I first witnessed the beauty of self-care in my grandmother, who believed in it nearly as much as she believed in God. Hers looked like planting her knees in the dirt to work on her cabbage patch, or picking tomatoes while singing hymns off-key, then heading inside to cook whatever she picked. My grandma, who worked the third shift as a nurse tending to cancer patients, never used the words “self-care” — but I know now that’s what it was. Visiting her green sanctuary and pouring extra love into herself as she enjoyed the fruits and veggies of her labor was essential. My old lady was a bad*ss who was very much about reclaiming her time. In our family of workaholics, she was my reminder to take a moment for myself and to not let work become my whole life — or the end of it.
Still, I fail at that so often because, well, I work on the internet. Occupying the digital space for a paycheck comes with the pressure to be on call and on top of it all; the clock in my brain is always ticking. The news cycle is a Ferris wheel I rarely have the freedom to hop off — that is, if I want to eat. So yeah, I’m not the best at the self-care thing, but I am determined to get better at it.
I decided to follow Grandma’s lead and treat myself to some serious TLC by challenging myself to a full day of self-care. For the entire 27 years I have lived on this earth, I have never treated myself to an entire day of just doing me. I’m always stealing moments in between catering to other people and keeping my eyes locked on my news notifications. Deciding to spend the day focusing on me was the easy part; figuring out exactly what I was going to do on that day was embarrassingly harder than it should have been.
I wanted to make sure my self-care day would be fun but also good for my health.
I knew I needed to do something exceptionally relaxing, yet just engaging enough to clear the rush hour traffic in my brain. So, boom, I narrowed my activity search down to a full-body massage to relax my tense muscles, acupuncture for my allergies, and food because, duh. I wanted to make sure my self-care day would be fun but also good for my health. Two birds. One stone. Three dates with myself in one day.
The first task on my self-care to-do list was to hit up my mermaid, better known as Starbucks. I’ve been ordering the same venti size chai tea latte for nearly 10 years and it gets me right every time.
After food and coffee, it was time for my full-body massage. I headed to one of my favorite spots in New York City: Renew Body Wellness in Manhattan’s West Village. It’s a no-frills reflexology spot that takes walk-ins, appointments, and charges only $39 for a one-hour session. I found it while in grad school at NYU and credit it — and my university therapist — for why I didn’t drop out before my final semester ended.
Renew Body Wellness is super quaint and can get crowded depending on the day, but it has a nice ambiance with dim lighting, simple decor, and attentive masseuses. I was happy to be back at one of my favorite me-time hangout spots. I whipped out my bonnet so my hair and I could vibe together in peace, and then stretched out across the bed and committed myself to not committing my thoughts to anything other than myself.
Unlike my usual massage visits, I had my selfie fun and then powered my phone off so I wouldn’t cheat myself out of the full chillaxing experience. My back and wrists ache regularly thanks to the years I’ve spent sitting in chairs banging out articles on deadline. As the masseuse paid special attention to my hands and back muscles without me even having to ask, I could have cried real tears. I’m also pretty sure I dipped in and out of sleep which was the best thing for my typically racing mind. Thanks to her skills, oils, hot towels, and hotter healing stones — my massage felt so great that I went for 90 minutes instead of the hour. Coins well spent.
The other portion of my self-care day involved what I thought would be the riskiest part: acupuncture, “an originally Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points especially to cure disease or relieve pain,” as described by Merriam-Webster. I had never experienced it, but my roommate recommended it — specifically for my horrible allergies. I don’t know if he was genuinely concerned or sick of me sneezing and sniffling all over our duplex, but I was beyond desperate to try almost anything.
For context, my allergies aren’t seasonal; they’re year-round. For more bizarre context, I am allergic to dust, cat and dog dander, trees, grass, four types of pollen (including fall pollen), mold, emotions, and Donald Trump. OK, not the last two officially, but definitely the other stuff. I also have eczema and asthma — both of which can be triggered by my... wait for it... allergies!
Translation: My body pretty much hates me 52 weeks of the year and declares war whenever the wind blows. But everything’s fine. Here’s an exclusive image of my allergies, asthma, eczema, and back pain vying for the opportunity to snatch my wig for the day.
Last week it was my eyes peeling and puffing up to show me who’s boss. And here’s the line-up of my daily medications, all of which are either prescribed or recommended by my doctors.
