Hello loves. We are almost at the end of February—I hope it’s going well for you. My month has been filled with pancakes, lotion, worries, creativity and some really wonderful people.
For my column this month, I sat down and interviewed my self-care spirit guides: Sharea Harris and Ann Marie Brokmeier. I have learned so much about self-care from both of these humans—in fact, I’m pretty sure the concept was first introduced to me by Ann Marie. I have great respect for their intellect, their hearts, their personal styles, their creativity and their ability to reach, comfort and teach those in their communities. Read below for their insights on the definition of self-care and how to develop a self-care practice.
SH: It’s something you do that isn’t tied to anyone else; it’s something you do to recharge yourself. It’s the quality of care you would give outwardly and investing it into you. It’s asking yourself, “What do I like? What do I do that brings me comfort or satisfaction?” and then giving yourself that/those things.
AMB: The concept of self-care itself could be defined, but the definition of self-care is different for each person. Some people like to go to the gym when they are stressed out, but that’s not when I like to go to the gym. The wind has to be a certain way for me to want to go to the gym. [Laughter] It’s the same to me as self-soothing. Self-care is a practice we often overlook, but it’s really radical to be aware of what you need, and then actually work to meet that/those need(s). It’s not easy to figure out what your needs are and then work to get those needs met.
It’s become a popular hashtag—i.e. taking a bubble bath for #selfcare—but I think it’s important to recognize that [self-care] is a complex concept because, first of all, it’s hard “discovering who you are” and then pinpointing exactly what nourishes you. In a past column, I’ve addressed paying bills as a form of self-care—but is it? It’s certainly not a warm and fuzzy self-care action.
AMB: It depends. Sometimes paying bills is not self-care because it induces overwhelming stress or anxiety. But also, [paying bills] is important because it’s a necessary human action—you need to pay bills for shelter, food, etc. But if it is going to bring on stress, knowing you should pair it with something to decrease the stress is important, too—kind of like double self-care. One tool I use is this question: How will this action benefit future Ann Marie? How will future Ann Marie feel if I do this thing, or don’t do this thing?
I want to know the top components of your self-care routine. And how has it/have they evolved?
SH: I think knowledge of self is super important. If you’re not on the journey of learning about yourself, it’s going to be difficult to care for yourself because you’re not able to identify the actions needed for self-care. And you’re not able to create this boundary between you and the world, because there IS no boundary yet. Self-care for me is recognizing that boundary and then enforcing that boundary. I realize, especially as I’ve moved to different places, my self-care has been different. Down south, I had a lot of access to lakes, forest and space, so it was easy for me to drive down a back road and end up by a river and take naps and hang out until I felt less stressed and drove home. Not that way [in the city]. A city and a master’s program made my self-care different. I still need to be around water—I take a lot of baths—because it helps centers me. Having time alone is important. I don’t go to things very often, not because I don’t like being around people, but because my job requires me to be around people all day, so having alone time in the evenings and on the weekends is an important aspect of my self-care. I sacrifice social time so I can maintain my boundary.
AMB: I love the concept of reinforcing the boundary between myself and the world. That’s 100% what it is, but I’d never thought of it that way before.
SH: And I think that’s different from paying bills. Paying bills is adulting. That’s a literal definition of self-care: You have to pay bills for shelter and food, which are primary human needs. Self-care can and does exist outside of those necessary actions to live and function. It’s recognizing when you need something a little different from the norm. Recognizing what will rejuvenate and comfort you outside from basic needs like water and food. Maybe a fancy water? Fancy bar of dark chocolate?
It’s nourishing your body but also your mind and heart, because you’re saying, “You’re special and important.” One thing that interests me is this question: Is self-care primarily caring for ourselves so we can care for others? I like the idea that there’s just self-care for the sake of yourself and nobody else.
AMB: I think it’s both. I think the selfishness of self-care is nice—no one cares for you the way you do. It can’t exist—no one can care about you as much as you’re capable of caring for yourself. If you care more about other people than yourself, then you’re never at the top of anyone’s list. I love the idea of all of us taking care of each other, but there’s also something wonderful about saying, “This is just for me. This chocolate milk is JUST FOR ME.” The best kind of self-care is the self-care that is intentional and mindful. I know how much money I have, I know how much this will cost, and I’m going to take the action to indulge.
