Living Immersed: Self-Care That Doesn't End with You
Today we're debuting our new feature series, "The Tension and the Terror," a series of narrative essays on topics that bridge the gap between the ethereal world and our corporeal bodies--because we believe that so much truth (and hope!) lives in the overlap between ideas that may seem, at first, be in diametric opposition to one another. We're seeking to highlight the mental gymnastics that constitute existence as a real, whole person in an age that is increasingly, peculiarly removed from living holistically. We're thrilled to publish Rachael's essay, below, as the first installment! Let us know your thoughts on this series in the comments below and, as always, please pitch us with any ideas you have for this new feature (after checking out our submission guidelines, of course). Thanks for reading!
I figured I might as well start my self-care journey in the bathtub. It sounded like the most obvious place (bubble baths! candles!), and it just so happened to be the very spot where I’d experienced suicidal thoughts just a few months before. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I married, inherited and/or birthed six children, built and sold and bought a couple of houses, started my career as a nurse, and jumped into vocational ministry alongside my husband, all in a span of five years. If it sounds like a lot, of course it was. It absolutely was. But it just didn’t feel like it, not at the time. I’ve always wanted to be a grown woman with a man and a job and some kids. I’ve always been a high-capacity, keep-my-plate-full kind of girl. So I just went about my business one day at a time, until I broke.
I hit rock bottom one cold winter morning, after a few months of mild depression and a few precipitating events. My husband sent me to take a bath after I blew up at one of my daughters, and I found myself thinking of all the ways my family would be better off without me. After entertaining dangerous thoughts for a few minutes, I sent my husband a text. I need help. I don’t feel safe. He immediately went into action, and I’m forever grateful for his initiative.
Over the next few months, we walked a beautiful, painful, and simple road together. I started therapy and I cleared my social calendar. I said no a lot that year, only attending counseling, church and small group, and family events. I fought hard to find joy when I looked into my kids’ faces and by God’s grace, I found it. I also dove head-first into the idea of self-care. It felt unbelievably exhilarating to get a little self-indulgent and spend more time on myself than ever before. And I had permission, nonetheless!
Like I said, I started with the bathtub. There were weekly bubble baths and face masks and magazines and candles. I did a lot of online shopping, and my husband made room in the budget for bi-weekly manicures. I practiced yoga for the first time ever, several nights per week in my bedroom. There was a lot of introspection and belly gazing. All of those things sound luxurious and amazing now, so it might sound crazy to say that they were hard at first. But depression is a beast. Back then, the bubble baths and the manicures actually had to be put on a list and checked off. They required effort. After awhile, though I developed a sense of discipline with my regimens and my boundaries and my schedule. Those things became easier. They each tell a small part of my redemptive story of healing now, but I didn’t do everything right during that season. In fact, I got a big chunk of it dead wrong.
Somewhere along the way, I fell for the lie that said self-care started and stopped with me. I fell for the lie that said I had to look out for myself, because nobody else had and nobody else would. I fell for the lie that said I could somehow achieve my way to peace and wholeness, by being more disciplined and taking better care of myself. Looking back, I think my problem lay in my own definition of self-care. It was too small.
Self-care is about so much more than self. For me, it is the exploration of two key ideas. First, for whom am I getting healthy? Sure, I want to be stronger. I want my post-baby body to be able to do the same things that my pre-baby body could. I want to feel attractive when I look at myself in the mirror. I want to read about beauty products and understand what the heck the experts are talking about. I want to feel in the know, up-to-date, and relevant. But it is so much more than that. I want to be healthy for my people. I want my husband and kids to look at me and be proud of me, but also spurred on to become their best selves, too. I want the people in my community for whom my heart breaks to receive the best parts of me, in a way that doesn’t drain me when I pour out for them. I want my patients at work and the folks at church and the people online to be blessed each time we interact. And so I take care of myself. I take it seriously.
But it’s not just for me.
Second, what is the aim of my discipline? I grew up in a Christian, upper-middle class family with doting parents and opportunities galore. And yet, I spent most of my life convinced that I needed to earn approval, and that I was only one bad decision away from falling out of right-standing with God. Once I went through counseling, I realized that even I need grace. No amount of striving can help. Grace is not just for the serial killers and the prostitutes out there. If sin is nothing more than separation from our creator, then we’re all outside in the cold. Grace is just an invitation inside, a seat at the fireplace with the one who makes things right again.
So I refocused my sense of discipline off of just self-protection and self-preservation. I dug into the spiritual disciplines that people have been using to take care of their souls since the very beginning. I began reading my Bible every morning, and spending more time with God. I practiced exploring humility in a very basic way - confessing and repenting in front of my husband and kids on a daily basis, and asking for help every time I needed it.
Reshaping my life around these two ideas has completely revolutionized both my healing process and my working definitions of self-care. It can start in the bathtub if it needs to, but it can’t stop there. People are literally dying to get a little good news from those of us who are healthy enough to carry it.