What does it mean to "take care of yourself"? Does taking care of yourself involve waking up at 5am everyday to work out for hours, have a manicure on your lunch break, and then spend the evening meditating in your home zen garden? Or does it mean driving past the fast food restaurant in favor of a homemade lunch, taking a walk with family after dinner, and taking a long, hot bath every once in a while? How can one quantify "good" care versus "neglect" of oneself? Who can judge?
As a parent, I know that after 2 nights in a row of little sleep due to a teething baby, I am completely useless without a good nap. And by useless, I mean I can't focus on work and Joe can expect a "Yo Gabba Gabba" marathon. And therein lies my point, I think. As a mother, if my basic needs are not being met (food, sleep, shower) than the needs of my child (attention, activity) suffer as a result. It is fairly easy to see the care relationship in that example, but how common is this scenario? How often to parents today come home after work, toss a few frozen entrees into the microwave, and hunker down on the couch for some veg-out time until bed? It's not exactly an option for many families to have less than 2 full-time incomes, and with that comes full-time exhaustion. Where is the care in that?
At what point do we stop blaming our childhood customs for our adult problems? When the overweight 20-something who has no idea how to cook a nutritious meal for herself decides to fix a packet of Ramen noodles instead, is her mother to blame for not loving her enough to show her how to take care of herself? Is society to blame for placing so much emphasis on convenience and discount? Do we blame schools for offering products like Ramen noodles in a la carte lunch lines, therefore institutionalizing poor nutritional choices? Who is responsible when this girl one day becomes a mother and then begins the cycle all over with her own child?
On a macro level, are we as a society expected to begin taking care of each other financially? The controversy over "public options" for universal health care packages is directly related to this issue of responsibility for one's own care. As it is today, even with privatized health insurance, we often pay higher premiums because SO MANY people are on medications for conditions that could be controlled through taking better care of themselves. Since when did "medication" stop meaning something one takes when one is very ill to something one takes chronically to feel normal? The number of people in this country--especially young people--who are on daily medication is staggering.
Another issue that stems from this core question is the idea that we are supposed to be taking care of those who protect the population and their families. Our veterans are returning from war with not only physical wounds, but severe mental disturbances in record-breaking numbers; yet they are faced with bureaucracy and self-imposed humiliation when they attempt to treat their issues. In many cases they turn instead to self-destructive behavior, which is one way to "take care" of the problem. How are we, the citizens of the country they are fighting for, supposed to live up to our end of the bargain when it is sometimes easier to ignore? Sure we all know someone who has been deployed, but how far should we as individuals be expected to go in taking care of those who serve? Vote on legislation? Volunteer at the VA? Thanking a vet at the airport? How much should we consider what these vets go through to be "just part of their job" because they "signed up for it" and we didn't? Like parents and other guardians, it's sometimes most easy to take it for granted that these folks will always be around to take care of us, regardless of how we treat them on an individual level.
As are most things in life, I believe these issues are utterly cyclical. I posted the following thought in a tweet the other day, and I think I am going to strive to make it a new personal motto: "We should strive to take better care of ourselves. Failing that, we have no choice but to take better care of each other."