Recently in one of my writing courses, my professor asked us to write a one-page vignette on self-care, or what we considered to most help us ease our anxieties. I spent a lot of time pondering on the topic. Self-care is pretty widely discussed these days, as many people move toward eliminating the negative stigma around mental health and self-love. I first tried to think of all the small things I do to make me feel like I'm taking care of myself physically, mentally, or emotionally, like working out, going on walks, face masks, doing my nails, painting, or cleaning.
But none of these really seemed to fulfill the prompt. These are hobbies, maybe, things I choose to do in my free time or things that just help me think a little more clearly. What makes me feel fulfilled? What makes me feel capable? Because I struggle with depression and anxiety, these are questions I began to ask myself. Hobbies are purely distractions, so what is it that helps me on a deeper level? What makes me feel okay?
"You can't love anyone until you learn to love yourself," the quote read. It floated around 2013 Tumblr a lot. It was in every girl's Instagram bio in middle school. And as completely cliché and stupid as it may sound, that line has lived in the back of my mind for a long time. I always thought it was about romance and wondered if it were true – that you really couldn't love someone else with every fiber of your being until you are first happy with your own self. I never took it very seriously, but I did ponder on it quite a bit, as someone with a lot of self-loathing.
Why did this stick out in my mind? The person I probably love more than anyone in this world is my boyfriend, Jeremy, and my own self-hatred never seemed to get in the way of that. When I couldn't be my best self, he was okay. He's always been self-sufficient and never needed anyone to take care of him, so I could wallow in self-pity in peace.
As someone who has been battling mental illness for a while now, learning to adjust and be able to take care of myself at my lows has been one of the hardest parts. For months, I would wake up in the morning and have to convince myself that getting out of bed was worth it.
But finally, the quote made sense about six weeks ago, when I brought home a puppy, a border collie-Boston terrier mix. Iroh, my boyfriend named him, like Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The very first night home, he woke me at 5:46 a.m. because he had gotten out of bed and wandered into the closet in the dark, unable to find his way out. That was the fastest I'd found myself getting out of bed in what seemed like years. This trend has continued for nearly three weeks: Iroh wakes me up whining in the mornings, and I quickly jump out of bed to check on him. He's always so excited to start his day, and I guess that makes me excited, too.
Every night, he falls asleep on the couch or in his bed next to us, and it reminds me of just how long the day feels, and it serves as a reminder that maybe I should get to bed. It's best I get to sleep so I can be alert for Iroh the next morning.
There are no more long drives by myself where I sit and think about everything wrong with my life. When Jeremy can't go, I bring Iroh. He sits in his bed and gnaws on his toys or sleeps or sometimes just cuddles up to my hand when I reach over to check on him. Iroh likes to listen to the radio, too, just like I do.
When Iroh became old enough to take for vaccines and be given his de-wormer and flea pills, I made sure everything was on time. I want him to be as happy and healthy as possible, and I began to think that maybe he would want me to be, too. I dusted off the prescription bottles that sit on my bathroom shelf.
Boredom no longer eats me alive because Iroh is there to play and go on walks, and I begin my days motivated to get my work done as soon as possible so I can spend more time entertaining him.
Seeing Jeremy lay asleep on the couch with the dog wrapped around his arm, curled up on his stomach, or snuggled up to his side brings me more peace than I have felt in three years. Knowing that the best sense of self-care for me is inspired by my caring for others just makes the most sense to me, and it makes the daily fight with myself more bearable.