When I went to live on Orcas Island in the fall of 2012, I knew it was time to make some changes. In a recent moment of self-reflection, I’d come to understand that I’d placed myself on a psychological hamster wheel several years before, and it was time to leap off. So the second the ferry docked on the island, I thought, Okay, I’m making two personal commitments. One: I will abandon worry. Two: I will practice self-care. Easy enough. Then I laughed in my head for a really long time.
As a professional, I had focused on self-care for years (to be clear: other people’s self-care. Not my own, silly). I was even invited by a variety of community agencies to conduct trainings on that topic, which I secretly found hilarious since I didn’t practice what I preached AT ALL. During the trainings, I’d hear the words coming out of my mouth and think, This woman makes sense. I should listen to her. But I didn’t.
As it turned out, Orcas was a magical wonderland, so the first step – abandoning worry – was easier than expected. Worry is both uncomfortable and counterproductive, so my rational self kicked it to the curb with relative ease, despite a lifetime of honing the art of fretful self-torture. Whenever I caught myself envisioning a series of potential worst case scenarios (I am extremely skilled at that), I engaged helpful mantras like, “That’s not gonna happen,” or, “Stop it, Kelly. That’s a bad Kelly.”
I was similarly structured about the self-care commitment, in that I scheduled it in on a weekly basis. Every Thursday was designated as Special Treat Day, and I allotted myself $20 to do with as I wished. For the remainder of the week, I spent money only on groceries and gasoline. My stomping grounds were the woods, the waterfront, my house, the local animal shelter where I volunteered, and the library.
Libby & Shadow Me on the Eastsound waterfront
But on Special Treat Day, I explored non-free ventures. The San Juan Islands are touristy and expensive, so the $20 didn’t go too far, but I still had opportunities to eat food I hadn’t prepared myself and sip fancy coffee drinks, and it felt downright luxurious. Sometimes I didn’t even spend the $20. I’d just grab a cookie at Teezer’s and travel to parts of the island that were outside of my normal routine.
Like the lovely Olga Pier, for example
When I found out that walk-on passengers could ferry from island to island for free, I began to plan Special Treat Days off Orcas. The best one took place on Lopez Island, a sweet little place where everyone waves from their cars (you can find this information in every article ever written about Lopez Island). It was 4 miles from the ferry landing to town, so I had plenty of opportunities to exchange waves with passing motorists as I walked along the beautiful, bucolic terrain.
Practicing the Lopez Wave upon arrival
When I finally got to town, I discovered that both of the places I’d planned to go (a cafe and a vineyard) were only open on weekends, but I didn’t care because it was Special Treat Day, and being disappointed on a day with that name is unacceptable. Instead of having sad feelings, I changed course and decided to take a different route back to the ferry. While I tried (and failed) to find a trail to the beach, I came upon a herd of adorable, horned fuzzballs.
Who needs a beach when you’ve got wooly cows?
I also found a cool park and a really nice mushroom.
So it turned out to be a good day, anyhow, and since then I’ve dreamed of returning to Lopez Island, ideally for a few months, to wander around, wave at strangers, go to that vineyard, and write the third book of Aret.
Shadow Me (bottom left) on a Special Treat Day in Moran State Park
If it’s at all possible, I highly recommend incorporating a regular self-treating experience into your life. If you can’t manage every week, try for once a month, or however often is feasible. Looking forward to something – even if it’s just a cookie – can have a marvelous effect on one’s mental health. (I now say that from experience, not just as a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do trainer.)
However, if you should happen to name your self-treating venture “Special Treat Day,” I do not recommend ever abbreviating it. I did that once in my journal, and…that didn’t happen again. The day really loses its magic when you see the words: I’m so excited for my STD.