What I Didn't Know About Self-Care

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I landed in New York City after my first year of solo travel. It was a direct flight from Nicaragua's tropical airport to the Brooklyn subway. I was overwhelmed. I stepped onto the wrong train, realized it, and said to myself outloud, “I love you, girl.”

Talking to myself isn’t new. 

But the content of the talk changed while I was alone in Latin America.

Getting mad at myself didn’t change me. Worst-case scenarios did not chill me out. Tactics for handling discomfort on my own—partying, evading, dating—had diminishing returns. 

One day in the midst of resenting a Tinder match, I admitted to myself that I just needed a friend. So I became that friend. I stopped telling myself I wasn’t as good at traveling as people I met and instead said I was crushing it. I gave myself pep talks, hugs (literally wrapping my arms around myself while looking in the mirror), and permission to leave wherever I was (bar, town, country) whenever I wanted. The more I told myself these things, the more I realized that there was someone doing the telling and someone doing the listening. There is the me who knows I can handle it and the me who would really appreciate hearing that.  

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We are all two people inside one body. Hear me out. When we are embarrassed by our own tears, get mad at ourselves for hitting the snooze, make deals with ourselves at the gym, there are two beings: the attacker and the victim. But it doesn’t have to be two equally harried voices. Conversations with myself have developed so that there is the Johannah overwhelmed on the train and the Johannah that knows how to calm her down. You could say it is the ego and the observer, devil and angel, best friend and worst enemy, whatever you want. I don't need a peer-reviewed reason for it to be. I just know that my life is better when I acknowledge that I am two people.

All emotions are a positive and negative in one bundle. I’m never nervous without being excited, scared without being curious, or sad without being grateful. 

My mind (which creates the thoughts that lead to the emotions) has two states at all times. It is tempting for me to say there is a higher state and a lower state. I don’t want to put that judgment on the lower state, who really is doing the best she can. But this knowledge that each emotion is dual can be extrapolated so that even when you think you are ruining your life, there is a part of you that maintains that you're a small dot in the Universe doing just fine. That part of you could even take it a step further and say you are the Universe and the Universe just is.

 

 

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My relationship with myself has evolved with this partnership. 

I feel into my observer self, which feels like an energetic cloud of strength in my belly, whenever I want. She doesn’t clear out feelings, she just broadens my perspective to the point that there is plenty of space around the feelings. When I want to be scooped out of a dark thought, I visualize a white place in my mind where my confused self sits on the floor with her head on the lap of my knowing self. And that image is a complete picture of Me: a reactionary girl and a wise old woman, a baby soul on her first reincarnation and a guru on her last.

To be clear, I am not saying that my two selves actually have two separate physical bodies. I'm just saying the mind can do very cool, cathartic things.

Instead of texting friends my anxious rants or closing off from my boyfriend, I take my reactive self to get a pep talk from my chill self, who is just fine all the time. This means that even when I am sad and anxious, I know there is a part of me who is completely well, safe, and content. That knowledge in itself can lessen the intensity of my emotions.

 

This knowledge also means I have a responsibility to take care of myself. It isn’t “self-care” as I used to think—part of me is always okay and doesn’t need the care. It is more like checking in on my travel buddy. I am not making sure I am good, which has always seemed weirdly redundant to me, I am making sure my lowest, most easily exhausted self is good. And I’m using my best self to do it.

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