I always thought self-care was something that other people did. Rich people to be precise. Actually rich women, who didn’t work and spent their days out to lunch or meeting friends for coffee. Self-care was a spa day, or an afternoon at the salon getting nails and hair done, whilst clinking wine glasses with other rich, non-working women. I didn’t have time for all that.

After our third in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle failed and we were approaching the third anniversary of my brother’s death, I started to spiral downwards. I recognized the signs. I knew I was heading for black and I wanted to learn how I could help myself.

It began with self-care—and not the spa day type.

It actually began with rest. My mind and body were broken and the sooner I realized this, the sooner I could accept that this was going to be a slow process.

Self-care isn’t something that you do when you have time or money.

I worked hard on myself and I read a lot and learn about mental health. I was able to drag myself out of that hole, like a slightly bedraggled butterfly ready to face the world again. Along the way, I learned some important lessons about self-care.

Self-care isn’t something that you do when you have time or money. Self-care isn’t for the elite or the privileged. Self-care is an essential part of my life that is critical for my survival.

I discovered that self-care is about nurturing the ‘big five’: preserving and nourishing my mind, my body, my relationships, the way I see the world and the way I see myself. With this understanding, this is how I now put self-care into action.

Proper Rest

Self-care means going to bed when I feel tired, even if that’s at 8 pm sometimes. Rest is important for my soul. Grief and never-ending IVF cycles cause extreme exhaustion and fatigue. The endless list of drugs you take while battling your own demons mean only one thing— you need time to recover and repair.

Surrounding Myself With Positive Influences

Self-care means not being in the presence of toxic people. Those who can’t or won’t understand our journey and say thoughtless or hurtful things. It is my duty to protect my heart and therefore I must also protect my mind. This journey I am on is brutal, there is no room for other people’s judgments or criticisms.

Self-care means putting myself first in a way I never thought I would.

Prioritizing My Own Needs

Self-care means putting myself first in a way I never thought I would. It means saying no to things —and not just the obvious stuff like baby showers or christenings—but anything that I either don’t have the energy for or that may harm me in some way. I don’t advocate being a recluse, I recognize the importance of friendships and socializing, but it must be on your own terms.

Same goes for how I spend my time alone. Do I need to put another re-run of Friends on when I get in from work, or shall I leave the TV off and maybe just read for 30 minutes. Neither is wrong and neither is right, it’s whichever is going to make me feel better at the time — and a re-run of Friends can certainly make me laugh— but the peace and serenity I get from sitting quietly with a book can be equally as healing.

Daily Meditation

Self-care for me is also about meditation and yoga. Spending some time with myself one-on-one helps me learn about what works to keep my body and mind relaxed and serene. We all need coping mechanisms on our journey and for me, I have found that when things get crazy, I can center myself with mediation.

When I think I don’t have time to meditate today, that’s when I know I need to mediate above everything else. Ten minutes with the Headspace app can change my entire day if I allow it. Learning to recognize when my anxiety levels are high and knowing that if I simply sit with myself for a short period, I can breathe myself back to a place of balance has been one of the most important lessons. I don’t have to spiral along with my anxious thoughts like a puppy chasing its tail.

Being More Mindful About Food

Self-care then turned to looking after myself physically. Eating well and drinking plenty of water. I know, that for me, caffeine and alcohol do not help. Nor does vast amounts of sugar. It may sound like I’m living some bare minimum life, but that is not the case. I still have treats and I definitely enjoy my food. But I don’t trough mounds of chocolate and cake to make myself feel better anymore—the sugar crash is just not worth it.

Moving My Body

Self-care became about being healthy in both mind and body. I began taking a small lunchtime walk each day, especially on work days. The right/left motion helps me to process thoughts and clear my head. Being outside in the fresh air helps to gain perspective and remember that there is a big wide world out there. Getting a little bit of gentle exercise releases endorphins and contributes to making you feel better about yourself overall.

Enjoying Rewards

Self-care then turned to treats. I enjoy date nights with my husband out at the movies or dinner out. Infertility robs you of so much that it’s easy to get lost in it and as a result, relationships suffer. Luckily, we recognized this and put some time aside to spend together away from grief and injections and to remember why we got married and why we like spending time together.

This all sounds easy.

For me, this is a culmination of months and months of hard work, trial and error, of getting it wrong and starting again. But it is worth the investment to regain some control over the life you have been dealt and the path you have to walk.

Self-care has always been about figuring out what works for you.

I practice self-care every day. I don’t know where I’d be without it…and not once has it involved me clinking wine glasses with other women at a spa!