The Side of Self-Care No One Talks About

billboard with text saying how are you, really?
Photo by Finn on Unsplash

We’ve all heard of the terms self-love and self-care. Normally it’s thrown around like magic pills you can take to heal yourself. It’s easy to name drop and suggest but rarely is it given the regard it deserves. Self-care is usually promoted as a quick fix remedy that can be found by taking a bubble bath, lighting a candle, or putting on a face mask. While those are all great, the gratification is fleeting and lasts about an hour. Self-love is described as a switch you can automatically turn on and feel. “Love yourself,” they say! As if the concept was so easy and constantly been instilled in us.

The truth is, we’re taught the complete opposite. The beauty industry is constantly selling us products to be younger, thinner, smoother versions of ourselves. Social media is an illusion of filters and Facetune, teaching us to “show our best and hide the rest.” If we’re constantly told that being ourselves isn’t enough, how can we ever achieve self-love? If self-care can only be bought, how do we make it long-lasting? What does true self-care and self-love even look like?

To be honest, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the terms self-love and self-care. It felt so cheesy, oversaturated, and held no true value for me. It wasn’t until I realized what self-love ISN’T that I realized what self-love feels like. It wasn’t until I realized I was practicing the opposite of self-care to understand what the true act requires.

I’m writing this piece in May. I’m in a clear headspace, I treat my body with respect, and love myself. As recent as February, these concepts were foreign to me. My body was not my temple. It was something I resented, ingested with junk, and stared at daily, wishing it to be something else. I did not love myself. In fact, I was beginning to hate myself. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, yet I couldn’t break out of the unhealthy habits I trapped myself in. I knew better, I just couldn’t bring myself to do better.

The pandemic took a heavy toll on my mental and physical state. In January of 2020, I was determined to get healthy and joined a gym. I was on the rise, seeing progress, yet this would be over by March when COVID-19 left us in lockdown. Crammed in a small apartment, my room suddenly became my bed, bath, and beyond for lack of better words. I tried to keep a sense of normalcy by going on runs, doing at-home workouts, and going on more nature walks than I can count. As the world got darker and the stress increased, any motivation I had went out the window. Who cares about working out when cases are increasing, people are dying, and businesses are closing?

Soon, my mind took the driver’s seat and the main objective was: What will make me feel better? In a time when travel is forbidden and seeing your friends and family is suddenly a threat, I turned to food. The isolation felt like an alternate universe, one where none of my old problems mattered. I was healthy and employed which meant that anything else was secondary. If I wanted to make banana bread, drink soda, and lay in bed binge-watching Netflix — I would, guilt-free. These were unprecedented times! There were no rules on how to cope with the pandemic, so I took the road of comfort and ease.

By mid-June 2020, I had moved out of my apartment and moved back home to Palm Coast. I hadn’t set foot in the office since March and working from home was now the future. I knew I was going to save money, and this was the right decision with all the uncertainty, but I felt like a loser. Moving home somehow symbolized failure in my eyes and I didn’t unpack a single box when I arrived. I reasoned in my mind that this would all be temporary, and I would be gone by the end of summer. Eleven months later and my bags are finally packed to return to Jacksonville. My “short” stay turned into an almost year-long run.

What does all of this have to do with self-care and self-love? Well, this was where it all began for me. I finally discovered what these terms truly meant, and it was mostly by doing the complete opposite. Moving home did so much for me, both positive and negative. It allowed me to save money, travel, and dig deep to do a lot of inner work. On the flip side, it was isolating, depressing, and exposed ALL my deep wounds regarding myself, my family, relationships, friendships — there was no stone unturned. All this was on top of living through a pandemic where each time you turned on the news, unrest was ensuing. It was too heavy to carry, yet there was no escaping reality.

There was a long period where I turned into a shell of myself — I simply existed. On the outside, it looked like the lights were on, but inside nobody was home. My days consisted of living in pajamas, working, and getting back into bed to binge Netflix or Hulu. My “activity” of the day suddenly became what food I was going to treat myself with: Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Burrito Works, Starbucks, Bruster’s ice cream. When I would go late at night, my mom would offer to join me to keep me company. As I drove, I could feel the silent judgment from the passenger seat as she surveyed that yes, I was eating out once again and wasting money. Nonetheless, I carried on. The truth was, I just didn’t care. There were days I felt TOO much, or nothing at all, and so finding a way to numb those feelings was my mission. Most of the time, it never did the job. I would return home, still feeling empty, except with shame and a stomach ache.

My mind and body had become two different entities, constantly at war with one another. My mind took the lead while my body obeyed. Having a shitty day? My mind says ice cream will make it better. Feeling sad? My mind says laying down will make it go away. Craving junk food? My mind says treat yourself! There were days my muscles would ache from lack of use, yet I still couldn’t bring myself to take a simple walk around the neighborhood. I was running on empty, but my mind insisted that we were going through a hard time and these were remedies to make us feel better.

