Why Practicing Extreme Imperfection Beats Self-Care

Every time I turn on my computer I see some story or advice about the importance of self-care, especially for women.

Such as….Arianna Huffington is on us to get more sleep. Now I’m awake all night worrying about the bad things that will happen to me if I don’t. Or this doozy from Christiane Northrup where she advises that caregivers be sure to eat a balanced diet, exercise and indulge ourselves.

Please!! There’s so much information out there about how to take better care of ourselves. And frankly it’s stressin’ me out! Because now, on top of everything else, I feel like I’m failing at self-care, which I’m told is a very dangerous thing to do.

Here’s the real deal…. The job of taking care of aging parents can be, in fact, a total life destroyer. It takes your money, your time, your ability to work, your friends, your relationships, your ability to do the things that you love, or to take a rest.

So I don’t think it’s particularly helpful for a celebrity doctor to remind you to take care of yourself. It’s like when a friend of mine asked me if he should give unsolicited advice to a highly intelligent female friend about how to improve her personal fitness. I mean Really?

YOU DON’T THINK SHE ALREADY KNOWS ALL OF THAT?!!! Sheesh — if getting “fit” were super easy for her, I promise you she would’ve done it already.

If taking care of ourselves — on top of taking care of everyone else — were easy to do, believe me… we’d be doing it.

The solution here isn’t better self-care. It’s better Other Care.

Now, it’s much easier to sell books, magazines, politics, religion, and whatever else off of the myth that we are each of us, alone, in charge of and responsible for ourselves and only ourselves. But “DIY” is rarely the answer.

Although to be clear…. There’s good advice out there and some people really need it. We all know folks who could make better decisions and take better care of themselves.

But I’ve gotta tell you, I’m not seeing much of that in the daughterhood world. What I’m seeing is a WHOLE LOT of hard work being done mostly alone. And, when it’s done alone it’s just all that much harder.

I started out writing this blog about how to avoid feeling overwhelmed but then, as I thought about it, and really considered all that we do, I got mad …. Why is it our responsibility to not only do an overwhelming job but to also NOT FEEL overwhelmed by it!!

So, by all means people: FEEL OVERWHELMED! It’s so not healthy for all of us to be single-handedly taking care of multiple generations at one time…often while working. How ridiculous. So let’s just call it.

But let’s also consider an alternative. What would it be like if we could take care of each other in an interdependent web? Communities that provide moral support through meeting places and groups where you can connect with other daughters (and sons). Financial support for adult day care and home care. Employers who understand and see themselves as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

So, the next time you feel like a failure, just remember: you’re doing a job that a strong social and community-based fabric is supposed to do. And instead of feeling like a failure, maybe just get a little mad.

But now that I’ve had my say about that, I’m going to indulge in a little self-help talk here. Rather than putting pressure on yourself to take a break you can’t take and trying to cure “overwhelm” by wrestling with ever-expanding responsibilities, how about if we just get really good at practicing extreme imperfection?

Lately I’ve been obsessed by geniuses — great artists, musicians, writers, scientists, and what fuels their huge creative output and productivity. What’s really surprised me is that none of them were given any kind of smooth pathway to get their work done. These folks suffered. They got really tired. They were ignored. They were alcoholics, depressives and insomniacs. They had failed marriages, difficult children, chronic illness, fatigue. Yet, they went ahead anyway and did their thing. They got it done. Despite life’s imperfections – or maybe because of them.

In other words, they didn’t glide through life drinking tea, taking naps and rising for 5 am yoga. They just slogged through and got their work done.

There is, in fact, great valor in slogging. We’re slogging through the overwhelm everyday. But we’re getting it done. We ARE creating better lives for the people we love, despite the fatigue, despite the insecurities and long to do lists. Despite changing your Dad’s diaper twice a night. Despite the longing for retreat – for a quiet corner and a book.

But, we don’t retreat. And, this is no small thing. This is something big.

When a girlfriend and I were marveling at the challenges of parenting with post-partum depression (we both had it), we had a term for the feeling we had much of the time: “white-knuckling it.” But she said something that really buoyed me: A “white-knuckle” mom is still a really damn good mom.

So don’t let the self-care experts dupe you into thinking there’s another thing you need to do to be better. Because even though it doesn’t feel like it, if you are slogging through life, you are succeeding wildly at it.

Despite what our consumer culture would like to sell you, we aren’t promised good health in this life. we aren’t guaranteed any kind of feeling good. The expectation that you are will kill you a lot faster than sleepless nights.

Friends, in the end, what we most need and are missing is the support of each other, and our communities. If Arianna Huffington and her posse could focus on making sure we have health insurance, job security, and adequate funding for community centers and meals on wheels, we’d all sleep a little better.