Squeezing Lemons: Self-Care in Difficult Times

This article may contain affiliate links; if you click on a shopping link and make a purchase I may receive a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Bowl with lemons on textile on table

I believe in the power of positive thinking. When I feel down, I take a moment to force myself to smile (studies show that just by smiling your mood improves) and think about good things. The awesome weather we’re having, last night snuggling with Karl watching Sherlock on his phone, Emerson telling me I am her best friend, hearing my unemployed friend found a great job, that sort of thing. And it usually works. I stop focusing on the craptastic and fill my brain with the fantastic, and the next thing I know; I’m singing along with the radio and looking forward to the rest of the day.

But sometimes, that down won’t go up with a fake smile and a thought of puppies. And while I am positive on this blog, you bet your Jockey Skimmies I have had a lot of down days in the past few months. I’m damn good at making lemonade out of life’s lemons, but sometimes I need to kick myself in the pants to get to squeezing the hell out of those lemons.

Squeezing Lemons: Self-Care in Difficult Times

Many write about self-care, and I often discuss how you can’t properly care for others unless you first care for yourself, but it’s all a bunch of gentle incense burning meditating post-it notes of YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL! bullshit when you’re in thick. I’ve tried meditation apps and videos, self-help books, morning walks but my head is spinning and what’s spinning in there isn’t puppies and blue skies.

When I was younger, I could cure this brain tornado with something drastic. A tattoo, a piercing, a new hair color, white water rafting, a new job, a trip somewhere new. But with 40 right around the corner, a family and a mortgage I can’t just up and run to Costa Rica or quit my job. But that doesn’t mean I can’t DO SOMETHING. And that SOMETHING is self care.

personal beautification is a gateway to self-care

I’m a vain, superficial person. Come on, we all know it, I run a FASHUN BLOG for God’s sake. And when I think I look good, I feel better. For years I maxed out credit cards in an attempt to feel better about myself and it gave a temporary fix, but left me more miserable. But personal beautification IS a gateway to self care; it forces you to realize the bod you’re in, take time to focus on it, improve it, and thereby think better of it and yourself.

When the doctor confirmed that, yep, the arm was re-broken and yep I’d need to go through surgery again, I was devastated. Pull over my car to the side of the road and scream and cry until I was ill devastated. Get home, see my mom (who was watching Em so I could go to the doctor) and begin sobbing again in my Mommy’s arms devastated. Tearing up right now thinking about that day devastated.

I gave myself that weekend to be a mega Boo Boo Kitty. I slept a lot, I cried a lot… and yes I drank a lot. I didn’t shower, I never put on a bra, and I listened to a lot of sad music from my angsty high school days. Come Monday, I put on a brave face for my last three days at the office and got shit done.

I thought about puppies and forced many smiles while I wrapped up loose ends at the office though my personal loose ends began fraying.  That Thursday lying in the surgery center waiting for my turn I gave up trying to be brave and mature and cried some more, curled up in the fetal position (as fetal as possible with a nerve block).

holding myself accountable

But after I got out of surgery? I decided I wasn’t going to be the miserable sack on the couch I was last time. I was going to DO SOMETHING, and I made a decision that if DOING SOMETHING didn’t help, I would SEE SOMEBODY. And I told my husband this, making it concrete, holding myself accountable.

Each day of my short-term disability, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and put on a bra. Each day I drank at least eight glasses of water (we'd make a pitcher of Belly Water  – delicious and beneficial). Each day I ate a proper breakfast. Very simple things, things I knew I could commit to, even in a Percocet haze. Once I had those down pat, I added to the list.

