The 2017 Illustrated Self-Care Project

“You treat your future self terribly.” Says my husband, as he grabs a bowl to catch the carrot peelings I am flinging around with abandon in the process of making supper.

He’s said this to me many times while I go about making my disasters, leaving expired passports until I can hardly sleep with worry, letting the chili crust up the bowls, staying up wayyy too late for the 3am wake-ups and 6am mornings of babies.

“Girl!” He pleads, exasperated, “be kind to your future self!”

It’s one of those Achimisms I tend to half-consciously dismiss, placing it vaguely, and okay, unfairly, in the category of “Things Achim Does Because He is German and Kind Of Anal.”

I think, pfff. I am pretty kind to myself. I mean, I am not one to deny a treat, when the desire so grabs me. I make time to do things I enjoy. I get that cappuccino* and sit in the sun. Let the dishes sit in the sink, I declare. I shall enjoy this moment.

But on the other hand, I partly do not listen because I feel like I can’t. Listening means changing and I am just too topped up to try and rethink my ways. My wayward brain (that would much rather be off making messes) is too full of trying to feed little mouths and sleep little bodies and generally attempting to keep at least some of those bazillion finicky Being An Adult balls in the air, while somewhat maintaining my happiness and sanity.

“Girl!” He pleads, exasperated, “be kind to your future self!”

But then, as it happens, over the holidays I got this song in my head, from a kids’ album of silly songs. I mean, it played in there for days, so I really couldn’t ignore it. Imagine, if you will, a jaunty marching tune:

“Be kind to your fine feathered friennnnds, for a duck could be sommmebody’s moooother, you may think that this is the ennnnnnnd, and it is.”

Excellent Christmas shopping tune, believe me. Keeps ya movin’! Except, I had subconsciously changed the words slightly. Instead, I sang:

“Be kind to your future-er selllllllllf, for a duck could be somebody’s mother, you may think that this is the ennnnnnnd, and it is.”

Which I know, doesn’t even make sense, really. But still, it marinated in there, as I marched through my frenetic days, taking on a kind of cryptic, warning quality after a while. And one morning after running a bunch of Christmas errands it made me pause. I was walking home with Alida in the stroller. I had a little time, and I had to walk right past the grocery store when it wouldn’t be busy. It occurred to me for a split second that I might go get some things I needed for dinner, but I didn’t really want to. I’d already been running around all morning. I was about pass on by, when the ominous duck song lyrics started pinging around in there. What would it mean for my “future” self, to pass on by right now? Well, I would have to go to the more expensive grocery store later in the day with both kids, when the place would be busy and the kids would be tired. Which would suck. So in a rare moment of forethought, I went in.

And it dawned on me. I may indulge my immediate desires, and be “kind” to my this-exact-moment self, but frankly, overall, I do not treat myself kindly. In fact, I’m kind of an asshole to myself.

Imagine the babysitter came and I said to her, yeah… you have to make dinner. But the kids are going to start melting down in 30 minutes and there’s really nothing to make so you are going to have to bundle them up, take them to the grocery store buy something, I don’t know what, just come up with something (but make sure it’s healthy!), and come home and make it as fast as you can while entertaining two hangry kids and yeahhh, sorry that the kitchen is a disaster and ummm I think all the pans are in the dishwasher and it hasn’t been run yet, so yeah you are going to have to go in there and wash one of them by hand first, and oh yeah it looks like we are out of dish soap. Have fun!

I WOULD NEVER DO THAT TO THE BABYSITTER! It humiliates me to even think about treating her that way and yet… I do this to myself on a regular basis.

It’s the way I treat my later today self and my tomorrow self, but it’s also my longer term future self. I am one of the many (often silent) girls out there who, in the process of carrying beautiful babies inside our bodies for hundreds of days and then miraculously pushing them out into this big gorgeous world through unfathomably small openings, has done some significant damage to all those muscles that generally hold stuff up in place and all together down there. It’s pretty important, like, keeping my bladder inside my body important. But somehow, I do not “find the time” to do my physio. Besides the daily discomforts, this could place me in some serious shit in the future, especially considering I would like to have another baby at some point. I am a freaking occupational therapist! I know this! But here we are…

I do this to myself on a regular basis.

I cannot imagine neglecting the health of my kids or Achim the way I do my own. Just, no. Wouldn’t happen. When Achim had a (benign) tick bite last year I pestered him all day every day, harassing him with text messages and links about Lyme disease until he finally went to the doctor while overseas at a conference to appease me!

Also. I don’t exercise.

I go to bed way, way too late.

I very rarely ask for help (from anyone except my husband), even though I need it.

I put off most miscellaneous acts of adult-ing, like making phone calls about anything administrative or, going to the dentist or getting my hair cut. All of this ends up placing a lot of cumulative stress on me, or as with the haircut, just making me feel like an unkempt mess.