The holidays came and went, and I felt anything but merry. I had never felt so empty. I woke up on January 1st, 2021 with swollen eyes from crying so hard the night before. The endings and losses 2020 brought hit me like a ton of bricks and I had no choice but to surrender and feel it all. I knew I needed to make a change and couldn’t keep living this way. One of the smartest decisions I made when I moved to Palm Coast was enrolling in a membership at Hand and Stone Massage. What started as a way to pamper myself and fill time became an eye-opening survey of my body. Month by month, I would come in and tell my massage therapist Holly where it hurt. I told her I carried my tension in my neck, shoulders, and lower back. One evening as she walked me back to the room, she put her hand on my back and said she could feel how tense I was. It got to a point where the massages weren’t even enjoyable because my body was in such rough shape that it took the whole hour to put me back to normal.

After months of sessions together, Holly and I had developed a rapport with one another. After a particularly hard session, she asked me about the problems I was facing and told me I needed to start making small changes. She suggested I go to the Dollar Tree next door, buy a poster board, and write down my goals, that they didn’t need to be huge. I left the session, bought a bright yellow poster board, and started writing. It may seem trivial but for someone who couldn’t bring themselves to go on a walk, it helped me get back to the basics of getting on track. I kept it simple and added things like icing my shoulders every day, getting back into yoga, and writing in a gratitude journal every morning. I wrote “Year of Ximena” at the top to remind myself what my objective was: treating myself like someone I loved.

yellow poster board with goals written down
yellow poster board with goals written down

In February, I began personal training at a gym. Full disclaimer for those who know me: I am not a morning person and I am not a gym person. I have always relied on being naturally skinny and dabbled between yoga and group workout classes. I had never developed a serious routine or cared enough to stick with it. Gyms intimidated me and I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I couldn’t stand living the way I was anymore that I decided to follow through with the idea of getting a personal trainer. Enter Rachel.

I spent my Valentine’s Day weekend in the gym thinking I was going to puke at the end of our second session. Now THAT is true self-love. Not the heart-shaped chocolates or oversized teddy bears but putting in the work to practice self-care. It wasn’t until later that I realized my body had been keeping score all along and would come back to remind me of the choices I had made. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the extra pounds that were made up of “treat yourself” and “I don’t care” nights. When I put on my jeans, I noticed the puffiness in my stomach that couldn’t be hidden by sucking in. When I worked out, I felt the resistance and shock as my body has been used to sitting at a desk or laying in bed. When I was sweating and out of breath, my body reminded me of the lack of endurance it had developed over the last nine months.

Rachel and I began training every week at 7 a.m. I didn’t know which was more shocking: that I could enjoy waking up that early or that I could get through workouts that I would’ve never had the balls to try myself. One of the huge things I noticed was that yes, the workouts were hard, but the voice in my head made it even harder. It kept screaming at me to stop, that this was too hard, and I can’t make it to the end of the timer. Suddenly the roles had reversed. My body was now taking the lead and my mind was trying to do everything in its power to go back to comfort and ease. Thankfully, Rachel is the voice I listen to instead, a perfect mix of tough and encouraging. I’m already my biggest critic and enemy so I needed someone who would uplift me. Rachel always shows me that yes, I can get through this and I’m so much stronger than I think. Week after week, my eyes widen at the workouts she puts together yet by the end, I’ve not only finished it but gotten stronger.

After a year of self-sabotage and self-hate, I’m acutely aware of the difference I feel by loving myself and practicing self-care. It goes beyond an inspiring quote on social media or a bubble bath, it’s a lot of hard work and a daily practice. Self-care and self-love act as a team and you can’t have one without the other. Today my mind and body are in sync, striving towards the same goal of honoring myself vs. betraying myself.

The truth is, no one is going to treat you better than you. No one is going to love you more than you. If the voice in my head is telling me I can’t and doesn’t believe in me, then who will? If I don’t love myself, how can anyone else? Our minds must be the most loving, uplifting places to live in because that’s the only way self-love can exist.

On the days when I want to hit the snooze button or I’m struggling to stay disciplined, I remind myself that it can be worse. This pain has a purpose and is pushing me higher, the pain I was in before was threatening to pull me under. If I’m struggling mentally or physically now, I remind myself it’s because I’m on the brink of pushing through and it’s the price of leveling up. I now see why people struggle with making a change — it’s because staying the same is so much easier. It’s easier to turn a blind eye, to pretend your problems will magically disappear, to eat the comfort food, to lay around and watch one more episode. But in the end, the road of comfort and ease has much harder, longer-lasting consequences.

It takes a lot of strength to pull yourself out of a dark place and do the work your highest self is asking of you. We all have individual work to complete that brings us to the higher, evolved versions of ourselves. The true test is following through and completing it. Long-lasting self-care can be found in the small choices you make every day. It’s quiet discipline, the way you speak to yourself, the work you do when no one’s looking. True self-love can be found in investing in yourself and honoring your mind and body with what it truly needs.

I’ve always prided myself on being a good friend, good sister, good daughter. I treat the people I love with kindness, respect, and always try to uplift them. Yet I was failing to give myself the same basic decency. It took moving back to Palm Coast to return me to my true home: myself.

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