A Personal Essay Following my Previous Article on Self-Care Titled: A Guide to Self-Care for the College Student
Life is scary. It is big, messy, complicated, and full of weird things, sad things, and joyous things. It gets hard sometimes. There are 7 billion of us humans here on Earth, most of us pretending that life is easier than it really is. As for me, I’m introverted, highly sensitive, and a big feeler. I am easily overwhelmed and painfully empathetic. I often take things too personally and think that if I’m not perfect; I think that there must be something horribly wrong with me. I love tea, cats, fuzzy blankets, and social justice documentaries. My hobbies include writing poetry, nature walks at dusk, painting and collaging, and singing and dancing in the comfort of my own home.
Maybe by now you are thinking, “Who is this bowl of jell-o?”
Hi, I’m Katelyn! A young woman trying to find her way through this big messy planet floating through space and time. My life has been good – one of the better one’s I’ve heard of. Maybe I’m biased, or just honest. I’ve had deep hurts and pains, plenty of them; but I’ve also had a loving, supportive, and a perfectly imperfect circle of amazing people to hold me up. I’ve had many wonderful opportunities come to me and many that I have sought out myself. And with this, I am still learning to love myself. Because that, my dear friends, is really-super-incredibly hard. This brings me to the glue that keeps me together – a little thing called “self-care.”
A few years ago I discovered the now slightly obvious notion of self-care. I say “slightly obvious” only because, of course I need to take care of myself, we all do. Only recently, though, did I discover how important self-care is for me. Self-care if the act of becoming aware of your own needs and acting on those. Listening to your body’s signals and what emotions are coming up is crucial. Taking steps towards your own well-being so that you may be fully well, functioning, and in better service to the world.
As I said, I am an exceptionally sensitive person. I must have been born that way. Psychologist Elaine Aron has done research and written books on people like me and has coined the term “Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).” When I was younger, I was very easily overwhelmed; by emotions, school, friends, family, parties, decisions – a classic HSP. As a child, I also didn’t know how to cope with or regulate my emotions. This meant that I often had uncontrollable tantrums and bursts of emotion. They were the product of me feeling so much and not knowing what to do with it. Now that I have grown older, I have shifted from tantrums and outbursts to the complete opposite through self-care. A large part of my self-care is to feel my feelings and honor them, but not let them take over my actions. This is one of the most radical acts of self-care that I have found for myself.
As long as I can remember, I intuitively participated in self-care on a regular basis. Being that life has felt overwhelming for me since I was very young, doing nice things for myself don’t take much effort. When I was a child though, I also spent a good portion of my time overcome by the stressful, uncomfortable, and painful feelings that I was having. While I would play outside in the garden or dance for hours on end – things that I would now consider self-care – I would also just as often treat myself very unkindly. I was often violent with my own body and said many hurtful things to myself.
This is where self-care comes in. For me, the self that I have come to know is much softer than my culture would like to celebrate. In America, and other cultures around the world, there is a high value for things like determination, perseverance, ambition, and hustle. While these things are good and needed, they push aside the idea that we also need times of rest. A constant go-go-going attitude is actually what makes us sick and causes more difficulty in our lives. Society tells us that that is what makes us powerful, but I know now that my power comes from another place entirely. It comes from the softest part of my core – the place where I connect to my truth in a way that is gentle and loving. I realized that I needed to listen to what my body needs in order to be fully functional and healthy out in the world.
To look into my own eyes and say, “I see you, I hear you, I love you,” is not to be discounted as silly.
To hold myself on the floor of my room with a cozy blanket and a hot cup of tea is not defeat, it is comfort for the deepest part of my soul. To me, the biggest part of self-care, the point, is that I come back to my essential self, to my core – the place where I remember that I am whole. To get there, I must do things that nourish me and bring me back to the here and now.
I feel that this is so important to talk about, because for a long time I didn’t think that taking time for myself was important. I thought it was selfish, weak, and a sign that I couldn’t handle life as well as others.
When I walk into my bedroom and close the door after a long day of work, school, and stimuli; I take a deep breath. I turn off the lights, light a candle or two, and start to unwind. I get into comfy clothes, lay on the floor in my designated relaxing spot and stretch. This seems obvious, maybe. But when I frame it in the lens of self-care, it becomes a sacred act. Sometimes I’ll put on some music and dance for a while, then take a hot shower with essential oils. I’ll meditate for a few minutes, breathing so that I am paying attention to the feeling of breath going in and going out. The point is for me to be in my own presence and to recharge so each day feels like it ends with me reclaiming my energy. Sometimes my self-care needs shift of course, and my goal is to listen for what my body is telling me I need.
It is important to remember that self-care is not just a pampering or a luxury, but a foundation for us to build healthy lives upon – lives that serve us in the best way possible. Our culture doesn’t always support or allow for self-care, due to our demanding lives. We have to take it into our own hands and reclaim ourselves as not just a part of this great machine. If we don’t take care of ourselves, stress can overwhelm us, which leave us extremely susceptible to illness (both physical and mental). Self-care is listening to yourself, something that we are not usually taught in American schools. I am dedicated to learning, even more deeply, about how I can best listen to myself, because that is the most profound act of self-love I can conceive of.