Learning To Be A Better Human: Self-Care With Anupa Mistry

by Sara Black McCulloch


A couple of years ago, I had this weird pang of I-don’t-know-what. It sent me reeling and second-guessing myself in every possible way. Instead of riding it out, or trying to figure out why I felt that way, I tried to get ten steps ahead of myself. This only made things worse. I think there’s always one point in your life when you’re finally confronted with the idea of how people see you. And it’s going to be pretty different from how you see yourself. The easy thing to do is internalize that projection or take it to heart. Is this a way to resolve that cognitive dissonance? I don’t know!

What is easy to forget, while you’re in the midst of your own solipsism, is that other people are going through it, too. And when Anupa Mistry talked about experiencing self-doubt, I found myself comforted. I can’t decide, at times, what self-care means to me, but I know that one of my goals is to be ok with myself when I’m doing well and when I’m not.

Here, Anupa discusses enjoying her own company, listening to her gut, and ignoring that FOMO.

Sara: I wanted to start by asking you what self-care means to you. How do you define it for yourself?

Anupa: I don’t know if I’ve ever defined self-care. It’s just a thing that vaguely looks like **taking space for myself** that I’ve always made time for, ever since I was young. I’ve always been conscious of this allowance, even if I didn’t identify it as self-care.

SBM: What do you do when you take space for yourself?

AM: Oh man, whatever. Growing up, it meant literally just being alone. I’ve always loved being alone. I get physically exhausted when I’m out in the world too much. Lately, I’m more into conspicuous self-care: working out, getting 7–8 hours sleep, taking time to look nice, re-applying lipstick. That aspect of self-care is very new to me, and I’m digging it. It goes beyond solitary pursuits too — taking space for yourself is a good way of putting it — and extends into my professional life too: asserting myself, trusting my instincts, feeling and inhabiting authoritativeness.

SBM: What are some aspects of your me-time that are crucial to your self-care and well-being?

AM: Being alone is a pretty big one. Before Trust Issues Live, I was having drinks with a friend who was talking about how public speaking energized him and helped him to feel recharged and how it was this overwhelmingly positive, necessary thing. It’s totally the opposite for me; being out in the world is draining. It doesn’t mean I won’t have a good time, but I definitely need solitude to feel balanced and somewhat sane. Because I work a full-time job and write in my free time and like hanging out with people, this means that I generally have spurts of being super on and out and about and then bouts of being low-key and at home. I’d like to be better at managing this so it’s not six-months-on, six-months-off, but maybe that’s the effect of Toronto summer and not entirely me.

SBM: I used to think that socializing was supposed to be relaxing but, do you feel as though you have to be “on” too sometimes? Do you feel that conspicuous self-care allows you, in a way, to reconnect, or at least hear yourself out once in awhile?

AM: I’ve never found socializing to be a relaxing activity. Would it be weird to say that self-care isn’t about hearing myself out, but about me liking my own company the best? Is that the same thing? A few years ago I interviewed one of my favourite producers, Madlib, who is a pretty solitary dude, and he said that isolation teaches you how to like yourself. Liking yourself. I think that is probably the ultimate goal of self-care, no?

SBM: Oh wow! That’s interesting.

AM: No shade!!! Loneliness is a very real thing. I will say that after years of really unintentionally honouring my self-care, I’ve been experiencing fewer and fewer bouts of loneliness. That’s not to say that I don’t ever feel lonely and like, oh god, we are all obnoxious, busy city people, so are we ever really alone? But it’s jarring to have this very physiological need to be alone, feeling lonely as a result of pulling back, and then having to process that tension. I think that’s an act of self-care too, right? Learning to be okay with yourself, even in your not-so-okay moments? Does this make sense?

SBM: Oh yes! But can you expand on that tension you’re talking about? I find that so interesting. And you’re absolutely right in saying that we need to be ok with ourselves at our best and worst.

