Self-Care Hurts

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on the acupuncture bed, trying (and failing) not to wince when the acupuncturist lightly touched a tender muscle before putting in a needle. I had been traveling for family and was still stiff, sore, and knotted up after the long flights.


I knew that I would feel better in the long run, but in the moment, I really didn’t want her to touch me.

Trying not to focus on the pain, I thought how nice it would be if most self-care was actually fun or enjoyable. When companies and even ordinary people talk about self-care, it sounds lovely and relaxing.

We see happy people with face masks and chocolate in a bubble bath. However, in reality, especially for those of us with chronic illnesses, it can be really hard and even painful. Especially the painful part.

What Self-Care Really Is

Self-care for me is acupuncture that leaves me sore and exhausted temporarily, but in less pain over the long run. It’s getting off the couch to exercise even when I hurt in the hopes that maybe this will help me be stronger and less sore. It’s getting out of bed to go to therapy even when I’m exhausted and would just love to have a couple hours of extra sleep. It’s taking a shower at the end of a long day.

Often the important stuff is painful.

Self-Care Is Also Financially Hard.

It’s not cheap. It’s not a few dollars for a face mask. It’s budgeting for expensive medical care, medications, and health insurance. It’s spending money on things I’d rather avoid than on fun, treat-yourself types of activities.

It’s trying not to spend money on those things, and then when you do, feeling like a failure because you were supposed to spend it on therapy, not a cupcake. Although the cupcake is way cheaper.

Self-Care Is Necessary, But Not the Type That’s Marketed As Self-Care

Because of the way self-care is marketed or imagined through visual media, it seems silly and indulgent. But it’s not. It’s vital, especially if you have multiple chronic illnesses.

We need to encourage each other to do self-care, even when it hurts, even when it’s hard. Especially then. It’s not something we do when we feel good or are ready. It’s something we do in the middle of flare ups and bad days.

Sometimes, I do indulge in truly luxurious self-care—my favorite tea, a morning spent reading in bed, or an occasional spa type treatment that has nothing to do with my back, my hips, or my migraines.

And although these things are important and restorative in their own way, they aren’t the necessary, hard stuff—the stuff that makes a long-term difference. They instead support the hard stuff.

So I’m going to keep forcing myself to go to these appointments, to get off the couch, to go to the gym, to get out of bed. And I’m going to try not to get too upset when I don’t—when I cancel an appointment or skip a workout. I can’t help feeling guilty, but I’m going to keep trying not to, just as I keep trying to do what I can health-wise.

Photo by David Mao on Unsplash


4 thoughts on “Self-Care Hurts

  1. Beautiful. It is true that even the simple expression “self-care” can make us feel invisible … because a physically ill person’s self-care is an entirely different beast: for all the reasons you’ve noted so clearly and honestly.
    How about getting one’s in-laws to get a mattress that gives one a good night’s sleep? I know someone who doesn’t feel entitled/safe to ask for that. Advice?

    Liked by 1 person

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