bearing it: take a second for self-care

Behold your roller skates: Beloved, fine-tuned. A network of interconnected mechanisms, the smooth fluid apparatuses being reliant, one upon the other. You may spend less money or maintenance on certain parts (bearing shields are less of a priority than say, toe stops) but each part is still vital to the whole, so that you may strap on your wheeled shoes and fly around the track as the best derby superhero version of yourself you can be.

Say one of these elements is compromised though. You have neglected to clean your bearings for a few weeks. Or months. Or, shut up; we all know you haven’t touched those puppies in like a year. Gummed bearings won’t seriously impede your progress or make you face plant, but you—and other people—are going to notice that distinctive squeak and grind sound as you boogie on past.  

Finally, you carve out some time before practice, after you walk the dog, before you read to your kids or finish your homework. You clearly haven’t done this in while judging from all dust bunny carcasses and floor skin stuck to the wheel wells. This job you’ve been avoiding for ages only takes about 40 minutes to achieve max clean. You notice there is a warm glow of virtue that suffuses your being. The next day at practice, that high pitched girding sound that’s been dogging your strides is gone. You feel that little lick of self—congratulations again. You’ve done something good for a part of you that you love, something that can now move easier and faster, unimpeded by collected detritus. 

Self-care is a phrase people really like to throw around. It’s the concept your boss glibly promotes over their shoulder immediately after assigning you more tasks. 

Most people seem to think it falls into columns marked, “Take overdue vacation right before imminent breakdown,” or “Treat Yo’ Self,” spending that week’s grocery money on a new purse, phone, or a night at the bar. 

I hold that self-care falls closer to the mark of general maintenance. 

Anxiety, depression, exhaustion of the spirit and fears that surround lack of self-care are allowed to bloom when left unattended while our attention is elsewhere, and it seems our attention is always elsewhere, especially with a sport that will happily eat your life if you let it. Lack of self-care seems best described as absence of focus on the minutia that surrounds our individual existence, the stuff that might look like icing on the cake in the grand scheme of things, but in reality, is deeply essential. Nobody wants cake without frosting anyway. You know what that is? A bagel. 

Self-care is what we do to protect our mental, physical and emotional health. Just as it takes attention to the smaller parts of our skates for the whole to work to greatest advantage, so is this true of ourselves. Paying your rent or water bills or going to your dialysis appointments does not fall into self-care. These play too great a role in the functionality of the whole. Not completing such tasks would be like taking your wheels off and yelling “Ok go!” at your skates.

No, instead what I see as key are “less important,” acts that I deliberately do for no one except myself. Seeing friends (OUTSIDE OF PRACTICE DAMNIT), eating an actual meal, or even sometimes skipping practice because I need a night of silence. These fall into the general upkeep and enrichment of a human. The question of care is not whether you (or the roller skate) rolls, but does it roll well?

Self-care needs to be premeditated, consciously and deliberately done. 

Sound extreme? Isn’t self-care about painting your nails? Think of your blocks of self-care time as doctor’s appointments for your soul. If you’ve been sick for about a week, that’s when you head in to see your physician. You must arrive on time, you actually have to keep the appointment, and you’re usually getting something accomplished like getting medicine, or at least a stay-home note. Why then, wouldn’t you treat other aspects of your being in the same way? 

Have you been feeling angry, listless or weeping in the shower while eating Fig Newtons every night after work? Something’s out of whack, and you need to attend to it in the same way as you would a physical ailment. The cool thing is, if you consistently practice nurturing yourself, self-care becomes more like checkups than tune-ups. They become preventative rather than reactive.

The last caveat to self-care is you must keep at it. Your bearings are clean, you have fancy feet, but if you don’t stay on it, soon you’ll be grinding along again. If this sounds like work, THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS. Unless your self-care has built in whimsy—say if your scheduled, premediated care is catching lady bugs in the park—the act does have more connotations of getting an oil change rather than “follow your bliss.”  We tend to bad mouth work, but I’m not talking about your job here. Work is practice and getting better at something, devoting time and intention. How did you learn to plow stop, or achieve 27 in 5? Lots and lots of work.

I’m not going to offer suggestions for your self-care (if one more person suggests meditation to me I’m going to push them into the nearest clump of sticker bushes and run), but I do suggest you give some considerable ponderance to what makes you whole. I’ve discovered that since I’ve started asking this question (to myself included), I’m greeted with blank looks. 

Do the work, maintain, and be mindful. Decide what fills your soul and make space for it. Write it into your planner. Defend it as rigorously as you do your other “essential,” tasks, because it also is essential in its own right. For if you can attain and accomplish this self-care thing, even just marginally, not only shall you roll, you shall roll well.

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