I would go outside for at least 15 minutes to get fresh air. I resumed dry brushing each morning, something I used to do a decade ago but somehow forgot about (this is a great e-book to teach you a gentle way to incorporate this habit, written by someone who had been in a very dark place). I started walking each morning, the first day just to the entrance of my court and back, the next day to the end of the block and back, and up to 30 minutes with no distance or intensity goals. Very simple things, not adding one until I had gotten to a comfortable place with the previous.

results after two weeks

After two weeks, I returned to the doctor feeling incredibly rested and positive. I chose a hot pink cast, and that night I swiped on some hot pink lipstick to match (Revlon’s LacquerBalm in Vivacious) and went to a party with friends. The next night, I accompanied Karl to a local café where he was hired to photograph the band. Though it was a place where I could wear shorts and a tee shirt, I put on a fancy dress, did up my hair, and again wore the hot pink lipstick. Fuck this cast, it’s not going to get me down. I am amazing, and I am going to continue to be amazing.

But with a cast came real life. Back to work, back to the DC commute, back to bills and car repairs, problems with the blog switching to WordPress (um hello losing all my Feedly subscribers and 75% of my comments), job stresses, home stresses, and all that stuff that on a normal day I can handle no problem, but with a hot encased arm that’s giving me a bit of claustrophobia and making daily tasks all the more complicated, well that darkness started returning.

Lemon-squeezing acts of Self-Care

But I’m fighting it, dammit, and with each act of self care, I squeeze those lemons a bit harder and add more sugar to that lemonade.  Some lemon-squeezing acts I'm performing:

  • Dry Brushing. Seriously, it’s amazing what a $10 brush can do for the mood and the body. I can’t do yoga or exercise much, but in three minutes each morning and evening, I have seen my legs more toned, my skin glow, and I get a charge that keeps my pumped enough in the morning that I can sometimes go without coffee or at least wait until I get to work.
  • Walking. I promise myself I don’t have to do more than 30 minutes, I don’t have to do a certain distance, and I can even take a route that is completely flat. but I have to do it. In my bathroom are my shorts, bra, and tee shirt. I fumble in the dark for socks and underwear, go in the bathroom, dry brush and brush my teeth, get dressed, and go downstairs to drink a big glass of water, put on my shoes and go out the door. No checking email, no letting out the dog, no turning on lights. I started doing this in silence but found I was more motivated with music. Now I’m mixing it up by listening to audiobooks.
  • Beauty Treat. When I feel fat and none of my wardrobe works with my cast and I see some comment on the web saying something not nice I want to go to Nordstrom or ASOS and drop some money. But a new dress or bag won’t fix things, it will only spend money I don’t have (twice-broken arms are NOT cheap). My replacement is CVS. I let myself go in there and buy ONE THING. Maybe it’s a new hair product, maybe a lip gloss or body scrub. Just one thing, and I pay cash so I can’t go bonkers. And then I go home and give myself a half hour to play with that new thing alone.
  • Hair Maintenance. Last week, my sister came over and dyed my hair for me. Two weeks prior I shared an Instagram photo boasting about my great hair, but since then split ends had grown and my hair had faded to a sad light brown and grays were all over the place. I can hardly style my hair as it is with the cast, and the dreary head of fried locks made me feel old and lame. Oh the power of a box of Natural Instincts and a good friend, I now feel like I can conquer the world.
  • Sleep When Tired. I try to be Super Woman. I get up early to blog and look nice for work, I work a minimum of eight hours with an hour commute each way, I come home and spend quality time with my daughter, and once I put her to bed, spend quality time with my husband. Weekends, I cram in errands, chores around the house, community events, birthday parties and dance class, time with loved ones and the occasional Date Night or Girl Friend Brunch. And next thing I know, I’m cranky and sick miserable; so tired my stomach hurts and my head is pounding. Who wants to hang out with a bitch? I promote quality instead of quntity on the blog, I need to do it with my life. So if I’m tired at 9pm, I go to sleep even if my only QT with Karl was a kiss when I walked in the door from work and he was walking out to teach. If just thinking about my weekend makes me hyperventilate, I cancel. I’m okay with saying no, my true friends will still love me even if I haven’t shared a cocktail with them in months, and I know my child will grow to be a fabulous human being even if she hasn’t been to the children’s museum or zoo in over a year.
  • Music. I have a Spotify membership and I make damn good use of it. I have playlists for walking, for driving, for bathing, for doing my hair. I learn about new artists from Bust or Rolling Stone and add their albums and listen to them straight through three times before passing judgment. I sing in the car, I sing while weeding, and I air guitar, drum, and wail while walking in the morning. Karl and I discuss music, we watch ACL or Palladia together (and often with Emerson) and Date Night, more often than not, includes a concert. Music keeps me current and keeps me curious. It gives me words for my pain and my joy, and it helps me realize all the feelings I am feeling aren’t felt by me alone. And it gets me up off the couch!
  • Get Gussied Up for No Reason. Last week I was battling a summer cold, bad hair, and a bad outlook on life. It was tempting to throw on my office equivalent of pajamas (knit or ponte pants and a jersey top), but instead I got up a bit earlier and did myself up as though I had somewhere special to go. I curled my hair (which with a cast is a feat of flexibility), did my whole face (more than one color of eye shadow and concealer!), put on a dress and heels. This with freshly dyed hair, new lipstick, new tunes to listen to on the way to work, and a big-ass fake smile helped make smiles later that day genuine.

