This past weekend, I got my first ever massage. I was terrified before I went in, having no idea what to expect. I knew, however, that getting that massage (and the ones I plan on getting in the future) was going to be an important part of my recovery.
You see, I do not look after myself. In my adult life, self-care had taken a back seat so distant that I’d forgotten what it looked like until my family and friends stepped in. The stress of 2017 was evident in my body when my shoulders and back hurt to touch, and I held myself with such caution and stiffness that my parents couldn’t take it anymore and booked me in for a massage. Note, at this point, it still wasn’t me saying enough is enough. I was still in denial about how badly I treated myself.
As I settled down on the table, thoughts were racing through my head. I felt my body tense up once more, and felt an overwhelming sense of ‘I’m doing this wrong’. That’s nuts, right? How can anyone receive a massage wrong? Yet there I was, panicking. I found myself in that oh so familiar place of an overwhelming thought process which would normally stop any attempt at self-care in its tracks, but this time the process was out of my hands. I was, quite literally, in someone else’s hands.
So I lay back and let it happen. Some of it was painful (namely, and obviously, my back), but in general it was a pleasurable experience, which is something I have not had in a long time. I seem to routinely deny myself pleasure and relaxation under the guise that I should be doing something productive with my time, completely glossing over the fact that self-care is productive. Without it, I burn out. This has proven to be the case on two separate occasions, in two separate jobs in two separate countries. The common denominator in both my burnouts was the gaping hole in my life where self-care should have been.
But in order to be effective, self-care must go beyond the occasional bubble bath and pedicure. It has to come from habits and hobbies that give your life a chance to thrive in places that are not your work. Now I’m not shitting on the idea of regular foot baths and body scrubs because they feel awesome, but you also need to enrich your life in other ways. Join a club and make some friends, go to an exercise class, take up a creative hobby like sewing, painting or bullet journaling. Find time to window shop with your favourite sugary coffee in your hand. In fact, make time to be outside in the daylight. Go for dinner with friends, explore your city alone, sit on the tube with your bag of knitting and ride it end to end. Develop habits that feed your soul. Document them in a journal or through Instagram. Share your progress with people.
When I eventually go back to work, I must do so with a plan. I need to get regular massages to help myself physically unwind and get out of the house. I’ll invest in a foot bath and pour some Epsom salts in it whilst I work on my latest shabby knitting project. I’ll continue to see my therapist, journal and devour audiobooks on my commute. I will not be beaten by burnout again, because this time, I will have a plan.
What kind of plan could you develop to look after yourself? If you already have one, what’s your favourite part of it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!