More Than Lotion: My Self-Care Journey

Wooden bench covered in plants

Self-care is one of the hottest buzzwords on the internet. A quick Amazon search shows me self-care looks like a bubble bath, a bottle of lotion, and this tongue scraper thing.

Tongue scraper sold on Amazon
Courtesy of Seriously, what is up with this thing?

Ah, nothing says self-love like rushing to get dressed after two luxurious minutes in a hot shower. I instantly think back to when my son was a toddler. For half of those two minutes, he was fervently waiting (screaming–definitely screaming) on the other side of the curtain. I scrambled to rinse the shampoo from my hair while he rammed a Thomas train into my thigh, “Frains, mommy!” I hurried into the living room, sank to the train track on the floor, and realized that new bottle of lotion sat unused. Again.

I managed to shower. I’ll do lotion next time. Good enough.

I used to think self-care was another word for hygiene.

Think twice before you toss that electric toothbrush. Fresh breath and the smell of Bath and Body Works deserve a place in our self-care practices. The problem is self-care is so much more than just a personal hygiene routine. Why? When we’re already overwhelmed, those little tasks aren’t so little anymore. They’re burdens.

In other words, yes, we can be too tired to brush our teeth. We can be too exhausted to wait for a tub to fill, let alone sit with ourselves while negative thoughts reel in our minds. One of my best friends and I coined our own term for this type of exhaustion–the “Collective Tired.” Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never experienced the Collective Tired.

sculpture with hole in chest

In 2018, my second pregnancy ended and my son died. My self-care routine fell by the wayside.

My anxiety ensnared me. On top of grief, I faced an unexpected mental battle: concealing my postpartum belly. The idea of slipping maternity tops over my empty stomach made my chest ache. Not to mention, my pre-pregnancy clothes drew too much attention to the wrong places. Here I was, this newly bereaved mom and a task as simple as getting dressed drained me. I was lucky to get through a single day without a panic attack. The last thing I wanted to do was spend time in a room full of mirrors and be forced to look at myself.

Accepting the end of my pregnancy required every last bit of my energy. Learning to live my life without my son while fulfilling my obligations to my living son and husband demanded so much. Since I equated self-care to a hygiene ritual, I unknowingly created another burden. I caught myself in a cycle of failed self-care attempts. The extras like the lotion after the shower was a chore. I berated myself for my inability to do something so simple. Surely, I was an awful mother, a terrible wife, and I deserved how I felt. That negative voice in my head assured me I was a big, fat failure.

My counselors taught me the real meaning of self-care.

And guess what? There’s more than one. Click here for some self-care inspiration.

There is no one size fits all approach to self-care. Like religion, fitness, or our diet, we have to find what works for us. My two counselors helped me pinpoint shower and lotion-free self-care habits. I’d never get better if I was constantly triggering myself.

One counselor noticed my negative self-talk right away. We started with a self-compassion exercise.

We set a ground rule–when I caught myself thinking negative thoughts, I pretended like my best friend was saying them. Would I let my best friend say terrible things about herself? Definitely not. That meant calling myself a failure, an unfit mother, and everything else needed to stop.

“How do I do that?”

She suggested I turn those negative thoughts into something positive. Instead of saying, “I’m a failure for skipping the lotion today,” try, “I skipped lotion today, so I’ll take a ten minute walk instead. I can try again tomorrow.”

Doesn’t that sound better?

My other counselor ended every appointment by saying “Be good to yourself.”

Being good to myself meant taking medication he prescribed–even though I thought I was a failure for letting anxiety and panic consume me.

Being good to myself meant writing an apology letter to my body for all of the awful things I said about it.

Being good to myself meant buying a few nice articles of clothing that flattered my body.

Being good to myself meant promising to create healthy habits and work on myself every day.

Whether I use the lotion or not, I am not a failure. I can try again tomorrow.


What does self-care look like for you? Are you being good to yourself? Share your self-care practices in the comments.

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