Some darkness can’t be improved with a box of hair dye or a new lipstick. My father battled depression and I am all too aware of its power and need for professional care. But sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a kick in the pants to get out of a funk, to get us back to squeezing those lemons and make a big cold glass of lemonade.  I don't know, maybe sharing my methods of self care could help you think of some ways to get through a dark patch.

You’re a phenomenal person, and you deserve to feel good. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of hokey mumbo jumbo, but you need to care for yourself  before you can truly care for another. Self care is important, you and those who love you deserve it!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

Did you like what you just read?

Consider tapping here to buy me a coffee in thanks. The best gift you can give a content creator is the gift of sharing. Consider sharing this article on Facebook or Pinterest. Thank you so much for your support!

Similar Posts


  1. I am finally catching up on your blog after seeing your tweet about not exercising so you don’t ruin a new hairdo. I’m pkzcass by the way.
    Anyway, I really needed to read this today. I’ve had a million and one excuses why I’ve stopped doing all of the things that made me feel good about myself, e.g., eating healthy, decluttering my house, doing another round of Project 333, studying for a licensing exam for work, and exercising. As a result, the places I’ve decluttered are filled back up with crap, I’ve eaten my way out of all of my pants and have to wear skirts/dresses till I take off some extra pounds, I can barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded, I’ve been spending too much money on clothes, and I am nowhere near ready to take the exam I need for work, even though I took a class for it at the end of April.
    Back when I was in a funk like this before, I picked the one thing that would make me feel best and concentrated on that. At the time, it was losing weight. This time, it is again losing weight, but I can’t just put everything else aside and focus on that, because my life is too busy right now. I’m still trying to figure out how to approach changing my bad habits, but at the very least, you have inspired me to start. right.now.
    I’m so glad you’re back and feeling better. You truly are terrific. Oh, and because of your post on skimmies, I got myself some and my life has been transformed.
    Have a beautiful evening!

    1. Thank you so much and you GO GIRL! I’m listening to an audiobook from Brene Brown on my commute to work and this morning she said something to the effect of a mediocre X is better than a perfect Y that never sees the light of day. Doing one small thing is far better than lofty goals to do big things that are never accomplished. I hope you too have a beautiful evening! <3

  2. Well said Allie! Personally, this could not have come at a better time. Thank you for putting a voice to what many of us out here are feeling too! Take care. <3

  3. Great honest post. But wondering if the latest feeling bad episode of yours coincided with premenstrual days. As someone who never experienced any PMS in my life I have found, over the last few years starting around age 37, I have a few days where I can get crazy sad. Each month. Definitely related to my cycle and something about that time of month being the lowest point for feel good hormones. Each month now, I brace myself for it and when I feel sad those days I try to remind myself that it’ll be better in a few.

