Self care.

Unaware of this phrase before this year, now I can’t escape it. Women at work talk about it, friends online talk about it, my therapist says it’s a great idea.

It seems equally parts essential, yet doled out only to those who can afford it. This dichotomy makes it intolerably hard to accept.

In attempting to dig myself out of depression and anxiety (and my goal is really only some hint at “normal” or “not wanting to disappear from life on the regular”) I’ve accepted I too, yes, must take better care of myself. Despite the fact I feel like a insufferable yuppie first-worlder even thinking it. Someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with.

My impression for myself, my aspirational goals, have always been to be smart and scrappy. Creative, and tough. Something akin to a Huck Finn, but female and not racist. That glorified type of American daydream that appeals to the slightly countercultural DIY aspirate. You know, outside the box but still comfortable. Taking up “self care” doesn’t align with my inner narrative — because I’m supposed to be tough and above that.

Strength is something that I’ve always expected of myself. I was the shoulder I expected my friends to cry on when I was younger. I was the one who let my friends’ miscreant boyfriends know their actions were not appreciated, with just a look. I pushed harder, I stayed up later, I worked faster, I knew more. When my family fell apart, I was the one who kept the kids together. I’m the one who keeps everyone together now. I’m the one who will pick you up, who will cheer you on, who will lead.

Except I’m not.

I sit at home most nights either trying to work on my “side hustle” (because that’s what overachievers do nowadays) or trying to avoid thinking about all of the work that is piling up. My temper hangs by a thread most days, ready and willing to engage. I’m not protecting my friends because I barely have any. And I’m not the beacon for my family because with both my husband and I having depression, on good days I try so hard to not upset anyone and on bad days I do the upsetting willingly. Really, how I spend my time is listening to podcasts engaging enough to keep me engaged in life, or distracting enough to distract me from it.

Those podcasts. There are so many self help podcasts. If I hear Dan Harris talk one more time about how life changing meditation is, I may never listen to another podcast again (but I’ve bought both his books and downloaded his app and just did my first meditation session with it). That’s the insidious part of self help and self care — there are so many people ready to tell you how you must IMPROVE yourself that you wonder if anything you will ever do is enough. Yet, they are so convincing and you are so in need of help that the thought “hey, let’s try this book/podcast/method” will keep drawing me in. I then doubt and resent the very thing that might help me.

For a person struggling with perfectionism and it’s bedfellow anxiety, this is a tender line to walk. For a person who already feels they don’t contribute enough to the world, the cloying talk of self care makes this feeling worse.

Yet I did my yoga today. I walked the dog, in the sun. I tried that meditation app. And I’ll get enough sleep tonight, and have my bag packed for the gym tomorrow. Because things are dark enough, I can’t not grab for the scraps of light everyone keeps promising.