Radical Self-Care

640px-Three_flat_sheetsThe amazing Anne Lamott has often referred to what she calls “radical self-care” in her writing, which she defines as water and clean sheets. In doing so, she reminds us, and perhaps herself, that even the very small things make life that much more livable; hydration and a nice bed do indeed go a long way.

These things sound so basic that it’s hard to define them as radical, at least to those of us privileged to have easy access to drinking water and a washing machine. Yet, perhaps that is the point—at least on some level—and perhaps, because she clearly knows how hard life can be, she is also reminding us that these “basic” things are “radical” in the worst of times.

I’ve taken this concept a bit further in my life lately. My radical self-care includes doing a few yoga sunbows upon waking, reading good books in bed on clean sheets, and, most drastically, massage.

I am far from rich, and in fact have precious little disposable income at the moment—though this idea of radical self-care does sometimes require a little dosh. That’s where the local massage school comes in. For only $30, a kind student will provide a quality rubdown during a clinic in order to earn necessary hours of training, hands-on in the most literal way.

Today, I checked in with several other people, grabbed a sheet from a multi-colored stack at the desk, per the usual weird process, and waited to be called. After a few minutes, a young woman dressed in black, skinny with a long dark ponytail and Coke-bottle-thick glasses, introduced herself to me as Ashley. It was hard to focus on her eyes as we spoke because the lenses were so concentrated.

After she and I briefly discussed the kind of pressure I like (a lot) and if there were trouble-areas (neck and shoulders), she waited for me outside a changing room where I wrapped the sheet around me like a loose purple toga. Ashley settled me, facedown, on one of a dozen massage tables in a high-ceilinged room. The only lighting was natural, coming in from the tall windows on two sides of the room, a pale and grey like the day outside.

Once my face was in its cradle and she started warming up my back by running her oiled hands up and down it, I stared at the floor dumbly, my mouth ajar, remembering how I had become so relaxed during a massage one time that I actually drooled. The brick building in which the school is housed is clearly old, maybe turn of the century, which I pondered as I studied a rectangular-headed nail popping up slightly in one of the wood slats of the floor.

From time to time, I closed my eyes and tried to push away the thoughts in my head and focus on the lovely way Ashley was carefully kneading the knots in my back. But often I watched her feet, clad in lime green not-socks, moving around me almost balletically. She seemed as through she were doing a plié as she ever-so-gently pushed her elbow under my shoulder-blade. I listened to the quiet rustling of other clients’ sheets and students whispering questions comingled with the quiet whir of a fan somewhere I couldn’t quite place and inoffensive New Age music playing on a boom box on a window sill to my left.

At some point, a Nick Drake song came on, surprising me. It was a tune I love and listening to it was a good distraction from the noise in my mind. Ashley gently had me flip over discreetly under the purple sheet and wrapped an eye-cover over my face, blocking out that sense for a while, expertly she was rubbing my legs, which rarely cause me any trouble, and therefore, I rarely pay any attention to. She made lovely circles around my anklebones and paid special attention to my knees as well as working out kinks in my calf muscles and thighs.

“Take your time sitting up,” she said nicely when the hour was up. “I’m going to get you a cup of water.”

“Thank you,” I muttered, sleepily, beginning to work the sheet around me again.

“How do you feel?” Ashley asked.

“Mmm, relaxed and, um, better,” I barely managed.

“That’s what I want to hear!” she said brightly.

As sat up and drank out of a Dixie cup while she smiled at me through her enormous lenses, her blue eyes looking as though they were submerged behind deep ripples, I realized this was simply the deluxe version of even Anne Lamott’s sense of radical self-care—both water and clean sheets having played integral roles.

Sometimes, it’s blueberry pancakes at the diner. Or a cold beer on a sweaty day, drunk on the porch with a dear friend. Whatever it is, this idea seems more and more essential to me all the time. No one else will do it for us, so enjoy your water and clean sheets, friends, and enjoy the moments, the sensations, the little stuff that is such big stuff sometimes. Take radical self-care.

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