The “how” of it. . . 50 for 50 #8

Once I understood the “what” of my journey (self-care intention) and the “why” (maneuvering detritus), it was time to focus on the “how.” Self-care is a lofty goal, one that is as individual as we are and that can be achieved with as much variety. How, then, to unpack the concept and move forward?

I was pondering this question and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon an article entitled, “This Is What Self-care REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake.” (Read here) Et voilà! Another synchronicity. The title’s unfortunate length aside, I clicked the link and read the first sentence: “Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.” Humph, I thought, as memories flooded my mind. 

There was me in a beautiful spa waiting for a massage surrounded by glorious floral arrangements and soft-focused light. There was me in a trendy salon getting a professional-grade color, cut, and blow-dry. And me, there, among the racks in my favorite department store stroking colorful garments of soft cotton and spun silk. I reflected on the short-term sense of relaxation and happiness that accompanies a new outfit and great hair and how these indulgences maybe missed the self-care mark. 


Who am I kidding? Over the years, I’ve expended a considerable amount of mental energy convincing myself that superior self-care first requires a break-in at Fort Knox, and that there’s nothing wrong with the full-pressure kneading of my deep tissues or hot tamale coloring of my hair, and there isn’t—except when my mind sends up flares to the contrary. One after another, I’ve watched those flares rise, burst into flame, and burn out, preferring to ignore the intended warning signs just like I wanted to do with this author’s “unbeautiful” one. But a new year and a new intention require a new perspective. Determined to persevere, I read on.

The author indentified some of her “uglies,” like debt reduction and sweaty workouts, and then dropped this bomb: “True self-care. . .is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”

Whoa. I’d never thought about it that way before. Have I been confusing numbing with self-care? At least some of the time? Running away to the spa or salon or mall suddenly seemed akin to drowning my “self-care” in Chardonnay or smothering it with In-N-Out. Avoidance will never amount to self-care. It can’t. In fact, it’s time to fess up to what those flares were illuminating. Habits like these are some of the bits of rock and shards of glass—the detritus—strewn across my pathway to healthier living. There was a time when these behaviors served a purpose (read here), but not anymore.     

A fresh view of what self-care is starts with an understanding of what it isn’t, and it is not steering towards the DETOUR sign whenever life gets complicated. Fabulous hair and clothes are just that, treats meant to adorn a beautiful journey not derail one.


  1. I love this post, Tracey! And the photo.

    “True self-care. . .is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”

    True dat!

    You are so on the mark with the idea of spending money on hair, nails, massages, clothes, etc. NOT being the ultimate way to take care of ourselves. Yes, those things can be delightful treats, but they do not make for a sustainable and true course toward self-care. They can, as you say, often simply be "numbing" tactics.

    In these last 2 years, after losing my husband to complications from cancer, I have worked just about every day (sometimes only by the minute or hour) to build a life I don't want to escape from. Of course, at first, it was hard to accept the reality of what my life was. It often felt like a bad dream that I kept waking "in to" instead of "out of". As the shock gradually wore off, I realized that numbing my psyche with TV and a pretty constant flow of friends at my side, while helping a great deal for the time being, was not sustainable for the long run. I had to "move forward". Stagnating my brain with TV (I couldn't keep my attention on a book) was, I knew, going to eventually depress me. Being with friends was very comforting, yet of course I knew that the merry-go-round ride wouldn't last. It would eventually be too much for me, and too much for my friends.

    So I had to figure out what I could do to bring joy and balance into my life. It wasn't spending money on clothes & spa treatments or the like. It was a combination of two things. First, I had to find solo activities that uplifted my spirit. Thank goodness for art & creativity! Second, I had to be kind to myself. I had to act like I was my own best friend. No more berating myself for not having my act together all the time. No more scolding myself for tuning into Netflix "too much". No more telling myself I wasn't "productive enough." Be gentle. Be understanding. Be patient. Be forgiving. Be encouraging – encourage yourself to carry on! To do what you can at the moment to feel some semblance of OK.

    And over time, this journey got easier to navigate. I have found more joy and contentment than I ever thought would be possible given my circumstances. Of course I miss Richard and the great times we had. Of course I remember the tragic way his body couldn't keep up with his spirit. Yet I know that perseverating on the sad memories doesn't add to my quality of life.

    Somewhere close to 2 years ago, I made a decision that to honor Richard, who was so full of love for life, I had to live my life to the fullest. That's what he'd want for me. He was so deserving of a wonderful and healthy life, but was short-changed. And here I am, without him, yet oh so much better for having been with him for just over 30 years. He was my best friend. He was so good to me. So who I am is, in part, Richard's spirit coaxing me on to enjoy my life and to be good to myself.

    I haven't taken this good care of myself, ever. I wish it hadn't taken a tragedy to make me understand what self-care is all about. I hope others can learn from our stories, Tracey!

  2. I just have to say that both of your stories are beautiful and poignant!

    Sue, I love how you decided to honor Richard by living life to the fullest. You have figured it out, how to love yourself, be kind to yourself, and encourage yourself…. and I think that's so wonderful! You're inspiring. I think it often takes years and years for someone to get to that point, especially after losing a spouse. I'm truly glad you've found contentment and joy.

    Tracey, I love your point that self care is not all about the spa and shopping. SO true! For me, those are special perks to treat myself after I've done one of the "ugly" self care activities. For instance, I feel much better when I remove clutter and am more organized. So, if I clean out my closet, or office, or kitchen, I'm glad to do it but it's overwhelming and not super fun. Or doing taxes or cleaning up finances. These are part of my self care, to keep me in order financially. Not fun to me! But I like to reward myself a little after I complete one of those "ugly" tasks. Or… if I stay on an exercise program consistently (which is really hard to do), then when I give myself a fun treat, I appreciate it more because I "worked" for it. ALL of it makes me feel better, more organized, etc. It's all part of self care.

    Thank you ladies for your amazing perspectives! xx

  3. Thanks, Jeni. For so many years I was focused on taking care of my kids, my parents and then Richard. It really hit me that this was now the time to focus on what I needed. <3

  4. LOL Jeni..yes, the uglies..not fun!! But I, like you, enjoy the act of decluttering. What might be an ugly to one can be a beauty to another! LOL again re: consistent exercise. Ugh! Why is it so hard?!?!?!? I'm with you on that one, too. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment and share your perspective. One of the most interesting parts of this journey, I think, will be reading what others have to say about self-care and what works and doesn't work for them. I hope we'll be able to share ideas and perspectives through the year. Thank you!

  5. Thank you so much dear Sue. You bolster such an important point that I sort of flew by in my post…(perhaps another post to come!!), which is the idea that these techniques may be necessary for a time and the fine line between what is self-care and what is numbing. You write so beautifully about your journey after Richard died. Some days the best you could do was to get out of bed and watch t.v. The same was true for me when my girl was sick and especially when she was in residential treatment. Many days, I was barely able to get out of bed. I didn't shower or dress, instead succumbing under the weight of my despair and feelings of responsibility. I think it is VERY important to honor this process…Hmm. Yes, I think this must def be a post. Anyway, you were and continue to be an inspiration to me and others with how you face each day and find ways to identify joy and peace and bring qualities into the choices you make. And you are so so so right that Richard would and does want you to be happy. We only have this one go-around. You are a living example of how to make the most out of it when substantial hurdles present themselves. Thank you, again, for taking the time to read and to leave this lovely comment. And for being you!

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