When I was a senior in college, I was spending some treasured time with a dear friend of mine. As we drove around in the car, having a heart to heart about how life was changing, we started to delve into some pretty personal subjects. I told her how I was tired all the time, didn't feel like myself, and was struggling to see myself as beautiful. She looked over at me from the passenger seat of my car, saw me with eyes full of empathy and said, "You don't look healthy. You've lost a lot of weight and I'm worried about you." I spilled out everything that had been on my heart. I knew something had to change.
I had lost between ten and fifteen pounds in those last few months of college. Between finishing up the semester, putting final touches on my senior thesis, planning a wedding, packing up my things to move to a new city, and looking for a job, I had stopped eating. I neglected healthy eating habits so much that my body forgot to tell me when I should have been hungry.
I would skip breakfast, and most of the time I’d substitute a tall cup of coffee for the first meal of the day. I’d skip lunch. Then I’d skip dinner. I would get home around 10:00 pm most nights during that semester and and realize that I hadn’t eaten almost anything since the night before
When I tried my wedding dress on for the last time before the big day, all I could notice was how different it had looked then when I’d first tried it on nine months earlier. Despite the world telling me my new slim frame was what I should want, it wasn’t what I needed. I needed a balanced life. I needed my health back.
My dear friend wanted me to invest in self-care that was much more than eating meals on a regular basis though. She wanted me to be able to see myself as beautiful and worthy of love. But when we talk about self-care as a culture, that's not the conversation people want to hear. They'd rather talk about taking a spa day, or time for a drink at the end of the night.
But beneath those desires for little joys, there calls a deeper cry for understanding what self-care really is. In her newest book, When We Were Eve: Uncovering the Woman God Created You to Be, Colleen Mitchell writes, "The question we need to give ourselves permission to ask is not how to feel better, freer, recognized, heard, or seen for a moment over a coffee date or a spa massage, but how to feel whole and genuinely loved inside the skin of our bodies and the depths of our souls - intellect, will and passions."
In order to recognize that we are loved by a good Father we have to reject the lies that today's culture has fed us about self-care. Here are four lies that we've been told as women when it comes to taking care of ourselves - and how to rejoice in authentic self-care:
Lie #1: Self-care is shameful
"There was a popular Christian phrase that was tossed around in my youth group years ago that claimed the definition of true JOY was to think of Jesus first, others second, then yourself," Colleen writes. "While that trite acronym may have served some purpose towards overcoming the ego-focused phase of adolescence, it seems to have been imbued in Catholic culture in a way that many of us carried it with us wholeheartedly into womanhood with guilt attached to the inevitable reality of being needy humans."
It took me so long to put healthy habits into place because I thought self-care was shameful. Saying 'no' to people was not something I did well. I'd rather over-stuff my schedule and leave no time for myself then to take a long hard look at my habits and change them.
But authentic self-care shouldn't be wrapped in shame. In fact, if self-care includes all aspects of our humanity, it can be an opportunity for awakening who we are as human beings. Self-care has the potential to help us become who God is calling us to be.
Lie #2: Self-care is just about our bodies
When you hear the words 'self-care', you may think of a trip to the spa, eating chocolate, and relaxing over a cup of coffee. Thanks to the material nature of our culture, self-care has become a consumer fad. But the wounds that we need to heal from as women can't be fixed up with a few swipes of a credit card and a pedicure.
When you look at your health, take time to delve into how you're doing on all levels. Saint Thomas Aquinas once created a diagram of the make-up of the human person that consisted of three categories, ten sub-categories, then another twenty-three defined categories. We're complex creatures, made in the image of God. "Add to that reality the historical, and likely correct, interpretation that women have a deeper awareness of and feel those levels of self more acutely, and we must make a mental shift in our portrayal of 'self' if we are ever to get to the heart of self-care," Colleen writes.
Lie #3: Self-care shouldn't be a regular habit
We've been led to believe that self-care should be a rare occurrence in our lives. We're told to treat ourselves on special occasions, like our birthdays or anniversaries. But self-care on a regular basis? Surely not. So we wait until we are at our breaking point, worn down by the burdens we carry (and refuse to let others help us with). Then we take time for a little bit of self-care, allow ourselves the luxury of time for rejuvenation.
My radical shift in habits during the year after college could have looked much different if I had regularly examined my spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Instead of an overhaul of all my habits, I could have caught bad habits before they spiraled out of control.
Lie #4: Self-care is selfish
There's nothing like having to call in sick to work that makes me feel lazy. I beat myself up for not feeling well, upset that my body isn't doing what I expect of it. But taking time to make sure I'm back to 100% health wise is anything but selfish.
By committing to holistic self-care that appreciates every aspect our humanity, we actually are praising God, becoming better stewards of the gifts He's given us.
"In taking a moment or evening or an entire weekend to make ourselves feel shiny and new, to sip cappuccinos and laugh our heads off, to hide in the bathroom to eat dark chocolate, and to finish that much-needed conversation with a friend while we drive aimlessly, we are loving God," Colleen writes. "A radical commitment to self-care is an admittance that we are complex beings made by God and made to need."
Want more of Colleen's wisdom? Check out her book, When We Were Eve: Uncovering the Woman God Created You to Be, at your local Catholic bookstore or online. Keep your eye out for a podcast interview with her on Letters to Women!