Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Self Care, Or Being More Honest About How Awful It Can Be

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A few days ago, a friend joked with me on Twitter that the words “SELF CARE” would make fantastic knuckle tattoos. I may have actually considered the idea for a second. (But I promise, just for a second.)

The conversation got me thinking about how, even though I am always the first person to push the people I love to ditch their obligations to take care of themselves, I’m actually pretty lousy about doing it myself. I tend to skip time for myself for days and days, and then weeks and weeks, and then all of a sudden I find myself falling apart so badly I’m forced to spend an entire day in bed watching Law and Order SVU. I may claim to belong to the church of self care, but my big confession is that I’ve been pretty lax when it comes to worship. I’ll probably blame it on the book, or the day job, or some minor life upheavals, instead of blaming it on myself like I should.

The problem with that moment you fall apart? In the age of digitally sharing the minutia of daily life, everybody else seems so damn together all the time. If you’re feeling low it can be infuriating to watch everyone you know’s best of the best life highlight reel on an endless loop.

I know exactly how many miles you ran today (a lot) and how many minutes it took you (not many.) I’ve seen that selfie of you in your best outfit at the coolest event, and a picture of your wheat grass and kale smoothie on Instagram. Congratulations on that award, that book deal, that five star review, that baby I forgot to have. That red lipstick looks great on you, by the way. Thanks for sharing how great your yoga class was today, how perfect that cake you baked was, and how fun your friends are. Oh god, I hate myself for being jealous, but I’m here with my hand in a chip bowl and I haven’t washed my hair for three days.

You know what I want to know? I want to know that a bunch of us, right now, are struggling to hang on, struggling to find the time to breath, to feed ourselves, to keep it together. I want to know that today was a shitty day. That someone else had a panic attack in a grocery store, or had to deal with a selfish family member, had a cry at their desk, or thought,“there’s no way I can do this.” I want this not because I want people to suffer, but because I crave the honesty, the authenticity of that admission. Because if someone else thought that, it’s a little less lonely. Then I don’t feel like some weird alien just because I had a day where I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way either.

There can be a beacon of light quality to those people who share their dark sides with the same verve that someone else would post a pic of kittens. I'm not saying the beautiful moments don't happen and that they shouldn't be shared. I just wish things weren't so lopsided as to drive us to unplug. I see a lot of fantastic house parties that people weren’t invited to, a lot interesting conferences that people couldn’t afford, along with adorable babies that never cry, and dogs that never eat your shoes. It takes a lot to remind yourself that it’s not always real. Sometimes it’s just for show. It’s the show.

I don’t think writing is all that much harder, on average, than any other vocation, really, but what I do think is it makes it difficult for you to take care of yourself, especially for those of us who struggle to do it around a day job. There’s a lot of insecurity. There’s a lot of work for very little pay. There’s little room for leisure time or money to spend during it. It’s also not a very physical job, and one that seems to encourage bad habits for both body and mind. If you’re working in a freelance capacity, it becomes impossible to say, “No, I’ll skip that assignment because I need a break” because it’s hard to guarantee where the next one is coming from. All of this adds up to the potential for some pretty bad burnout. It certainly doesn’t help that the highlight reel is always running, and everyone else seems to be handling it just fine.

I think it would be nice if we started unabashedly confessing how hard it actually can be. If we talked about the moments where we build pillow forts and watch episodic television for countless hours because the idea of doing anything else is impossible. Because if I’m alone in that, I’m going to be very, very concerned.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Stacey May Fowles

Stacey May Fowles is a writer and magazine professional living in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to The National Post books section and currently works at The Walrus. Her latest novel is Infidelity, out this fall with ECW Press.

Go to Stacey May Fowles’s Author Page