While Southern California raged last month, Arkansas sulked & wept. Day after day was rainy and glum, until I just wanted to give the weather a good hard slap, tell it to buck up, get a grip for godsake.

It was the kind of autumn weather I grew up with, in Newfoundland: sullen, heavy and grey. Typical fall days in Arkansas are more like the best of a North Atlantic summer: brilliant and crisp, blessed relief from the humidity that buries us indoors from June to September, like a deep northern snow.

I had forgotten how sensitive I am to weather. One day without sun is restful. I burrow in. I make soup and bread. I feel less guilty over things I am not doing. By day two, however, the grey gets inside me. I feel listless and vaguely sad. By day three, I am in despair. Sun, oh my sun, why have you forsaken me?

I am not patient with sadness, unless it comes with a very good reason and a signed note from the doctor. I want to root out the cause, fix it, & move on. This attitude intensifies concentrically. I am more apt to be sympathetic to strangers and casual acquaintances; less so with those near & dear.

With myself, I am brutal. After nearly a week of this weather, I couldn’t stand myself. “What the hell is the matter with you,” I’d think when I looked in the bathroom mirror, or at my planner, or at my house, or at the bathroom scale. “Pull it together!”

I was about two centimeters away from my bathroom mirror, surveying my flaws, picking at flaking skin and clogged pores, when I heard a little voice say, Why are you picking on me?

I pulled back. I was picking on myself. Like the worst schoolyard bully. Sun or no sun, I had to stop being mean, and be good to me.

I had to stop & think about what that would mean. Like most people, I sometimes confuse self-kindness with self-indulgence. Eat the rest of the ice cream. You deserve it. Don’t do your work today. You need a rest. Have another drink. You’ve been so stressed. But that line of thinking is just a crooked path back to self-abuse. Like the “honeymoon” side of the wife-beater. It always smacks you down in the end.

I remembered someone who told me that after her divorce, a friend made her pack herself a thermos of hot soup for work, everyday. She said that everytime she open that thermos of steaming, homemade soup, she knew that someone really cared about her: herself.

I looked in the mirror and tried to soften my focus. I needed a shower. I would start there, and deal later with the question of whether or not I had something nice or even clean to wear, after a week of neglecting the laundry. As I stepped into the tub, I again thought about that thermos of soup. Homemade, not from a can. I thought about how I would treat one of my own precious little boys after a hard week.

I stepped back out of the tub. I dug around in the bathroom closet, and came up with one clean, fluffy towel, and a long-forgotten bottle of wisteria-scented bubble bath, with just enough left in it for one bath. I put the plug in the drain, turned both faucets open and poured it, and myself, in.

And felt like somebody really cared.

What does self-care mean to you? I’d love to have ideas stocked away for the next rainy day.