Self-care for the non-believer

“Self-care” as this zeitgeist-y thing makes me, um, gag.

It is largely, I think, an affected iteration of “Treat yo’self,” and I’d much rather take my life advice from Donna and Tom than from a self-obsessed Brooklyn blogette.

That said, I’ve slowly come around to the idea that there is value in the concept, if not the expression—that it matters to care for yourself, with intention and routine.

In How to Be Married (which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone getting, considering getting, newly, or not-so newly married), Jo Piazza writes about self-care as putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs. It’s a simple metaphor, but one that I hadn’t before considered and that I think is just so right. It frames self-care not as a choice or a twee-dom of privilege, but as an imperative. Self-care as saving—of your own self but of others’, too. Before you can care for a co-passenger (a partner; a friend; a colleague; a child), you must first care for yourself.

It’s back-to-school season now, and perhaps because I’ve spent my entire life in schools, I’ve always thought of this—more than the New Year—as a time for setting intentions. (Another gag-worthy phrase; please forgive.)

And so this week, I’ve set a few self-care goals. I’ll leave them here, on the chance you’re looking to set a few for yourself, too, and that they may serve as some small inspiration.

Rebalance the scales.

Unless you are a surgeon or a firefighter, it is unlikely that someone will die if you disengage from your work. I say this as someone who’s been known to check Outlook while awaiting vacation flights; who currently has a second window open to a PowerPoint presentation; who has a decidedly very hard time leaving work at work—on weekends and evenings and times otherwise intended for sabbatical. Intention #1, then. This year, I will try to do just that. To add a few more grams to the “life” of the work-life scales, so that when I go to work each morning, I do so refreshed and reenergized and ready to give myself wholly to it.


I know that I’m not alone here, but I have a hard time disconnecting generally, too. In fact, I’ve just paused this writing to scroll through Instagram, because, you know, a post of earth-shattering consequence may have gone up after dinner. Actually, though, it probably hasn’t; and all I’ve done is activate a weary mind, and unsettle what needs quieting. Another intention, then, is to put aside all gadgety things after 8 p.m. (Barring the one that’s currently allowing me to watch The Killing, that is.) After 8, my laptop and phone will live downstairs in a drawer, and I’ll see them again in the morning.

Always (or sometimes) be moving.

I’ve heard that running does wonders, but ever since Mr. Chadwick’s fifth grade gym class, I’ve had very little inclination. Walking makes me feel really good. Calm and energized, both, and strong. It’s when I think about things—a day’s occurrences and observations; conversations had or to have. It’s usually when the “writerly muse” visits, too. I’m lucky to live in a place that lends itself to long walks; and until deep winter, at least, I’ll take one each day after work.

Water your garden.

I don’t know that there’s any such thing as one true passion, but I know that there are things that we love, that give us joy and meaning beyond our daily avocations. For me, one is writing. After months pining for my high school Harkness tables, I started this blog in the summer, when I had some time on my hands. It’s a blip in a hugely oversaturated blog market, and I doubt that anyone has been reading beyond family and close friends, if that. For me, though, it’s been really special; and while summer hours are done, it’s a space I’ll continue to nurture. I’ll post less often, but I intend to write a little bit each day. To keep watering this very tiny garden that for me has been a kind of salvation.