I have been thinking about self-care.
As artists in a high intensity conservatory program, it is a word that’s passed around a lot. The importance of it. The lack of it. There are conversations, celebrations, interventions and reminders. Even memes. All in the name of Self-Care™.
I believe it as a response to a culture that perpetuates that “if you’re not killing/harming yourself for your work, you are sub-par. Inferior. Bad.” We as artists have seen the problem with the above and are now working to fix it.
I whole-heartedly agree and believe in Self-Care™. The conversation around it is an important step to take. Without it, we as artists would be spiraling down a road of self-destruction that would harm ourselves and our relationships, not to mention our art.
Now to say something that may be a little controversial.
I worry that there is an overuse of the concept of Self-Care™ that lets us make excuses for not doing work.
Now before the pitchforks come out, I only say this because I have noticed this in myself. And it is a character flaw that concerns me. I can only address it if I bring it into the open, and maybe someone reading will find their own struggle with the idea.
A bit of background.
I am all too familiar with the near disaster I came to during that dreaded Second Semester Sophomore Year. A time that many in my class look back on in fearful reverence and disgust. I was taking more than 50 hours a week of classes in the deep of one of Boston’s worst winters. I was getting an average of 4-6 hours of sleep a night, assignments were poor, late or not done at all and I was extremely sick (once to the point of a hospital visit) many times. It was dark time that I hope to never return to.
I will say that it is thanks to that semester that I know what I’m capable of handling and what I’m not. I learned my limits intimately. Could I have learned those things without putting myself in such a state of mental and physical illness? I can never be sure. I do know that my experiences that semester directly affect how I treat myself now. I don’t take on more than I can handle and I make time and space to be apart from my work. Time to relax, watch Netflix, take a walk, simply be. It is as important to my well-being as eating a healthy meal, or exercising. It is Self-Care™.
Since then, there has been a certain amount of ownership I take over my responsibilities. I know when it is too much.
And I know when I’m slacking off.
Of course Self-Care™ is important. Of course it is necessary to live as a healthy human. I do not deny any of that.
I also cannot deny that, for me, Self-Care™ can be just another drug. Something I tell myself I need. A fix. An avoidance technique. A way to feel justified in giving myself what I want.
But here’s the question. Just because I know what I’m capable of, the extremes that I can go to, should I have to? Am I back where I started, feeling guilty for not pushing myself to the edge to do my work? And where does the question of responsibility come in? What is a requirement and what is an elective and how do those affect my effort in the subject? What have I chosen to take on, and what do I now avoid?
When is it Self-Care™ and when is it indulgence?
The only answer I have for myself in the moment is to remain vigilant. To stay healthy, but to also commit to doing what I can within my own limits and being honest about what those are. To be accountable.
All I can do now, is my best.