I suck at self-care. It’s not something I’ve ever been terribly good at, despite the immense guilt I felt as a child and young woman about my supposed laziness and penchant for buying too many books. Since late childhood, I’ve been the consummate type-A over-achiever, striving to accomplish as much as I can so that my life might prove meaningful because it’s useful to others. That idea that my worth was tied to being useful to others was reinforced heavily by my parents, more subconsciously than consciously, I believe. My mother’s intensely evangelical Christian influence on me didn’t help matters. Phrases like “servant of God”, “let God work through you”, and “submit to His will” were constantly stated encouragingly, which is strange because now those words feel like ash on my tongue, unpalatable and foreign.

Because of all those influences as well as my own nature, self-care seemed frivolous. I needed to care for others, to do amazing things, to serve the greater good. I could go without sleep, without a meal, without the attention or relaxation everyone else seemed to need. I could take care of everything and everyone else, but I didn’t need to be taken care of.

Until I did.

There were a lot of things that contributed to My Favorite Failure, the event in my late teens that changed the course of my life forever. I’ll tell that story in greater detail one day, but for now, it’s enough to say that a lack of self-care was a large contributor to that life-changing meltdown.

While that period in my life is well over a decade in the past, I still struggle with self-care. I’m great at business – I give you this, you give me that. Transactional relations mean the rules are clear. But I’m not very good at asking for help, accepting kindness, or letting my existence be its own merit and reward. Reading a book simply because I want to is an act I must consciously choose these days. A novel feels indulgent when I could be reading about marketing or philosophy to improve my situation. I see now how important that space is now though; the space to dream, to stretch and lounge, unconcerned with the clock or the cost. One of my greatest worries and frustrations for many years has been that my creativity has been stagnant to barren. I realize now that it’s because there’s been a self-imposed drought. Self-care means metaphorically (or literally, if it’s your thing) tending your own garden for its own sake. Restoration can occur when beauty is its own reward; when peace is not something to be achieved, but a state of being to be savored and relished.

Self-care is vital if one is to create and contribute in this world long-term. Knowing this, I now have to get good at it.