I do eat alright, luckily, but that is mainly because I benefit from making fairly decent, regular meals for my kids. Left on my own, I tend to subsist on apples, cheese and coffee. And my fingernails. Because I ignore my hunger until I end up hunched over my computer like a squirrel chewing the shit out of them.

So it’s probably no surprise that I often move through my days exhausted, agitated, overwhelmed, sick and just generally not able to fully enjoy life or be my best self.

I wish this was an exaggeration, but everything I say here is true. I have been working at it. The fact that I make art regularly now has done incredible things for my well being. And last year I took care of my teeth, after three years without a dental visit. So that was good. And I did get a new passport while in Canada. But these are somewhat isolated incidents. The fact is, I need to change in a big way. I need to learn how to be authentically kind to myself, and I need to actually do it. Not to get too heavy here, but, well, I know the stats. I’ve got a whole lotta reasons (and two little ones in particular) why I’d like to be energetic and able for long time coming.

So. I have decided that is what 2017 is going to be about.

I’m going to stop putting it off, and this year I am going to bravely and creatively tackle the scary, adulty challenge of taking a radically and honestly kind look at myself and my life and my habits and trying to change.

And… lucky you! You can join me on this delightful (treacherous?) voyage! Because I’ve got this thing where I end up being a lot more consistent and motivated when I can roll my life lessons into art and share them. So for every week of 2017, you can find a new “diary” entry here, in various illustrated forms. This year I would like to develop my skills in editorial illustration by making more conceptual or metaphorical illustrations to accompany written pieces, and in narrative illustration, with more autobiographical comic-type stuff and visual storytelling. So these are the forms my diary is likely to take, picturing a mishmash of thoughts, on-going stories and little anecdotes, neurotic analyses, relevant facts and whatever else I may encounter in the process of learning what it means to truly take care of myself.

You can consider this post Diary Entry #1. I am still working on coming up with a name for this series. I hope to have one by next week. I feel like there is something super obvious hanging around but I can’t seem to grab on to it. Suggestions more than welcome!

What about you? What is 2017 about for you? I really love following people’s yearly projects and witnessing them unfold and change. It really moves me to see that development, the unexpected turns it can take, and the ways people handle those changes.

So then! Here we go. Let’s see how this unfolds, shall we?


*As an aside – I recently realised that cappuccinos are way more delicious than lattes. I think it was Tim Hortons and the late 90s that turned me off them with their teeth-achingly sweet beverages. Plus, “latte” just sounded classier. But now I see that I’ve spent a good 15 years living a lie! Cappuccinos are amazing!

UPDATE: Bizarrely, I opened on of my fave podcasts, Happier With Gretchen Rubin, this morning (January 25th), and today’s episode is literally about this exact concept – being kind to your future self. I almost thought they’d gotten the idea from me, lol, but it turns out the idea came from a post from Wil Wheaten’s blog! What!? Anyway, lot’s of good insights in both places, check them out. 🙂

9 thoughts on “The 2017 Illustrated Self-Care Project

  1. Johanna

    This is SO AWESOME lane. And I mean, I completely relate. Also I can hear Achim, what a sweetie, I’m so glad you married him. Let’s do it! It’s almost just a paradigm shift. I’m going to keep achims words as self talk, and maybe even your song. Love you.

  2. Catriona Talbot

    Elena, this is so inspiring! I think I’m going to join this club as well. So many things I’m procrastinating about! Regarding pelvic floor issues, it happens that my cousin’s daughter in the UK has just started a business called Strong to the Core providing workshops to help women deal with pelvic floor issues; last year while she was training to prepare for this enterprise she posted this video of a fringe show about the pelvic floor.

    1. Linda Powell

      Thank you so much I’ve shared it on Facebook. I’ve put it on my Instagram but not as neatly as you. I need to improve my IT skills amongst other stuff. X

  3. Csilla

    Awesome! So true. I have the same problem. Maybe it’s a mom, caregiver thing?!
    Check out
    Seriously, check it out! It’s changing how I do everything. Sign up for her emails….Just do it.
    The Fly Lady’s whole mantra is to be kind to yourself by forming habits and routines. Start small and don’t try to catch up…Just jump in where you are. Seems to fit with what you are trying to do. I’m on the same journey my friend.
    Lots of love,

  4. Iris

    Anyone who says he/she can’t relate to this post is a LIAR 😉 Yet another fantastically eloquently written post. I look forward to meeting up soon and reading your posts in the future on this theme.

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  6. Lisa Savage

    You are so smart and talented and inspiring. This post made me cry. I can relate to you in so many ways and I am so grateful that you are sharing your self-reflection and insight. Thank you!!

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