I've always appreciated the notion of self-care in an Oprah Winfrey, hot-baths-and-expensive-chocolates kind of way. We work so hard, the thinking goes, that we deserve a break here and there. So splurge on that full-price gift-to-yourself. Book the massage. Binge on the new season.
This philosophy is easy to get behind.
But it was recently challenged when I encountered the writings of Julia Hogan, a 30-year-old therapist whose book “It’s OK To Start With You” presents self-care through a Catholic worldview, giving permission to readers to take it up with greater resolve by understanding it in a clearer light.
The impetus for the book came through observations from Hogan’s private practice, seeing client after client who was suffering because she had neglected self-care. The consequences were wide-ranging, but they often circled back to the same root cause.
Julia had a message for them.
“True self-care is much more than a collection of sayings or self-indulgent, surface-level practices,” she writes in her book. “It’s a way of life that reinforces the fact, rooted in our dignity as God’s children, that we are worth love and care. It’s a set of habits, built over time, that takes seriously the Gospel command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“We remember to look out for our neighbors but not always our own wellbeing, which can affect our ability to take care of our neighbors,” Julia told me, perched at the kitchen table of her Chicago apartment and framed by gold paper wheels on the wall.
The surest way to truly embrace 2019, she said, is to practice self-care. “When we think of resolutions, we tend to think ‘lose X amount of weight or go to the gym more or make more money.’ It’s appreciating who you are right now and investing in that. Self-care requires work. It’s a discipline.”
For years I had seen it as a series of hastily justified, “I deserve this” indulgences, not an ongoing discipline. How enlightening to consider self-care as long-term, sustainable habits that replenish the body, mind and spirit.
What that looks like differs for each of us and requires an honest assessment of our current needs held up against our big-picture goals.
It could mean saying no more often — or it could mean saying yes in order to proactively nurture relationships. It could require cutting back on social media — or it could simply necessitate greater mindfulness about when and why you scroll through Instagram. It might mean staying up later for a favorite show, but it may well call for an early bedtime. It might mean feasting on a Sunday brunch that deviates from the diet — or ordering the salad.
The discipline of self-care is softened by Julia’s call for leisure, which she distinguishes from idleness as a “much richer concept” — not an aimless passing of time but a happy pursuit intentionally engaged in to restore your sense of balance.
That’s what brought Julia to her watercolor paints on a recent Thursday morning, a hobby she turns to for enjoyment, not expertise. While we spoke, she painted a snake plant from Trader Joe’s.
“It’s exciting to provide an alternative to our conventional understanding of self-care that really resonates with people,” she said, tilting her head as she outlined the third leaf. “My work flows from my faith and the belief that everyone is loved by God. I’m not just helping my clients overcome depression or anxiety but to understand who they are as a person.”
This winter Julia is offering digital workshops to supplement the free downloadable resources on her website (www.juliamariehogan.com). She’s hoping for a ripple effect.
“Taking care of yourself fuels you to do good in the world wherever you are called.”