I recall awaking a few weeks ago to the feeling of my plush comforter wrapped around my body and the sound of Northern Mockingbirds crying out into the sky. My family’s own bird, a parakeet, seemed to think those mockingbirds were talking to her and so they had a most raucous conversation. It pulled me from my slumber earlier than I had anticipated; it was already 11:00 am, so I greeted the day.
I had been going to bed in the wee hours of the morning, kept awake by endless ideas related to the many projects and hobbies on which I was supposed to be working on during the day. Sure, I could have lulled myself to sleep, but I was on summer vacation!
What did it matter if I went to bed at 4:00 am? I didn’t have a class, seminar or event to go to on the following day. There would be no consequences to following my impulses for once, which almost always led me to gold. Or so I thought.
The remainder of that day wasn’t out of the ordinary--a state of being I have come to dread; I frequently longed for something unusual. My muscles slightly ached from having slept in odd positions, and not stretching immediately after waking.
The day earlier, I had done a half-hearted abs workout routine, trying to ignore the little voice in my head telling me I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to because, as it had for the majority of my life, my figure would stay taut. And a week earlier, I had broken down my skincare routine into chronologically counterintuitive bits; I used certain creams knowing that they would have no effect given the serum I had nonsensically applied before it.
On this day, I grabbed for whichever activities sounded most interesting at the moment only to decide I was sick of it about 10 minutes in. I either simplified or removed most of the things from this routine as the days progressed. That was in part due to the sleep deprivation that ailed me ever since I had stopped going to bed early. But my lacking presented itself most in the way I spoke.
I found myself stumbling over my words more often than I used to and speaking with the literacy level of Donald Trump; fully fledged sentences would be on the tip of my tongue and slowly evaporate the more I expressed my thoughts. The pace of my speech was either fast to the point of unintelligible or near glacial. I wasn’t particularly tired. I wasn’t hungry. I did things to ensure I stayed sharp, like reading books and playing board games. My near-constant research for a novel I was writing meant I was consuming a healthy amount of new information on a daily basis.
I am a writer, a communicator, and I couldn’t figure out why the one thing I had always been adept at was eluding me.
It all got to the point where I was literally dragging my feet around the house. My mother started to notice my uncharacteristically drab mood and appearance. She asked me if I was depressed, like she always did when I was anything less than hyperalert.
“No,” I said. “I guess I’m… bored?”
But that wasn’t quite it—though it was pretty close. I felt like I was waking up with absolutely nothing to look forward to and that was terribly dull. I tried my best to further explain the odd state I was in. The best I could come up with was, “It feels like I’ve been dragging an anvil around my ankle for the past few days.”
She asked what I had been doing—or rather, lack thereof. No, mother, I’m not making elaborate meals. No, mother, I haven’t been exercising. No, mother, I’m no longer doing my ten-step skincare routine. No, mother, I’m not curling and styling my hair anymore. Why? Because I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have to. I’m on vacation.
The solution was simple, according to her. “Stop neglecting yourself.”
I didn’t view it as such. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my need for routines—as well as the idea of them doing me any good. I hate the monotony of it, the demand for organization and tediousness that goes into successfully executing one everyday. While I recognized it ultimately benefited me, it was so tedious and reminded me of a past to which I, thankfully, didn’t have to return.
I dreaded waking up before the sun did. Spending the first two hours of every morning in the bathroom applying creams to my bleary-eyed face and wishing to hug my comforter again was something I wanted to leave behind with the rest of my grade school career. Don’t even get me started on the many cramps I suffered after thorough exercise?
But it wasn’t until I implemented some of those daily activities once again that I realized just how much I needed them. Establishing a routine did more than ensure me a physically healthy body for years to come, it ensured mental wellbeing.
It had been so long since I truly followed my routine, I had forgotten the pleasure I got in smelling of candied strawberries thanks to the scrubs I lathered on in the shower. I had forgotten how beautiful I felt after giving my face a good wash and eliminating the morning puffiness that threw my features off balance. There were no eye bags to get rid of because I had gone to bed before 10 pm. And though I was sweaty and my abdomen surely ached after the thirty minutes of exercise I had done before even entering the bathroom, I hadn’t felt that refreshed in a long time.
Completing that routine inspired the productivity I had been searching for in numerous bottles of Diet Coke and endless hours of contemplation. The bursts of energy and genius that once only came to me when the rest of the city was fast asleep presented themselves at far more appropriate times. Best of all, I no longer sounded like Donald Trump had given me elocution lessons.
I suppose the moral of this story is, there are no “off days” when it comes to self-care. Though you might not be able to see the negative effects of trading a stable routine in favor of more lounging time at the moment, it will catch up and strike when you least expect it. I was in part relying on my youth to help me stay afloat, since I recognized that my body probably would’ve found the majority of things I was doing—like going an entire day without eating vegetables—intolerable. But there are no shortcuts.
There is no adequate substitute for a well-rounded meal, a good night’s sleep, or a decent scrub of the face. These days, I am not looking for one. I have come to fully understand and appreciate that my body deserves more than minimal effort.
Yours does, too.
Philomena Stone is a DC-based freelance writer.