Self-Care Isn’t Selfish (But It Sure As Hell Feels That Way)

This morning I woke up early, after getting too little sleep, to a dreary December day. Some ugly monthly lady hormones were sloshing inside of me. I had to get my not-at-all-a-morning-person eight-year-old son out of bed and ready for school.

Forty-five minutes, a barely-eaten breakfast, and what seemed like about a hundred battles later, he was off to school.

And all I wanted to do was go back to bed. 

I work freelance from home, and I didn’t have anything scheduled for the day. My workload was manageable. And my bed was very comfortable and inviting. All conditions were great for a nice little morning nap.

All conditions, that is, except the nattering dissent from the ongoing track in my head.

You can’t go back to sleep, it said. Successful people don’t go around sleeping in the middle of the day. I bet your friend So-and-So never takes naps. Get up and be a productive person. This is why you’re not more successful in life. You’re so spoiled to even get the opportunity to sleep during the day. You don’t deserve this. And you’re fat. 

(And you’re fat is the head track’s catchphrase. All arguments get to and you’re fat eventually.)

The reality is, we’ve all been so indoctrinated into the culture of success = busy and tired that many of us feel guilty if we’re not operating at the breakneck speed at which we assume the whole rest of the world runs. We feel guilty if we’re not doing it all, having it all, or giving it all.

Certain forms of self-care are more acceptable than others. Anything related to exercise is a strongly-encouraged form of self-care. Yoga. Going for a run. Talking a walk out in nature. Those things are all very wholesome and thought of as acceptable diversions from being Busy and Productive.

Somewhat relatedly, the next acceptable form of self-care is self-improvement. The mani/pedi. The haircut. Maybe the massage, although not too often, because you don’t want to be selfish and extravagant, unlike your wonderfully self-sacrificing friend Such-and-Such who doesn’t have the money for those kinds of luxuries and hasn’t eaten in a restaurant since 1997.

We’re told to take time for our marriages, to have the hideously-named “date nights.” And a “girls’ night” is acceptable. (Why you are still dating after getting married and still being called a girl when you’re in your 40s is a topic for a whole other post.)

But what if all you want to do is sit in your house and vegetate? What if all you want is a nap? Those are my favorite kinds of self-care, the kind you do at home and alone. (And I realize that you can’t use the terms self-care, at home, and alone without people’s minds going to the gutter, so let me clarify that I’m speaking here of activities such as sleeping, reading, or watching TV.)

I don’t want to go shopping. I don’t want to get my eyebrows waxed. I just want to take a nap. 

And even when I do let myself nap, any relaxing benefits are undone by the all-consuming guilt of the voice in my head. Well, that certainly was indulgent. Do you know that in the two hours you were napping, your friend X probably earned a thousand dollars at her job, all while caring for her kids and doing charity work? Also, you wouldn’t be so tired if you weren’t so fat. 

I don’t know if the voice is depression, or society, or both. All I know is that when I’m happy to get sick because it’s an acceptable time to nap (stomach viruses notwithstanding), that’s when we have a problem.

You can tell me a thousand times that self-care isn’t selfish. You can say that I can’t take care of others if I don’t take care of myself first. You can repeat that blasted “secure your own oxygen mask before securing that of another person” metaphor a million times over. You can even tell me that Depression preys on people who don’t take care of themselves, and I’m still going to tell you that I’m a pointless waste of space if I take a nap.

I wish I could say that I’ve come to some great revelation or that I’m preparing to turn over a new leaf when it comes to self-care. But change usually doesn’t come that quickly. I am, however, looking toward a whole new source of inspiration when it comes to self-care.



Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love cats. I even have an entire Christmas tree decorated solely with cat ornaments. My sweet kitties Yoda and Holly are my only co-workers in my office, and I kind of like it that way. Besides, cats have kind of taken over the Internet, which is kind of the next-best thing to taking over the world, so we should pay attention to them.

Cats have no problem with self-care. They are the most selfish creatures on earth. I’m more important than you is the mantra of every single cat on the planet. And thus they have no problem carving out a lot of time for napping.

Further, cats know their limits when it comes to tolerance for other people. Every cat I’ve ever had can snap from I’m your best friend pet me pet me pet me to Leave me alone or I’ll scratch your eyes out in a matter of minutes. And when they want to be alone, they find a place to be alone. When they want to nap, they nap.

Now, a person could very reasonably argue that humans have a lot more responsibilities than cats do, and we probably shouldn’t be looking to cats for inspiration. But here’s how I see it: Humans, theoretically, are supposed to be responsible during approximately 16 non-sleeping hours a day. Cats’ responsibilities (which include licking themselves, eating, and possibly scaring away rodents) amount to about an hour a day. Then they sleep like 15 hours a day. (What they do with the other 8 hours is unclear, but it’s possibly when they’re plotting to overthrow humankind.) So, if cats can work for 1 hour a day and sleep for 15 hours, certainly a human is entitled to do the opposite and work 15 hours a day while taking a 1-hour nap. Oh, and those hours roll over; if you don’t get your hour nap in one day, you get two hours the next day.

And if anybody comments, Wow, I wish I had the luxury of a one-hour nap every day, I will promptly scratch their eyes out.

One thought on “Self-Care Isn’t Selfish (But It Sure As Hell Feels That Way)

  1. Lenore

    Funny enough, just today I was thinking I might have a free Saturday and/or Sunday, and I immediately began to think of what I needed to do to fill the day(s) rather than what I WANT to do, which is sleep late and catch up on the many many shows filling up my DVR. And eat chocolate.


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