My partner made me watch Warrior last night. It's an excellent film, well-acted and intelligently written. There is a lot about it that I should like, primarily the fact that it contains Tom Hardy looking like a chiseled god and represents Mixed Martial Arts in a far more realistic and less sensationalist way than I have ever seen on film before. It is, however, a drama, and a deep one, about the rift between two brothers, the damage al alcoholic father has sone to his family, one son's desire to save his own family from financial ruin and a damaged man's broken quest for healing.
In other words, it is full of feelings, and hard ones. It knocked me around emotionally, made me feel raw and split apart. I've been out of sorts, unable to properly ground the nervous energy I feel, ever since. Worse still though that feeling emotionally unmoored is that the entire morning has been remarkably unproductive as a result of my Feelings. I've already gotten into an argument this morning have fretfully been avoiding work on my rather significant to-do list.
When I am upset, I can't work. This is a terrible and hard-won fact I know about myself. Everyone has certain kinds of energy an emotional states that they can harness to produce great work. I am great at working through anger, labouring through anxiety, riding stress. But when it comes to feeling unsettled, unhappy, and just kind of icky and sour in my chest? I may as well have a terrible flu. I feel like all my joints have been dislocated, especially the ones in my brain.
It is through my own limitations in this regard, the way that my body reacts to certain feelings and becomes useless that I learned the value of self-care. When I was young and less affectionate towards myself, I would do nothing but demand and push. I would up in the hospital repeatedly with a series of increasingly terrible and hilarious lung infections. Out of sheer stubbornness, I hurt myself and made myself ill.
I'm kinder to myself these days, if only because I finally see that clinical exhaustion wastes a ridiculous amount of time, and even if I succeed in forcing out ash and dust , it's not terribly good. I've also become kinder towards myself. I see my body as a wise thing, and my emotional state less a weakness that needs to be ruthlessly quashed and overcome, and more something that I should listen to and respect.
I apologize if this sounds so basic -- look after yourself physically, pay attention to how you're feeling -- but to be perfectly honest this took me a ridiculously long time to learn for myself. It took me ages to stop being angry at myself when I felt hungry in the middle of a work session and, instead, just get up and make a sandwich.
Take care of yourselves, writers. Acknowledge that, while you may not lay bricks for a living, that what we do is hard. That it is easy to be come exhausted or drained. That our feelings, physically and emotionally, need to be attended to. Also, that they deserve to be attended to.
Whatever you are doing, whatever your schedule and your project, make sure you take time for self care. Whether that is simply making sure that you eat and rest, or that you listen to your emotional state and cancel an engagement to stay in and have a much-needed night in with a bottle of wine and a season of Battlestar Galactica, or that you get your nails done or refuse to reschedule your deeply-refreshing time at the gym. It can also mean recognizing that working on a particular piece when you feel vulnerable or upset is bad for you, and setting it aside until you feel stronger and more sure.
Whatever it means for you, self-care is not an indulgence. It is not something that you do because you are spoiled, or a delicate flower, or fragile. It is something that makes you stronger, healthier, more solid and sure. Self care makes your writing better. It is important to recognize that taking care of ourselves is not a weakness.