SH: And that’s key. That’s the difference between self-care and self-destruction: It’s when you’re mindful of the action you’re taking to care for yourself, and expressing inner gratitude. Instead of, “I’m just gonna drop my account down to zero for this fancy water and fancy chocolate.” In a recent interview I read between Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter and her mother, she touches on the idea that you can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to be able to fill yourself. And no one knows what you truly need—you have to know what you need. Then you can walk into relationships with purpose, with boundaries, etc.
AMB: Going back to your question about my self-care/my boundary between myself and the world—totally going to use that now—my boundary would be a bookshelf. My biggest self-care is reading. It’s so solitary and yet I can be near people I care about if I want to, but I don’t have to be near anyone. I feel different when I’m reading/after I’ve read. The word “nourish” makes sense. I feel calm. I feel…myself. Feeding your own thoughts and allowing yourself to go to places emotionally and intellectually that aren’t attached to the people surrounding you. Your self-care isn’t meant for other people. We should be okay hearing that, particularly in partnerships. I want my partner to know their self-care, and to know it’s okay that our self-care is not that same. I want to know and respect your self-care but that’s it—I don’t want to participate. So if I’m having a rough day: I like to read, watch T.V. shows, listen to podcasts, pet my dog, look at dog photos…or anything with dogs. [Laughter] Some of my favorite self-care moments are when I’m sitting and reading on a couch with someone else, and our feet are touching. It’s when you feel full and nourished afterward. That’s when you know self-care is successful.
What do you commonly advise when you offer self-care advice to others?
SH: Ask what makes them feel good. What makes you feel good without fail? Every. Time. Go there. Expand from there.
It’s simple, but I don’t think a lot of people ask themselves that. I certainly didn’t ask myself that in the past.
AMB: We kind of make fun of the bubble bath thing, but the reason that exists is because that’s a common self-care ritual. So throwing that out there as an idea might prompt others to think about what they enjoy. And I hate baths—but that’s good for me to know about myself! In other words, not getting caught up in doing the wrong self-care for you. My advice is to choose one thing that could be self-care for you. And sometimes you’ll hate it, but that’s okay—figure out what you like. Don’t think about it too much—it’s okay to try stuff out and think “I do like it” or “I don’t like it” or “I like it during this time but not during this time.” Set a date for yourself to go on a date with yourself. It’s just so nice.
SH: Ann Marie you make some really great points, as always. The dating yourself is such a good point. If you were to take yourself on a date, what would it look like? And also, yes, don’t think about it—just do it. Sometimes we are paralyzed by all the things that could go wrong…but what about all the things that could go right? It’s okay to “fail” at it. Failure is how you become successful. You’re learning, every time you fail. The gym makes me recoil, and baths make Ann Marie recoil. That’s the beautiful thing about this idea—we are all different and so is our self-care.
AMB: I think what could be helpful is keeping a self-care list—anytime you do something purely for you and you LOVE it, write it down. Take notes about why it made you feel good. Come back to that list when you need it. Also remember things can change. Different environments and contexts might mean different forms of self-care.
SH: We need a self-care syllabus. Make self-care accessible to EVERYONE. Encouraging knowledge of self and self-care needs for all is a really beautiful concept.
AMB: …should we create [a syllabus]?
MW, AMB, SH: YES.
Stay tuned, readers.
In the meantime, trust your gut, love that bod and take good (self) care.
P.S. Send me any feedback at email@example.com
Ann Marie is a queer feminist who can talk forever & ever about mental health & self-care. She lives in Baltimore & on twitter, where you can find her at @annmariebrok.
sharea (v.) what she do?
1. juju-word woman 2. wild creative womb bearer 3. fire-water bringer 4. cloud card star reader 5. writer (5a. poet 5b. playwright) 6. artist (6a. book 6b. visual) 7. performer 8. adjunct instructor 9. creative consultant 10. MFA Creative Writing and Publishing Arts 11. All the magic a moment could hold, then let out with a BANG. 12. Southern Black Girl, worldwide appeal.