    1. I do agree PMS has become different and in some ways worse as I aged, but this has been consistent and at the same time as some personal tragedies, deaths of loved ones, and my arm injury. But a great point, thank you!

  4. This post is exactly why I have been an Allie-fan for over 7 years. Allie- love <3

  5. Oh my dear, don’t refer to yourself as “vain and superficial”. Too negative. Clothing and adornment and fashion and style are about creativity and art.

    Plus, your writing cuts right to the heart of things and makes you extra great at connecting with us, your loyal audience.


  6. Alison,
    You have no idea how your words rang so true with me, nobody ever said that to me, but you. Thank you.

  7. Keep on fighting for the light! Thanks so much for sharing this, I think it will help me and a lot of others.

  8. I think you have displayed incredible restraint and maturity about this second-cast experience.

  9. Oh Allie, I hear you! As a long time depression sufferer I understand the darkness. And yes, sometimes something superficial like a new lipstick or a fresh attitude can be all you need to lift yourself out of a bad mood. But then there’s the other days… I have learnt over many years of denial, trial and error, and medication that some things work for me and some things don’t.
    When I have those days where things are getting really bad and all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never come out I have what I call my ‘just’ plan. I tell myself ‘just sit up’, and I sit up in bed. Then it’s ‘just get out of bed’, and I do. Then ‘just take a shower’, ‘just brush your hair’, ‘just put on something pretty’, ‘just do your makeup’, ‘just eat breakfast’ and so on and so forth until I’m back into my routine and going about my day. I may not be Ms Happy-go-lucky doing it, but I’m doing it. Yes, there really are times you just have to fake it ’til you make it! This mindset, plus regular exercise, cutting back on alcohol and the support of those close to me have seen me medication free for 12 months (this time, no one said it was easy!) even with a diagnosis of ‘biological’ factors that mean I will always have depression in my life.
    Keep up the positive thinking Allie, but remember you’re only human. And that’s why we love you 🙂

    1. You go girl! I am impressed by your strength and honored that you shared your story. And thank you, I’ve never been good with putting up a glossy life is perfect facade, and I’m so happy to have found a community of good people like you who want some human-ness in the blogosphere and let me be messy human me <3

  10. I’m a month past ankle surgery #4, which hopefully will be the end of 18 months of botched surgeries, chronic pain, crutches, walking boots, being crippled, and fear of never walking normally again. Shockingly, I’ve also had a hefty whack of depression. I have cried, felt sorry for myself, holed up in my house, and eaten my share of angst cupcakes too. I’ve done a good job faking it on the outside, but it’s been really hard. Now that I’m physically recovering, I’m trying to pull myself back together emotionally too.

    I’ve never been a huge fashion blog reader, but part of self-care for me right now has been judicious indulgence in pretty things, and I found your blog (through GOMI, no less) a few weeks ago. I’m really glad now that I did.

    1. I’m glad you did too! My best to you during the physical and not so obvious healing from such a tragedy. Sending vibes of strength your way. I know everyone else in your life is probably telling you it’s not that bad, at least it’s not X or Y, see the positive yadda yadda… if you want to talk real, feel free to email me, it’s nice to sometimes have someone to vent to who won’t judge and slightly gets it. I have a friend in TX who damaged her arm and wrist a couple weeks after me; her injuries are far more severe but we’ve had a good time laughing about the silly things people say, helped each other with suggestions on how to bathe and do at-home PT, etc. If you’d like, do reach out 🙂

  11. Hi Allie when you are in the dark place all the platitudes in the world are just that
    Yes sometimes taking care of me is the only way before I can take care of you But you are doing the right thing I a firm believer that you can reatrain your brain I love Dr Caroline Leaf’s 21 day detox Look her up you might not agree with her but it sure helprd me.
    You are an amazing blogger just thougth I would tell you and affirm you today.

