I believe self care is a way of life. I practice blackout hours—9 p.m. to 9 a.m.—when I do not take calls or respond to messages. I manage my work hours to ensure I have enough time off, I do my best to conserve energy and keep my bills as low as possible, and I am conscious of what I put into my body. I try not to impact the environment negatively and live as close to “natural” as possible. And until February, that was the extent of my self-care practice. It was low-cost and holistic, all about boundaries and balance.
But then the COVID-19 crisis changed everything. Work life collapsed into home life. Social justice, my field of work, became a part of every conversation. Sleep schedules got interrupted. And my daily self-care practices no longer felt sufficient. That’s when I found myself justifying all sorts of things I used to consider frivolous.
For years, I ignored people who bought, and sung the praises of, numerous beauty products. I know some people consider them to be necessities, but my sensitive skin does not like changes in routine, so I rarely use new products. Lately, though, I have been more attentive. I spend a little more time applying moisturizer, and I don’t limit my use to when I’m leaving the house. I found a lavender face mask that isn’t too fragrant, helps me relax, and leaves my skin feeling good. I even use a foot scrub. Once a week, I put on music, sit on the side of my bathtub, and spread the scrub over my feet, paying extra attention to my heels and toes. I take my time, rinse it off, and then pat dry. Afterwards, I massage in a homemade butter, slip socks on, and kick my feet up for the rest of the evening. The next day, my feet are extra soft and it feels good to know that I did something nice for myself. It doesn’t matter if no one else notices—I can see and feel the results. And don’t I deserve softness?
My hair has also become a big part of my self-care routine. For years, I kept it very short, but recently, without planning to do so, I’ve let it grow in. Now, it’s past the point of a wash and go and I have been doing something new: protective styling. I wanted to find a way to keep my hair off my face without causing it to tangle, so I decided to put in twists. I’d planned to do no more than a dozen, but somehow I sat down long enough that I ended up with 32. I’m still not sure how it happened, but here I am with an actual hair-care routine. I wash, condition, and detangle like I used to, but then I part it down the middle, moisturize, and twist it section by section while playing my favorite tunes by Black women. It’s a time that I don’t think about anything else. I sing loudly, look in the mirror, and impress myself with the attention I am giving to my often-neglected hair. This new routine is easy, practical, and gives me a better understanding of—and connection to—my hair. And don’t I deserve ease?
I wash, condition, and detangle like I used to, but then I part it down the middle, moisturize, and twist it section by section while playing my favorite tunes by Black women. It’s a time that I don’t think about anything else.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time on the phone in recent months. I don’t think I have talked to family members or friends this much since I was away for university. I call my parents to talk about what we’re cooking or baking, what’s in the news, and who’s making the grocery store run. I talk to my grandaunt for hours about gardening. I’m starting to grow more vegetables and herbs and we exchange tips and discuss videos and articles we find online. When I talk to my brother, we trade stories about our parents. On the phone with friends, I lament the shoddy job the government is doing to manage public health and respond to the economic ramifications of its actions. We talk and talk and talk. Before the pandemic, I never would have spent hours on the phone talking about nothing and everything, but it feels good to connect with people who are having similar thoughts and experiencing the same things. And don’t I deserve belonging?
As my time at home now comes in longer stretches, I’ve also been paying attention to my surroundings. I want more life in my space, so my indoor garden is growing with philodendrons and pothos in so many shades of green. Outside, I have rosemary, sage, Spanish thyme, and a number of other plants. I even have petunias in a pot on my patio. This is quite an unusual choice for me because I don’t typically buy flowering plants—and I don’t particularly care for purple. Surprisingly, the flowers have become a bright spot, and the burst of color has been uplifting. As they grow leggy and less vibrant, I am thinking about my next flowering-plant purchase. I have learned that a little color can go a long way. In fact, I just hung a new painting on my wall, and the burst of oranges and yellows brings new energy to the room. And don’t I deserve beauty?
While integrating self care into my daily life has always been important, the way I think about my needs—and my indulgences— has changed. I have come to realize that I may need something new one week that I didn’t the last. I’m learning to pay attention to the way I feel, validating those feelings for myself, and responding to them with action. I deserve the time and space to meet my own desire, whether it’s for clearer boundaries or a bowl of ice cream. There is no longer a hierarchy to my self care: I’m doing whatever it takes to let joy in and nothing is off-limits or indulgent. Don’t we all deserve that?
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