My sister and I went to an event on Monday night that was pure heaven for me. A panel of women. Two comedians, a country singer, authors, and…BRENÉ freaking BROWN. Hello, best night ever. The event is called Together Live, and the entire point of it is to create a sacred gathering of people with different stories, backgrounds, gifts, and ideologies. I had tears in my eyes the whole night from moving stories, belly laughter, and beautiful music.
Brené spoke on leadership, and I’ve never heard an auditorium collectively “hmm” and “yes” together so resoundingly. I could talk about her brave spirit and authentic sharing of imperfection for hours. But she said something toward the end of her talk that really hit me.
Speaking about the capacity we have to serve and lead others, Brené said, “If you can’t love yourself and be kind to yourself, then it’s really hard to love and be kind to other people.”
I know. That’s like a DUH sentence to all of us. Self-care is good, self-care is great, self-care is necessary. We hear that and know it to be true. It’s important to take care of ourselves and love ourselves. Perfect.
The kindness bit, though—that struck me differently than the expressions of “self-care” or “self-love.” Being kind to me is different than caring for or loving me.
I have been a proponent of self-care before I’d ever heard the buzz phrase. I work out almost daily because it makes me feel good physically and mentally. I enjoy cooking interesting, healthy meals that stretch my creativity. I love to take 10 minutes to read a devotional or personal development book in the mornings. I take walks, I breathe deeply, I go to church—I do all the self-care things.
But, when I miss a workout that I’d planned on all day but got too busy… When I decide I’m too tired to cook and pick up Chipotle, instead… When my dog is driving me crazy because I sat down at my desk rather than spending time to walk her energy out… Self-care is replaced with self-demolition.
I get irritated with little things. I stew over my laziness or lack of dedication. I get snippy toward others, or prefer to stay quiet and continue my internal stew-fest.
A couple weeks ago, I was doing a HIIT class at the gym. The fast movement and intense cardio in a fast-class setting is my favorite thing, but during box jumps, I landed weird and felt a sharp shift in my lower back. Two days later, the pain hadn’t subsided, and I decided to see a chiropractor.
They did an adjustment and took X-rays, and a few days later, I went back to review the scans with the doctor. He asked if I had any hip problems, and I realized, come to think of it, yeah. My hips would ache with pain if I were to be on my feet too long. After standing four days at a music festival a couple years ago, I even joked to my sister that I thought I had gout. My hip pain was unbearable. But it wasn’t constant, so I never did anything about it.
And, for as long as I can remember, with every step I’d take while running, my right hip would pop—but this was painless, so I didn’t think too much of it. I crack my hips all the time… It’s kind of like my party trick. I assumed my years of high school dance just made my hips extra sensitive.
The chiropractor showed me my X-rays, and my right hip was rotated at a wonky angle. My back had pinched nerves from the hip rotation, and a curve in my lower spine had begun, he pointed out, probably as a result of my previous dance days.
After another adjustment, my back pain grew less intense, into a dull soreness, until it almost totally went away. My hip, I realized on a run a couple days later, no longer popped with each step. After another workout later that week, I realized the tightness and sometimes sharp pain in my hips after workouts, which I’d grown so used to that it felt normal, was gone. I practically skipped out of the gym.
For so long, this small discomfort in my hips and low back was just minimal enough to not see a medical professional. It was my normal until I landed wrong and pinched some nerves. I didn’t realize the compounding problems I was living with and ignoring.
Of course, it could have been way worse, and I’m so glad I have more education about posture, alignment, and getting adjusted before I ever got to a more serious injury. But it’s interesting the regular aches and pains we’ll put up with because they don’t seem too bad.
It’s kind of like that self-kindness thing, right? I try so hard to take care of my body and mind, be healthy—but often fail to fully show myself kindness when facing my own unmet expectations. In this case, my body took a turn toward bitter, deep pain that I couldn’t ignore anymore. When I’m hard on myself for missing something I feel I SHOULD be doing, it leaks out into how I interact with and care for others, just like the pain coming alive in my back.
Self-care doesn’t do much without the kindness piece intertwined. You can exercise and read books and have girls’ night and meal prep and do at-home facials. But if you’re doing it out of blind obligation, and not to treat yourself kindly, then there’s a big component missing. Together, self-care and self-kindness can heal, lift, and hearten your spirit, and everyone around you. Being gracious toward you will teach grace toward others, even if you disappoint you, even if someone else disappoints you.