I found out a few days ago that my rice cooker, which I’ve had for about eight years, cooks two cups of rice better than one. I found this out because I was cooking in larger batches and saving it for later. I was cooking in larger batches because I’m these days, planning ahead without getting ahead of myself. That balance has always been tricky for me, but it’s getting easier. I guess all the old cliches are true: go slow, but push yourself. I’ve been told often to slow down my whole life, mostly. I thought I’d been pushing myself, but really, I’d been getting ahead of myself – like that feeling when you’re on a bus and the driver hits the breaks when you feel your stomach lurch forward but the rest of you is somewhere still behind. I lived with that feeling for too many years, and so when that feeling got too much, I slowed down. Way down. I slowed down to the point where getting up each day was tiring – where living was tiring. Forget a million projects, brushing my hair took an enormous amount of effort. This, many social justice outlets told me, was an accomplishment. On some days, I truly loathed little memes like “I put on pants today! Adulting win!” Like, really? putting on pants was adulting? I did more when I was 14, it seemed, than when I was 24. But on other days, when I felt desperate for any source of well being, I at least could feel that this was enough. Ok, so all I did was brush my teeth and my hair, but good enough. Ok so maybe I didn’t make it all the way to pants, or going outside in… a week or two give or take, but at least I made a cup of tea. (I’m drinking a cup right now). Take it slow, they said. So I did.
The truth is neither of these states was satisfying. A younger me that lived with perpetual anxiety and nausea around things being perfect, me being perfect, me doing everything and doing it right, me feeling anxious about new places, people, and situations, me throwing myself 200 percent into projects was totally unsustainable. But living day to day, minute to minute with the cloud of depression over me for years was also unsustainable. Maybe, I first thought, the balance was somewhere between these states, but as I thought harder, I realized it was deeper than that.
I needed to start thinking of the care that I do for myself as valid self care work, and I needed to also make it a daily part of my routine and not (just) a special thing I did on days to feel better. (because in a long term sense, it didn’t make me feel better. A cup of tea didn’t cure my anxiety or move me on a path to recovery. Yes, I felt better in the moment, and yes, sometimes that’s all that matters, but sometimes, thriving starts to look like a possible, achievable goal rather than just surviving).
My self care nowadays looks very different than a few years ago. Everything from cooking regularly, planning my meals, workout routines, and haircare (complete with old school Desi Parachute Coconut Oil and that little yellow comb we had in India). Push yourself, but go slow. Working out no longer means killing myself on a treadmill. Eating right is no longer a crash diet. Ok, both these things happen sometimes because I’m still a person who tends to the extreme in some ways, concerning my own body, thoughts, and, I suppose desires for myself – but I’m working on it.
My rice cooker tends to burn (out) too – when I use one cup. And when I use 3, it overflows. It can’t handle it, even though the instructions say it should be able to take 3 cups of uncooked rice. With two cups, the rice comes out perfect, none of it browns or sticks to the bottom of the cooker dish.
Some people are rice cookers. I know if I have too much time in a day, it gets to me; binge watching on Netflix isn’t what self care looks like for me anymore. At the same time, I dislike feeling overwhelmed with tasks and chores. But feeling like I’m holding myself in that comfortable space where getting things done feels just like taking care of myself is indescribably joyful; it’s the right amount of pressure – where I can appreciate the outcome, where I can appreciate what I’ve invested, where I feel it was enough, where I feel there is hope and potential for more. That’s not to say that things always go my way – they don’t, and they don’t in absurd ways – I didn’t get to use the washer I wanted, for example, at my local neighbourhood laundry place. It’s not a big deal, and I rationally know it’s not a big deal, but I could feel a little flash of who I was when I was younger, where something like that would have flatlined any happiness I was struggling to have because so much of my happiness relied on perfection.
I’m also recognizing how important my routine is, especially when things are going down the drain. These days, if I’m feeling particularly awful, the urge to sit and watch Netflix is real. But the longer lasting satisfaction of doing what I was going to do anyway, routine wise (cooking, working, eating, sleeping, laundry, haircare, housework, writing, whatever it may be), is unbeatable. In the moment it feels like work, but eventually, as a memory it feels like inspiration and hope for the future.
These days, I’m investing in my memories by staying present. There is no fast forward and there is no rewind; there is just here and now, and I’m learning slowly that life is just about moments that add up, that to feel like I cherish life, I have to cherish these moments as they happen, and create those memories in an active way. I don’t know if others think of their feelings in this way, but I know for me, happiness is not instinctive: it’s something I have to work at, try at, make an effort to feel and make an effort to remember. I’m learning to stand witness to my own life. I’m going slow so I can push myself, and what felt like a paradox for so long finally is starting to feel like balance.