For over a year now I’ve been trying to answer one question:
Why is self-care so hard for women?
And I think I’ve finally made some progress towards an answer.
I used to struggle massively with self-care. I’d neglect my own needs; my body, my mental health, in order to care for others’ needs or accommodate others’ wishes.
My most recent revelation, which finally unravelled this into a coherent thought, was about two weeks ago.
When I started gritting my teeth to pee, and I did this for several days, I finally gave in and got a non-antibiotic treatment for UTIs.
After two days on that, it only got worse, and I finally gave in and went to the doctor.
The point at which the dissonance rang out was when I got a message from the doctor saying that I had a severe UTI based on the test results.
I scoffed. No wonder I’d been so grouchy.
But more than that, I realised, I’ve come to accept being grouchy because of pain as a normal part of life.
I’ve been conditioned from a young age to myths like “women have a higher threshold for pain”, “women are used to pain because they have periods” and “women can handle more than men because they push babies out”.
It wasn’t until later the same evening when I was still mulling over the wording the doctor had used, that I realised what the objective tests deemed a severe infection, I’d dismissed as an annoying inconvenience.
Once the antibiotics started working, I realised just in how much pain I’d been.
Swollen lower abdomen, radiating pain up my lower back, cramps, soreness. And it was all just a minor inconvenience in my books.
The crucial thing I realised was that as my mental energy was co-opted into caring for everyone else – making sure everyone was good, comfortable and had resources available to them (even if they didn’t need them right this moment) – I was also learning that my comfort and well-being were always secondary.
To everything and everyone else.
I once read somewhere that women tend to think of their self-worth in terms of how much care they’ve provided.
How many people they’ve taken care of, how many individuals’ well-being they’ve sat and thought about, how many issues they’ve expended concern on, how many scenarios they’ve planned ahead for.
In other words, our self-worth is co-dependent on what we do for others.
But nowhere do we consider what we do for ourselves. Because “indulging” in self-care makes us feel selfish.
It makes us feel like we’re using up the mental energy and resources that are supposed to be there for other people.
Whether that’s time, energy, or even bath salts, it doesn’t matter.
Doing it makes us feel guilty. Because we’re doing what we’re not supposed to.
So, we acquiesce to the patriarchy because it’s easier to not feel guilty.
In fact, it’s easier to feel tired, underslept, overworked, because society is more accepting of expressing emotions that are deemed masculine.
Anger, aggression, frustration. And we all commiserate because we all feel it.
Expressing emotions loneliness, hopelessness, sorrow, disappointment etc. isn’t sexy. So, we don’t want to burden others with them.
Yet at the same time, we’re not dealing with them through self-care. So, the issues persist.
And we buy further into the narrative that we are worth less than others.
If you feel like any part of this seems familiar, I hear you. I see you.
And I’m saying, buck the patriarchy and genuinely take care of yourself first.
Self-care is ensuring that you have the energy and resources to care for those you need to care for, to step up to the responsibilities that are genuinely yours.
We don’t fault lions for sleeping half the day away so that they can hunt. Or berate cows for spending all day grazing in the field so they can produce milk.
So, why should we be the only female of a species to carry this guilt?
When you want to start the journey towards making time and space that’s just for you, that’s guilt-free, that’s shame-free and where you can safely express any and all emotions you experience, start journaling.
And yes, they will change your life. Irrevocably and for the better.