When was the last time you really celebrated a mess? No honestly, have you ever really done it? Don’t roll your eyes into the back of your head just yet. I get it. Messes are tough to appreciate. I’m not zen when I feel the sharp stab of a lego or tiny-ass little doll accessory piercing through my foot in a playroom exploding with toys. And I’m not bursting with joy when I try to communicate and it comes out all clumsy. Literal and figurative messes are annoying. They’re inconvenient. And sometimes unsafe. But they’re real and honest — and it’s worth paying attention to them.
And then there’s the mess of self-care. Too often it’s sold to us as something that’s easy, pretty, and feel-good. But the truth is — meaningful self-care can’t be bought and often the most worthwhile forms of it are difficult, complicated, and tend to pull up lots of “ugly” feelings. This is the stuff that I like to run away from. But I can honestly say that when I’ve had the courage to stay put and see it through — this is what has truly transformed my health into something that is meaningful, real, and sustainable.
I’ll also admit that easy, comforting, and feel-good self-care has helped keep that transformation from withering away. And it’s made it a lot easier for the people in my life to be around me. 🙂
There’s a necessary place for both — the easy and the difficult. The problem is if we only focus on the easy we are just sprinkling on strategies to help us get by. But if we also make room for the difficult we can infuse meaningful health into our daily lives. And boom! That’s when there’s that freeing transformation — real and alive.
Messy \ ˈme-sē\
Noun: 1. Lacking neatness or precision
“Messy” self-care can be seen as the real-life process of moving towards sustained improved health. It naturally lacks neatness or precision because finding out what best serves our own unique health needs is not a linear process and it will often lack clarity because of the following ways:
- We don’t always know what we need. I didn’t practice self-care because I didn’t know what I needed. I was often taught to ignore or push away my feelings which made understanding my needs in an effective way difficult. If I did carve out some kind of self-awareness I was often riddled with guilt. I was trained to be polite. God forbid I make someone uncomfortable. This is not a recommended recipe for good health.
- And so we don’t always know what works. When you begin to pay attention to what your needs may be, you will be forced to wade through the murkiness of your behaviors and past influences. There will be mistakes and missteps. You will think “I am so pissed about this!” and so you talk to your best friend as a way to process. And yet, the anger remains. Maybe there’s something more there than what a friend can help us out with? We have to test things out and be honest with ourselves with their effectiveness. Watch out for what you avoid or hide from. Look out for the tendency to seek the known/comfortable.
- Finally, even if we do know what we need and how to do it, habits are slippery and our position in the stages of change can shift.
Developing “The Fine Art”
Messes aren’t inherently good or helpful. Beyond being inconvenient and unsafe, they can also prove to be giant distractions that are harmful. It’s only when we get intentional with them that they prove to be useful. How do we move into a place where we become fancy-schmancy artistes (<– technical term) that practice (drum roll please….)
The Fine Art of Messy Self-Care ???
First off, let’s break down what the hell that actually means. The phrase “the fine art of” is an idiom that means “something requiring highly developed techniques and skills”. It can feel counterintuitive to suggest using highly developed techniques and skills around a concept (messiness) that is defined by lacking precision — but it works!
Take for example, a first time diaper change. It’s an explosion that assaults the senses. It’s overwhelming. But, you quickly learn a set of techniques and skills to make the process more effective. The mess is still there, but you learn how to get through it and sometimes even make it sort of meaningful. Weird, but I had many silly little bonding moments with my kids as I changed their diapers.
Helpful tips in fine-tuning your techniques and skills:
DIY (Sort of)
- Do the basics and try new things. Take care of your immediate needs: food, water, safety, movement, sleep, fun, connection, etc. Experiment and try new ways to take care of your health.
- Pay attention to what comes up for you. When you start being more intentional with your health or you try out new strategies you may experience unexpected feelings. Notice what you’re feeling and thinking. Be curious. Watch out for shame, guilt, fear, and regret.
- Work on your skills. As you change patterns to improve your health, inevitably you will be faced with the need to have strong(er) skills to effectively navigate the changes.
- Get support. Sustaining change is easier when you have people in your life who support you and help you meet your goals. Develop a healthy support network of friends, family, work, and larger community. Work with specialists such as therapists, yoga teachers, and other trained professionals. Try something new (see below!)
Do It with Social Hours:
- Host your own Self-Care Social Hour. Okay, okay, yes I created this thing, but I keep working on it because it’s added a lot of benefits to my life. And others have said the same. Here are a few tips on hosting and/or participating in a Social Hour.
- Listen and learn. Be open to looking at and engaging with mindset, skills, and the supports in your life.
- Work to problem solve, offer support, and normalize the challenges.
- The approach of Self-Care Social Hour does a tricky little dance that blends Celebrating + Deconstructing. This means we like to have fun (the celebrating), but we also like to get real and think critically as we take things apart (the deconstructing).
- Continue the conversation after the event. The biggest impact from social hours didn’t usually happen for me during the event. Instead it was the conversation I had with myself and with my friends afterwards that was the most impactful. It helped shift self-care more into the forefront of my thinking and broadened my ideas of what was possible for my own health.
- Take classes. There are a lot of great online classes out there that can help improve your health. Self-Care Social Hour also provides in-depth workshops and classes on a variety of topics.
Getting Messy: Next Steps
If you’re still with me after this lengthy post there must be something pulling you towards “the messiness”. Follow that curiosity and see where it takes you! Embracing the messiness allows you to have more freedom and openness to see what’s really there. And in the end, it will also give you courage.
So, follow that mess and report back. 🙂 Good luck!