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the value

of self care

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Earlier this week, one of my RMT colleagues gave me a complimentary massage treatment. In the wellness community, I am fortunate to be surrounded by skilled practitioners with whom I can share my skills or make trades, and to whom I can offer support in any number of capacities. It was the first time in months that I’d been able to relax for even 30 minutes, let alone get some long overdue therapeutic treatment.

The year my mother died, I was absent from my “real life” for eight months. It’s not that I wasn’t experiencing real life, but I was away from my home in Toronto, on a hiatus of sorts, caretaking for my mom during her last days, and then dealing with the house and her estate, and all of the loose ends that entailed. It was meaningful, probably the most important thing I’ve done in my life, but it was exhausting. Waking up every single day wanting to be 100 per cent present for someone, and knowing there were boxes of things to sort, papers to sign, and big decisions to make took its toll on me.

While not a stranger to the odd pedicure or massage, I wasn’t one to pamper myself too frequently with spa treatments. It’s not that I looked down on other people for enjoying what my pragmatic, prairie mom might have viewed as extravagances (although I hear her voice in my head from time to time)—in fact I easily offered these little luxuries as gifts to others, urging family members and friends to treat themselves, telling everyone else, “You deserve it!” It was more that I made choices—we all do. Upon my return to Toronto, however, I decided to focus on my writing and on restoring my physical and mental health. I discovered the lovely organic spa near my house, and for that one year, I became a “member”, getting a facial, a manicure, and a pedicure every month. I got a massage every couple of weeks. I took care of my aches and pains, nursing old injuries and getting strong again. I worked out five or six times a week. I went to therapy. I wrote. I read. I studied. I traveled. I filled the vessel that had been emptied over the course of the previous year. I used Self Care to recover from a difficult period and reconnect with my personal goals and passions.

What is Self Care? According to the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre in Winnipeg, “Self Care is care provided ‘for you, by you.’ It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self Care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.”

These days, I’m juggling a lot. I teach seven days a week. I’m trying to finish my second book. I have a partner with a demanding career of his own. I’m a stepmom. There’s been a lot of change in a short amount of time, and taking care of myself has dropped far down on my list of priorities. The only time I read now is on the subway between clients. I can’t even remember the last time I got my hair cut. Self Care has become a foreign concept. And I’ve been paying the price.

Talking about burning the candle at both ends the other day, I struggled to stifle a yawn, and a client said to me: “Of course you’re tired—you’re a nurturer!” While that’s often part and parcel of being a woman, I’m also particularly drawn to helping people, and focusing more on others than on myself has run me down. There’s the emotional labour of caretaking, but there’s also the stress of managing a fledgling business and a chaotic schedule. There are financial peaks and valleys, too, and at the end of the day, there are choices to be made.

Self Care doesn’t mean spending money I don’t have. But it can mean saying no to something that I don’t really have the time or energy to commit to. It can mean some alone time (for an introvert like me, that’s how I recharge), or a walk in nature, or even a nap. It can mean eating well—prioritizing the things that will keep me healthy and energized—so that I can still do right by my family and clients. Taking care of myself isn’t selfish. It benefits everyone.

So while I did love those monthly facials and mani-pedis, somewhere between nothing and the unlimited monthly spa package is where I want to live. Enjoying a glass of wine with friends, getting the occasional blowout, or just hunkering down with a good book for a few hours can make all the difference.

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