BY EMILY ROSE COLE
I’m not a crier, though I used to be. I cried all the time through my adolescence, and that made sense: adolescence is practically tailor-made for crying, given its potent cocktail of hormones, friendship drama, family drama, and general heartbreak. But my early twenties were even rougher—I lost a parent and a grandparent while I was overseas in France and then, the year after my return to the US, I moved across the country for a relationship that didn’t ultimately work. At some point in all that grief, my body seemed to physically run out of tears. I tried to sob, but it always ended up as little more than unfulfilling dry heaving, and pretty soon I just gave up.
Recently I’ve gotten better at crying. I’ve practiced more, trying to reteach my body this basic, fundamental thing that it somehow forgot, whether out of self-defense or sheer exhaustion. But I wouldn’t have thought about it so clearly if it hadn’t been for a Facebook status that I wrote a few months ago, a status which, very unexpectedly, made me burst into tears. Here’s what I said:
"This is a reminder that if you are sad, or stressed, or overwhelmed, or just need a break from the world and want to curl up with a book, or with Netflix, or with a videogame, or whatever else makes you happy, that is okay. It’s okay to feel like that, and it's okay to take care of yourself. Self-care is important. You are important. Please take care of yourself."
For the record, I hate the term "self-care." It makes me uncomfortable. It calls up images of rich white ladies sunning on a beach in Aruba, cucumbers on their eyes, umbrella’d strawberry daiquiris at their fingertips. It feels indulgent and out of reach. It feels like too much. When other people talk about it, I think "wow, I wish I had time for that!" as if neglecting to take care of myself is a positive thing, like there’s some cosmic prize for being The Busiest And Most Stressed Out Person (spoiler: there isn’t).
But writing that status changed the way I think about the concept of taking care of myself. I wrote it because I needed to give myself permission to "indulge." That day was the first Saturday morning I’d had to myself in months, and although there was a whole list of fiddly little things I could’ve done—emails about my upcoming move, groceries, phone calls to several doctors and to insurance company—I didn’t want to do any of it.
So I nestled into my bed, opened my computer, and wrote that status in second person, telling everyone I knew that they had permission to stay in bed so that I could have permission to stay in bed.
It made me feel better to think that other people needed a day off, too; that I wasn’t the only one being "lazy" and "self-indulgent" by taking some time for myself, and sure enough, the comments that trickled in over the course of the day affirmed that no, I was not the only person in the world who needed a morning off.
Some of my friends even thanked me for giving them permission to take it easy, which felt strange, since my friends are confident, self-assured people, and it had never occurred to me to imagine that they, too, might feel as if they needed permission to look after themselves. Surely they didn’t share my weird hang-ups about feeling guilty for choosing not to be wildly productive.
Except they did. Just like me. Just like many, many people who live in a culture that glorifies how few hours of sleep you got last night, celebrates how many hours of work or homework you completed that week, and generally blurs the lines between "success" and "productivity" until the two are essentially synonymous.
Writing that status made me cry because it was the first time that I’d admitted in real, black-and-white words, that it was okay for me to take care of me before I took care of my workload. I wrote "you are important" but what I meant was, "I am important enough to warrant self-care." Here’s the truth: I act in ways that constitute self-care all the time, I just don’t think of them that way. I choose to stay instead of going out, order pizza instead of cooking, and, now, I cry sometimes.
All of these actions, small they are, count toward giving my body and brain a little break, whether physical (staying in, not cooking) or emotional (crying). I just hadn’t thought about it that way before. It took the act of giving my friends permission to care about themselves to realize that I was already caring for myself in ways that didn’t require anyone’s permission, least of all my own.
So, the next time you need a break from the world, here are some things to remember:
1) Your physical and mental health is important. They matter because you matter.
2) You don’t actually need anyone’s permission to decide to chill on the couch or in bed for a while (or wherever else make you happy).
3) But if you feel like you need someone’s permission to relax, that’s okay. You’re not the only one who feels that way.
4) You have permission to take care of yourself. I bestow it on you, right now, for all time. You don’t need it. But you have it. Just in case.
Emily Rose Cole is a poet, lyricist, and tea alchemist native to Pennsylvania, but happily replanted in the Midwest. Some of her favorite topics to write about include doomed birds, rewritten fairytales, and dangerous women (especially witches). Some of her witchiest poems appear in THRUSH, Fugue and Passages North.