Words by Brittany Forbes
As I write this, it's the eve before I leave on a two-week trip. I am sitting in a cafe across the street from my apartment, sipping on the most delightful, caramel-flavored latte. I have a book sitting next to me by one of my favorite female writers, a journal with pages left to fill, and some brand new pens. To a lot of people, my night looks like self care. I could even easily trick myself into thinking that I am diving head first into treating myself well here. These are the things we've decided self care is all about, aren't they? Warm coffee, melted chocolate, twinkly lights -- I've got them all.
But my truth at this moment is that I have left my entire trip unplanned until the very last second, and that includes things like laundry, packing and oh, yeah, choosing the places I want to go to and actually booking flights and hotels.
I do this every time I travel and therefore I get stressed every time I travel. So why do I travel? Well, to get away from the stresses of my everyday life, of course. The disconnect is real.
I could be kinder to myself in lots of ways during this trip planning process. I could choose my destinations in advance, ensuring they are places I truly want to go and not just places I feel like I am supposed to be interested in. I could do my laundry and pack my bag a few nights before and place it by my door as a reminder of what I have already checked off my list. I could have researched hotels and different neighborhoods a week ago so that I could start getting excited about my trip instead of dreading where I may 'end up'.
What I'm coming to learn and believe about self care -- and what I have yet to master -- is that self care is often the path that you take to doing the thing you want.
The path that I take to getting to the thing that I want-- in this case, a fun few weeks of travel -- could be a lot smoother for me. Learning to give myself permission to do things in a different and perhaps better way than what I am used to is key.
I've long been the person who left things until the last minute, never wanting to commit to anything just in case I changed my mind. Doing lots of work on myself has helped me to understand why I hold that pattern and how it served me in my past, but I've also learned that protecting that pattern doesn't do a thing to help me become the type of woman I most aspire to be now. Sometimes, maintaining old habits, in this case, leaving all my planning to the last minute, is actually keeping myself small. My self care from now on needs to look more like giving myself room to shift my patterns.
What I'm realizing as the weeks slip by and I step more fully into this new version of me, is that the indulgent bubble bath at the end of the night is only enjoyable if I stop calling myself 'lazy' while I take it. The home cooked meal only counts as self care if I don't stand in the mirror obsessing about my stomach afterwards. Self care for me is looking a lot like the way I give myself permission to do and enjoy the things we want.
It's not always about the bath, it's the way I allow myself to rest. Self care is not the nutritious food I eat, but the way I love my body for all it does, even when that feels impossible. The self talk leading up to these moments that is soft and gentle is what counts.
Sometimes the work required to make better choices feels difficult and huge at first. It's taken me years to come to terms with the fact that eating regularly instead of starving all day and then having a giant meal before bed is better for me. A normal sleep pattern felt like a change I was able to make, so I've moved things around at work and I now start at 4 am everyday in hopes that my extreme hours will force me into bed at a decent time. Finally feeling able to set boundaries with toxic people in my life has been a heavy blessing. I've done all these things willingly and on purpose because I want to do anything possible to be kinder to myself. The idea is that making these choices makes me feel better, not worse. They are choices that feel authentic for who I am now and who I want to grow into. It's effort, but I'm only gaining by doing the work.
I'm learning that loving yourself includes doing all the things you need and want, big and small, in a way that aligns with your values. So, with the woman I am becoming in mind, I've been valuing new things lately. Things like comfort and safety and warmth. Inner peace is a new concept to me and it's one that I'd like to stick around. I no longer accept that pit in my stomach that I thought lived there permanently.
This two week trip is a perfect reminder that it's all too easy to slip back into old habits and patterns, but I'm also learning that self care for me is being gentle with myself while I readjust my course. It's the way I don't beat myself up for going too slow or missing the mark, or god forbid, 'failing'. I can't fail at being me. I can't and I won't and it's not a thing that exists.
We can stylize the language any way that we choose -- self care, self kindness, self love --but the idea is the same at the end of the day. We all have the freedom to make conscious choices, moment by moment, to value our needs and wants and then to set about getting them in a way that adds to our lives and brings us joy. And more than that, we all deserve to care for ourselves in the way that works best for us.
Click to read next: 3 Acts of Self-Love You Can Practice This Week
About the Author:
Brittany writes in Canadian, loves in English, and dreams in French. She writes about travels and various other journeys over at Letters To Rayelle.