  12. Oh, Allie, I love you! As well as all your great suggestions here. I often get into some sort of funk, have bouts of depression, and will absolutely try everything you mention here. I am going to print out this column to have it handy.
    Thank you for being you, and thank you for having the courage to be you ( the real you, if you see what I mean).

  13. I hope that things brighten for you soon, Allie, and I’m sure things will. Chin up! (btw, I want to kindly point out a tiny needed edit in your post. Under the “Sleep when tired” section you typed “I promote quality instead of quality on the blog” and I’m certain you meant to type “quality instead of quantity…”) Have a good day!

      1. oh goodness — the cast made you miss your “a” in quantity. When it rains it pours — dance in it! 🙂

  14. Good work, Allison. Just make sure that you don’t measure your inner worth by whether or not you can accomplish these seemingly small tasks. As someone who has recovered from more than one major surgery, I understand how daunting it can be–how there is never a “day off” from the discomfort or inconvenience–how draining and time consuming it is to do the simplest of things, like put on a bra! Keep taking care of yourself, and lean on those you love on days when it’s just too hard.

  15. Loved this post. A lot! Especially the CVS trick. I have a CVS right across from my apt and sometimes one little new lip gloss does indeed serve as a great pick me up. Thanks for sharing this & I’m glad you’re feeling better! 🙂

  16. what you’re talking about, Allison, is taking control. When we feel like victims, we go nowhere. When we accept responsibility and take control of our lives, we get back on track. You’ve done a good job.

  17. Totally agree with everything. Sometimes you just need the kick in the pants to turn your life in the direction you really want to be. I am totally there with you. Not the whole broken arm, but just life choices and choosing to be happier with myself.

  18. This was one of your best posts ever. I so admire your strength and humor! And–it’s okay to be down sometimes, of course. But you are wise to find all these fantastic ways to take care of yourself. Thanks for sharing all this with your readers, giving us inspiration and practical ideas for when the going gets tough–as it will inevitably for everyone at some time.

  19. Thanks for this post Allie, so simple yet so true. Self care isn’t always easy for me to do but when I do it, everybody benefits. Thanks for the reminder!

  20. Sometimes I feel like such a negative Nelly, just because everyone else in my life seems to have everything together. Reading your entry reminded me that in spite of outward appearances, everyone has their issues. Some people are just better at hiding it than others – but why should we hide how we really feel? Thanks for writing this!

  21. Good for you! I especially like your understanding of “plane crash mode”, you need to save your own life and put your mask on first, then you can help someone else.

    Small, manageable goals = success = willingness to try the next thing! Yay for you!

  22. Good morning, Allie! Really enjoyed this thoughtful and rich post at a time when I’m finding most of the usual blogs I follow doing nothing but content light these days. So, thank you! I mentioned in a comment yesterday that I’ve been in a similar funk, also due to a series of completely shitty events one after the other in the past few months, starting with a guy driving his truck through our den — we live at the top of a steep hill, so figure that one out — and “ending” (please God) with an identity theft that resulted, among other things, in bouncing our check to the IRS. Super. Anyway, all just major inconveniences in the scheme of life, but in total and with all the usual daily responsibilities, they’ve done me in for a bit. I’ve wanted to batten the hatches and do nothing with or for myself or others. I’ve kept moving, but man what a chore. As with all things, this will pass, and your post is a nice reminder that keeping moving is often times the key to pushing through the crap phases and on out to the other side. I’m headed to the gym and a facial today and then I’m gonna buy that brush! Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  23. I love this so much. So much in fact, I just bought that $10 brush on Amazon! Ha! I have been wanting to try dry brushing forever as I have heard many others say its beneficial for reasons beyond smoothing skin. You are a wonderful person, Alison! Your writing is raw and inspiring and honest and everything that readers want and (like today) need to hear. I battle the 1+ hour DC commute blues off and on, too. It makes everyone around me miserable but I am working on self-care that will keep me (and my inner-circle) much more positive! Great tips. Thrive!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *