Radical Self Care

I opened Facebook recently to an article on a friend’s page about self care, pointing to the fact that a bubble bath and a girls’ weekend getaway, the mainstream fundamentals of self care, are not going to help a woman working a full time job with a new baby.  The gist of the article was that self care is stupid (or, well, that’s what I took from the article).

woman soaked in water with bubbles
Photo by Craig Adderley

Of course a bubble bath and a weekend getaway isn’t going to support a new baby, a full time job, and surging hormones.  True self care isn’t a patronizing pat on the back for all you do and now you get to go take a bubble bath.  It’s about: what will support you?  What actually will support a new baby, a full time job, and those surging hormones…plus whatever else is going on in that life?

It seems that we took self care and turned it into an excuse to get away or sit and drink a mug of tea or read a book.  Things that really should be part of a life well lived.  We’ve turned self care into a reward for working ourselves to the bones.  Ok, now that we’ve practically killed ourselves with exhaustion (often, this is not an exaggeration) we get to do some self care things.  Let’s see, a massage, go shopping, treat yourself to ice cream…and then it’s back to the “real world” of running ourselves back into exhaustion, because self care isn’t the real world.  Really??!!??

This isn’t self care.  Self care isn’t a weekend or a two hour “fix”.  Self care is a lifelong practice. Self care is the consistent daily work to cultivate a life that brings us balance and wellness.  

Self care is the hard work and the hard decisions.  Taking the example of the article: the woman with a new baby and full time job.  I imagine that before the baby, there was already a really crazy full time job of a woman giving her all to her work; that she was already stressed and fatigued.  Then, she wants a baby without making any changes to an already stressed out life.  That’s not self care.  That’s creating a ticking time bomb.  What she needs is to make choices to live the life she truly wants to live.  She can’t bring something in without letting something go…especially if she is living a life that is already taxed.

What really takes courage is to stop––
stop running, stop pushing,
stop trying to please everyone,
stop outspending our reserves.  Just stop.
and begin to live the life we really want to be living.
–Dr. Claudia Welch Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life

Self care is: Do I need to quit my job when we have this baby?  Do I need to go part time or take a sabbatical?  Do I need to change my job or quit some of my hobbies?  Do I need to quit my partner?

Did Charlotte just say that?  Yes.  Yes I did.  Sometimes, what is making you sick is a bad relationships, icky company that in extremes might actually be abusive and in non-extremes may just no longer be supportive and nurturing.

Self care is the hard stuff.  No one ever said self care was easy.  Maybe that’s why it got pared down to a massage and weekend escapes.  We want fast fixes, not the work for real, sustainable, healthy changes.

Self care is really exploring the questions: is this making me unwell and unhealthy? What do I need?  One step more.  Really diving into your needs and doing the work.  The work.

Maybe self care IS a weekly massage, a bubble bath, and a yearly weekend escape with the girls.  Maybe that IS the first step in self care.  Sustainable work starts with the baby steps, but don’t stop because it’s getting mainstream pushback and feels like a big silly bandaid.  Keep going; it’s the next step that makes it into something deeper, something…


I don’t remember who first said “Radical Self Care” to me.  I fell in love and even more now, when self care is becoming a trivial bandaid for an overworked life.  Lives where output is continually exceeding input.  Where energy loans that eventually have to be paid back are becoming increasingly impossible to pay back.

Radical thoughts: self care as bubble baths and a girls’ weekend?  Hmm.  Interesting.  That also implies only women need self care.  So…the weaker sex?  It implies that men don’t need self care.  It feeds the story that it’s not acceptable for men to take time out for self care and yet men are pushing themselves in their roles as much as women.  Men and women are pushing themselves to imbalance, illness, and disease.

Self care is the consistent daily work to cultivate a life that brings us balance and wellness, but it extends beyond that.  Radical self care to really KNOW and discover what we need.  Nourishing not only ourselves just enough to get us through the next “real life” challenge, feeding ourselves just enough to pay the interest on our energy loans, but really diving into how do I nourish and sustain myself to pay back the loan completely and have some reserves?  How do I care for my mind, my intellect, my emotions, my body, my soul…

Healthy, well adjusted people have so much more to offer the world.  When we aren’t ill and exhausted, we can extend our care beyond ourselves and fulfill our life’s purpose, our Dharma.

I read a quote this morning: “Busy is a form of lazy.”  We fill our lives with “real life” so that we don’t have time to dig into what’s really important to us.  That’s a deep thought to ponder.

Maybe “sick” is also a form of lazy.  Think about the sick that comes from not taking care of ourselves and then we’re constantly susceptible to every bug and wonder why.  Notice that we make sure everyone knows that we were sick so our peers are clear that we weren’t just lazy.  Being clear that we didn’t stop until we were really, really impossible to move sick.  When maybe, just maybe, that time out to be “lazy” was exactly what we should have done and maybe should do more often.

How about the deep sick that comes from not following through when we have big health issues.  Medications without the real work of eating well and exercising and getting real rest.  Surgery without the follow up therapy to make sure we heal really well and to heal the issue that was there in the first place and that, inevitably, is going to come back in another shape or form in the body.  Feeling better and not learning from the experience of being sick.  It’s easy: I feel better, let’s move on…we have that “real life” to live and I don’t want to think about having been really really ill.  But what if we thought of that illness as a journey we needed to go through?  Shouldn’t we ponder it and where to go next?

Radical self care, self care, is what makes us dig deeper.  Why was I sick?  Why did I crash?  Maybe there’s a need for a big bandaid, but how does one really support themselves so that they don’t just keep layering on bandaids as the first ones begin to slip and fall off while meanwhile that wound is festering but hidden away under layers of dirty bandaids.  How do we care for ourselves for the long haul of a real and fulfilling life (yup, that’s a scary thought, no wonder we avoid it)?  How do we find ways of healing that allow us to be fully present and a force in the world for good.  That’s personal Radical Self Care.  

Radical self care extends beyond ourselves.  It is setting the example and loudly taking care of one’s self AND encouraging others to do the same.  We need to stop encouraging one another in the rat race competition of “real life” and the “real world” and encourage one another to be the best versions of ourselves (HINT: this usually isn’t about money, although there is nothing wrong with money–it IS a root for a sense of safety in the world).

Practice radical self care.  Self care that extends beyond yourself.  Be well to do good work.  Be loud in taking care of yourself. It is the real work of becoming your best self and offering that to the world.  Inspire people by your hard work and hard decisions (often letting go of things and people that no longer support you–we change and grow, so do they, it’s ok to let go).  

Set an example you would like your children to follow (whether you have children or not).  Do you want your children to push themselves to exhaustion and illness and depression and anxiety and the like (you can fill in your own “the like”)?  Or do you want your children to live truly healthy lives that support that true person they are meant to be?  Then set the example for them (do as I say, not as I do, never works).

Radical self care is changing the paradigm so that self care isn’t pared down to layered bandaids but is the real work of living a real life you are truly proud of.  Radical self care is something that is impossible for the mainstream to call silly and trivial. A bubble bath and a weekend getaway is not going to heal this poor new mom.  Of course not.  What will?

What do you do to maintain your health?  What do you do that diminishes your health? 

Defining “Radical”:  (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.

‘a radical overhaul of the existing regulatory framework’
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