing Everest” or “white-water rafting” or “going to Cancun,” instead of the goal of staying alive and quasi-well.

There is a strange assumption made about many with chronic conditions. Some people assume we deserve less care. They determine that we ought to live in the margins, where we struggle to get by and stay alive because we are less valued — because we are less productive.

I’ve been called “lazy” and “selfish.” I’ve been talked to like I am a child — having others believe they need to explain math or sickness or accepted social norms to me because the fault in my situation is my ignorance and not my chronic illness. I’ve had people demand donated funds should never be used for anything but bare bones living — denying me things like television and cellular service because those things aren’t necessary for life.

Being sick doesn’t mean you deserve less. And in many ways, keeping myself alive and as well as possible requires more, not less.

There are many things I cannot do because of my chronic conditions. There are many things I need because of my chronic conditions. And caring for myself in a way is not self-indulgent.

I work with a trainer at the gym. I had hip surgery six months ago, and while I am finished with physical therapy, per the protocol and insurance limits associated with my rehab, I still struggle with balance and atrophied muscles. Because I had a recent surgery, diving into the weight room and hopping on the treadmill are not just difficult, but they could be damaging. So, I have a weekly training session with a professional who helps me exercise in ways that help and do not harm my body.  Trainers are expensive.  Lots of people don’t pay for training because it is a “luxury” in their opinion. But for me, this is a necessity. Training is essential to my rehabilitation and continued disease management.

Recently, I have also accepted that I need to go in for manicures and pedicures at the spa. While people with means are accustomed to regular manicures, many would say I don’t deserve such “luxury” because I am poor and asking for funds to support my medical expenses. But I am affected by benign essential tremor, which is basically the neurological term for uncontrollable shaking. I’ve had several situations where my inability to keep my hands still has caused injury when attempting nail care at home. I need someone else to do my nails. But I live alone and do not think my friends should be subjected to clipping my toenails on their days off. I have the right to professional care for my body — even for my toenails.

Pedicures and trainers might seem like indulgence, but given the circumstances of my life and health they are not such. They are needs. They are essential to keeping me safe and healthy.

Professional Self-Care Manicure

There are numerous parts of my routine that qualify as self-care. And those things might sound indulgent from the perspective of someone whose body doesn’t go through flares of pain and fatigue or whose mind doesn’t turn to dark and deadly thoughts. But for me, who has multiple diseases that create numerous limitations and challenges, those things are necessities.

Coloring mandalas, taking naps, spending 10 minutes a week in a tanning bed, swimming, meditating, taking a bath, reading a book, streaming music through noise-cancelling headphones, watching Netflix, getting a pedicure, painting, writing, drinking tea, going to therapy, working with my trainer, getting an occasional massage, eating chocolate, and more are coping mechanisms essential to maintaining balance and the greatest possible well-being in my life. I need these things to care for myself.  And because I need them, they are not indulgences.

From the outside, it might look like a lot of fun to live this way — with self-care driving every decision. But it is not fun to live this way. It is not fun to have atrophied muscles. It is not fun to shake so much that you cannot trim your own nails. It is not fun to have and constantly cope with fibromyalgia, PTSD, anxiety, depression, arthritis, tremors, facial dystonia, and a litany of other diseases.

It is not indulgent to do what is necessary to manage my chronic illness. It is necessary.

So, when those around you are coping with chronic conditions and seeking to do what is best for their bodies, minds, and spirits, please don’t judge them harshly and push them into the margins. Seek to understand and respect that those who have these diseases know what is needed to stay alive and well.

We all need to care for ourselves. We all deserve basic rights. We all deserve to participate in what makes us better and stronger. And that is not indulgent or selfish or narcissistic.  That is simply self-preservation. It is self-care.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Originally published: March 29, 2017
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