Before my roommate mentioned acupuncture, I knew nothing about the natural healing practice other than that it involves needles — which I’m not exactly afraid of, but like, I don’t want any beef with. Despite my reservations, I committed to doing acupuncture once I researched and confirmed that, yes, the practice is also a natural way to tame allergies. I booked an appointment with WTHN, a women-owned acupuncture wellness boutique in New York City.
Before the actual session, I hopped on the phone with Dr. Shari, the WTHN co-founder and acupuncturist I would be seeing, for the tea on what a zillion needles up and down my body would really feel like.
“Acupuncture doesn’t hurt,” she confirmed. “Acupuncture needles are the size of human hair and depending on the hair, can be even smaller. It’s not like going and getting your blood drawn. Those are hypodermic needles and you can fit four acupuncture needles into one hypodermic needle. It’s really common with acupuncture to have a feeling of relaxation during treatment and a lot of people even fall asleep.”
After talking with Dr. Shari, I had zero worries about my first acupuncture experience. I arrived around 30 minutes before my appointment, just to scope things out. First thing's first: I was welcomed at the door by a receptionist with a really warm smile who was burning sage. That’s my kind of vibe. The establishment was also super clean with a gorgeous minimalist design.
Pretty places subtly ease my mind, especially when they are as neatly kept as WTHN. A plethora of satisfyingly organized wellness and beauty products immediately called my name. The space even provided samples to try before buying anything.
I couldn’t resist the urge to moisturize my hair with a rose spray I found!
The receptionist invited me to the official waiting area, which has an open couch space for seating with pillows. There was even a small station for coffee and tea.
Then, Dr. Shari came out and I softly exhaled before disappearing into the space she set up for the session. The room was quaint and not much different from the massage spaces I’m used to.
Headphones for mindful breathing and meditation hung within arm’s reach which I was stoked to use. Shari instructed me to remove all clothing except my undergarments and make myself comfy, laying face-down underneath a sheet on the table so she could do the general acupuncture first. I put on the headphones and prepared to relax my thoughts into silence. The first prick was a surprise, but nothing I couldn’t handle. It wasn’t so light that I didn’t feel it, and I didn’t consider it very painful.
Since I had put on the headphones, I listened to a recording of Dr. Shari’s voice instruct me with breathing exercises. Before I knew it, every needle was in. I was left in the room alone with breathing exercises and then soft music playing in my ear.
The session lasted about an hour and I barely felt anything when she pulled each needle out. Lastly, she did acupuncture on my face to address my allergies, which was a simpler and shorter process.
Dr. Shari also sent me home with supplements since, per our initial talk, acupuncture was originally done and is most effective when you pair it with herbs. Before I left, the receptionist also explained why I was specifically recommended WTHN's Clean Slate Detox + Reset Formula.
“Detox reduces inflammation in your body,” she explained. “Allergens promote and increase inflammation so when you reduce the effect of allergens in your body, the [allergy] symptoms go down.”
Since Dr. Shari also revealed that acupuncture is most effective when you do it weekly or monthly, I wasn’t expecting to feel much right after the session. But for the first time in six months or so, I felt actual rejuvenation. Not even the massage did that. The massage put me in great spirits and definitely loosened my muscles, but I felt actual physical and mental energy after the acupuncture session. As for my allergies, I noticed that my nasal passages felt much clearer and remained sniffle-free for the rest of my afternoon.
To wrap up my day, I opted for a little comfort food from Peaches, my favorite soul food-inspired haunt in Brooklyn. Steak frites, truffle fries, and whatever the healthy green stuff was made for a deliciously appropriate way to end my first successful self-care day.
As I twisted my hair for bed, I felt incredibly proud. This day was the first time in forever that I had spent all of my time, money, and energy solely on myself from start to finish. I did it externally with the activities I chose, but most importantly, I did it internally with my thoughts and where I directed my energy.
While I will still treat myself to smaller self-care moments that fit my schedule, I hope to keep up these full days of me-time at least once a month. Separating from my phone and making myself the only obligation was great for reducing my anxiety, helping me clear my mental plate, and getting myself ready for projects I have coming up.
It was a pretty dope reminder that — as my grandma showed me in her country garden — life may be hard, but loving yourself and showing it doesn’t always have to be.