12 September, 2016
Growing up, I often heard the phrase “Me time” thrown around.
I never really understood what they meant by it. I saw a lot of ads use it and I heard people say it, but I always heard it as “Time where I get to forego my responsibilities and be selfish.”
What the person meant by “Me time” probably varied person to person, but it points out to me how confusing and ambiguous it can be to talk about self-care.
The media and advertisements can blur the lines between overindulgence and greed vs what we really need. So it makes sense for them to capitalise on “Me time” in order to market whatever it is they’re selling, whether it’s a chocolate bar or a holiday.
Maybe partly for this reason, for a long time I had not been able to tell the difference between two extremes – self-care, and selfishness.
The media might have played a part in my misunderstanding, but now it is really important that we clarify it. The two couldn’t be further apart.
It is absolutely crucial to living a healthy and sustainable life. Without sounding overdramatic, we really can’t afford to get this wrong. Blurring the lines between these two extremes has meant a lot of unnecessary suffering in my own life over the last 5 years or so.
Last time I shared that I was trying out a new diet, eating in a much more healthy and nutritious way, and it was having a really positive effect on my wellbeing. But behind all of this is the reason why I was doing it – self-care. To get to this point has taken a long time and a huge shift in thinking for me.
If I had to define it in my own words, self-care is intentionally taking time out of my timetable – my day, week, or even seasonally depending on the need, to care for my own needs, whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
This can take a lot of forms. Everyone has different ways of recharging their batteries, and we all have a variety of complex physical and emotional needs. For some, reading a book recharges their mind, for others, it is CrossFit. Whatever form it takes, it is doing whatever you need to do to feed your body, mind and soul. It is a simple concept that is obvious to many – but not to all.
For a long time I have struggled a lot with guilt whenever I take part in an activity exclusively for my own benefit. Whether it was rejecting a social invitation to get a good night of sleep, buying new clothes, getting a haircut or pursuing a hobby, I struggled with a lot of guilt over this.
“There is something else I should be doing.”
This would be the nagging thought in my head as I picked up the Playstation controller, sat down with a book, went for a walk or cooked a nice meal.
Is this being selfish? Far from it. So where does the idea come from?
I can’t speak for all of the factors that led me to have such guilt, but I can only speak from my own experience. It could be our society’s fast paced obsession with accomplishment and careerism, but my motivations are a little different.
For many of us, we define ourselves in relation to someone or something else. Without x, we do not have any worth or value. For many, it is a partner – in and out of relationships because we simply cannot be alone. For others, it is a career or a job – unless I am able to maintain this fast paced job or standard of output in my work, I have no worth or value. More so, many of us simply haven’t learned our limits and how to actually say no, or simply how to take care of ourselves properly. (I’ll write more about this at another point). For these reasons, we work ourselves into the ground.
All of these things can play a role for a lot of people, but I think there is one main deeper root cause to the guilt.
For some of us, we grew up in an environment where our lives were defined by the needs of others. In our families, our siblings or our parents were so self-destructive that we made it our mission to be there for them all the time, so much so that our own needs were flushed down the drain. We simply have never known any different. Sadly, this is the case for a lot of people, and developing a healthy sense of self, separate from these people, can take a long time, and a very, very difficult shift in thinking. This was my journey.
This can also be true in the culture we set through our words and actions.
Are Christians really any different?
With a bit of shame, I will raise my hand and admit that Christians like me have a tendency to polarise the world into black and white. In our churches, we tend to divorce one concept from another when in reality they go hand in hand as friends. For example – we have a strong emphasis as Christians, and rightly so, on loving others, and living a life that strongly prioritises the needs of others. This is great, and one of the reasons we emphasise this is because of the narcissistic culture we live in. Hand in hand with love for God, Jesus wants us to “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matt. 22:36-40). In a culture that is obsessed with the self, we concern ourselves with the other. God has loved us, we are to show that love to others.
But sometimes we pick up subtle, unintended messages along the way. Over the years, maybe it was just me being overzealous, young and naive. Maybe the church had neglected to teach a more wholistic view of the Christian life. Maybe it was my personal background and low self esteem. Maybe a bit of all three. Either way, the result is a deep sense of guilt, that we aren’t good enough, or we are not worth the time. Therefore, if we ever step back to care for ourselves, we feel a deep sense of guilt.
I think this is why the majority of Christians I meet, just like those that aren’t Christians, have significant health issues such as burnout, obesity, and if I could be so bold, even forms of depression and anxiety. (After struggling with depression and burnout over the years myself, I fully believe it plays an under-appreciated role. It may not be the main cause, but it plays a part. At least, it did for me). We do not have a healthy framework for self care, and at the thought of simply focussing on our own needs, we feel a deep sense of guilt.
The end result
In my case, and in the case of a lot of people I meet, it takes a significant crisis for any change to occur. For me, it was burnout over half a decade, chronic fatigue, severe depression and anxiety, and emotional breakdown.
It is awful that such a terrible experience needs to occur to really make us step back and reevaluate. To realise that the way we have been living is unsustainable, and it is a misconception about ourselves, and what it really means to love other people.
It can take years to change our thinking, to finally define ourselves by who we really are, and not who we think we should be. This is a journey with a lot of mistakes and discoveries.
Grace for Failures
That is why I started this blog and called it “Grace for Failures”. I have learned that, because God is for me, even despite my mistakes, I can find my worth in him, and who he says I really am. I can stop living in guilt, pick myself up and move forward.
Self-care is an art and a science. The health benefits are endless, and when you learn to do it well, it will enrich your life and the lives of those around you, the people who you are trying to love. What’s more, you will discover new beauties to life you didn’t know existed.
Grace for Failures is my blog to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.