A woman hugging a bundle of flowers and smiling peacefully.

Is There Self-Care without Self-Love?

I thought I was doing well. Taking care of myself with daily rest, supplements, exercise, meditating on a regular basis; I was proud of myself for making my self-care a priority. Then I heard a friend of mine, a therapist, talk about the difference between self-love and self-care, and everything changed. When I was really honest, I realized a few things that made me re-think everything.

Self-care is rethinking how you approach things

For years I was very dedicated to my health-care regime. So dedicated, that if I was too tired to meditate, (I know this seems like an oxymoron but it’s also something that those of us with RA/JRA really understand) I would feel bad about myself. So rigid that I would force myself to adhere to an exercise regime even when my knees were the size of grapefruits. So hard on myself that I would feel like a failure when I would miss a Tai Chi class.

I was suffering under the "rules" I imposed on myself

All of this self-imposed self-care was making me a taskmaster and I was the one suffering under my own rules. Self-care is a necessary component of living with RA, but if you are feeling resentful about the time it takes to help your pain every day then you are not experiencing self-love, you are experiencing resentment. Over time this resentment can fester and turn into self-destructive behavior. It’s not about setting aside time in a day.

Loving myself is prioritizing myself

A person can practice self-care, and not love any part of it or themselves. When I love myself, I prioritize myself. Part of this means I prioritize time and energy for self-care, but it also means that I quickly forgive myself if I have a bad day. All of the days I spent feeling bad about myself because my body prevented me from doing the things I thought I was supposed to be doing, could have been spent helping myself to find the comfort my body was crying out for.

I can’t get those days back, but I can change how I do things going forward. Part of this change means that I understand that self-love has to come before self-care. If I love myself first, I’ll listen to myself more, and treat myself better, no matter what my body is telling me.

Self-love is focusing on my comfort

That’s why I’ve decided that this is the year I’m going to prioritize comfort. After spending most of my life trying to ignore how I feel, I’m tuning in and figuring out ways to be more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve decided to love myself enough to give myself, and my body, space to tell me what it needs. The irony is, this seemingly small shift is already taking me out of my comfort zone. I’m realizing I need to feel this discomfort, the discomfort of feeling, in order to achieve comfort, being okay with where I’m at.

I'm speaking up about what I need

A few days ago, I found myself telling my good friend that too much sitting in the AM is really painful, and that I need to move around a bit as I wake up, and I started to tear up and feel like a fool. Then I realized, I’m starting to love myself to speak up about my needs, and I began to feel proud of myself, realizing that this skill is just as important as my daily walks. Focusing on comfort has meant that I’m finally spending the time finding the best shoes, chairs, kitchen gadgets, etc., in order to make my day as easy and pain-free as possible instead of telling myself that I can make do with what I have. All of these shifts are changing the structure of my life, and slowly I am noticing something interesting.

I’m happier.

It's easier to practice self-care now

I feel more gratitude and joy in the little moments, even if they are filled with pain. I realize that because I’m putting self-love first, it’s easier to practice self-care. Because I’m no longer pushing myself through my day, I’m actually getting more done. I’m not dropping with exhaustion and biting my irritable tongue at the end of the day. I’m feeling less left out of life, and less resentful. I’ve finally realized that for me, there is no true self-care without self-love.


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