I started swimming my sophomore year of high school. In just a few days of being immersed in chlorinated water for several hours a day, I noticed that my skin felt tight and itchy (living in the Utah desert didn’t help this either.) Interested in relieving this new uncomfortable sensation, l started moisturizing after getting home and showering, and over the years of my swimming career, I got into the habit of having silky soft skin.
Even when I wasn’t swimming, like on my mission, I took the time to moisturize and take care of myself. It had grown into something more important than a simple skincare routine - it was a self care one.
But then something interesting happened. When I became paralyzed, I stopped moisturizing my legs in particular. I still took care of my upper body for the most part, but I simply stopped taking care of my legs. For many years, they were visibly dry and unhappy looking because of my neglect.
Over the last few months, as I’ve been nurturing my relationship with my body in new and deeper ways, I have been noticing ways that I have neglected parts of my body. I was changing after a shower and suddenly noticed my innocent, dry legs stretched out in front of me on my bed. I stopped and stared, remembering that I would not have allowed them to be in this condition when I could use them and feel them.
So, instead of hurrying along my day and getting dressed immediately, I reached over to the jar of lotion sitting on my bedstand, unscrewed the lid, and scooped out a dollop of hand cream. I started applying and I was heartbroken to watch how my parched skin soaked up the moisture before I was finished. I took another generous scoop and applied until my skin was satisfied.
I watched my hands move over my calves and shins, down to my swollen ankles and feet. I could imagine how the familiar pressure of my hands against my muscles would feel if I still had sensation. Sometimes I thought I could feel it. As I completed this ritual, I felt more connected to myself than I had in years. I felt sad, realizing how much of myself I had psychologically discarded when I became paralyzed.
I am pleased to report that I am more moisturized than I have been in almost a decade. I have also started stretching my legs, hips and abs like I used to, making sure they are happy and taken care of. This little ritual has connected me back to myself in ways that I didn’t know I needed. When I look in the mirror, it’s easier to see my whole body sitting in my chair instead of seeing two separate halves that happen to be connected.
I think self care is about developing a listening relationship with ourselves and our bodies. When we pay attention, when we pause long enough to listen, our bodies and minds will tell us exactly what they need. When I listen to and follow the directives of this knowing, it leads me to greater rest, happiness and fulfillment.
Have you paused and asked your body what it needs today? What would self care look like for you? You don’t even have to commit to a new habit - but just today, what does your body/mind need? It might be a five minute meditation, or a moment to lie down, or even doing something that feels pleasurable. By building in these pauses, we create space to feel and listen to ourselves in a noisy world. These moments add up and, with enough practice listening, your body will begin to impart to you the profound wisdom it has been carrying all along.