AM: The tension: my body is telling me to stay in, and my brain or my FOMO or whatever is like but why do you want to be by yourself, look, everyone is out having fun without you! What helps ease this is that I tend to default to my body a lot more than my brain when making most life decisions. I want to ask you this though: Do you make decisions with your body (your gut) or your mind? Because I feel like so many of us are thinking our way through things and that’s why shit is weird and hard.

SBM: I hear my gut screaming and I ignore it.

AM: Why!!!

SBM: Because, for some time — and I’m getting over this very slowly — I’ve always assumed I was wrong about everything. Like, I just didn’t trust my own instincts even though I was proven right down the line.

AM: You know what’s funny? I think I’m wrong about so much but I feel like I’m at the mercy of my intuition. I don’t know how else to be. There’s nothing wrong about trusting in your intuition even if it yields an unexpected outcome or a “bad” outcome.

SBM: I wonder if it feels wrong because it’s nothing we can prove — Like when you get a bad vibe from someone or whatever. Do you ever feel like you need proof? I think that with self-care, through just paying attention to myself, I’m learning, at least, that sometimes you just don’t need proof, you need to listen?

AM: I know that I no longer have to prove shit to anyone except myself. But I have felt that way and sometimes, usually around my period — I have moments of self-doubt. You have to make the body, the gut, your baseline…if you want to! I’m also a very indecisive person when it comes to every day decision-making so I just feel like for the big things it’s foolproof; it’s always right if you trust in yourself.

SBM: Have you ever felt selfish in being all about self-care and enjoying yourself? Do you think that self-care is misconstrued as self-indulging at the expense of others?

AM: NOPEEE. If I’m not gonna be about me, then who is? So, like, growing up I didn’t really fit in. I had friends and stuff, but I just was never like the other kids, maybe because I was super bright. So I understand the impulse to want it, but I’ve never fully sought certain kinds of validation and reassurance from friendships. And my mum was great but not particularly emotionally nurturing. I wonder if how I am now, wanting to be there for myself, is in response to always having to always take care of myself. Like, that’s why it feels natural and not selfish — it’s in response to my environment and not this cultivated thing.

And ultimately it is self-indulgent though, isn’t it? That’s okay, as long as you’re not a shit person.

SBM: What do you mean when you say “all about self-care”? Does this involve resolutions or any kind of goal-setting?

AM: I just mean that I’ve always long been into self-improvement, being a better person. I don’t have resolutions per se, and I’m definitely not a saint, but I pride myself on being the type of person who actively learns and grows from conflict. The idea of living a life where I repeat the same mistakes over and over again terrifies me. Much of this kind of self-care is done through reflection (taking time for myself to think, journal, be alone) or through the help of a therapist. Lately, it’s evolved into more of a self-care lifestyle…taking care of myself/time for myself by committing to a gym routine, the makeup stuff, selfies as affirmation. I have to note that I think this anxiety to ‘be better’ is definitely an extension of not feeling good enough, or likeable enough, as a kid. So now, self-care also involves asserting myself and allowing myself to appear ‘unlikeable.’

SBM: Was there ever a time where you struggled to see yourself as a person of substance? Were there tough questions you asked yourself, too?

AM: Substance is pretty subjective, no? But, yeah, I mean one of the things of growing up not-cute is that you experience being underestimated and undervalued and undesired in very immediate ways. If you’re able, you can channel that negative energy into being bright, thoughtful, caring, inquisitive, empathetic and a person of ‘substance.’ That is to say, no, I have never struggled with it. I think I have a lot of substance.

SBM: Are you ever too hard on yourself?

AM: Literally every day. I don’t know if it’ll get better; I want to try though. A big thing that I recently read about was the million micro-instances in which we negate ourselves every day. So I think we tend to think of one or two big issues we have with ourselves and say ‘yeah that’s me being hard on myself,’ but it also comes in the form of the minute guilts and anxieties we feel. The little things we instinctively say “no I can’t” to every day.

But yeah, my romantic non-status and perpetual career woes are a massive source of difficulty for me; I hate on myself constantly for not being where I want to be. But it’s also weird right, because this doesn’t come from a place of low self-esteem but from thinking I’m the shit and being so exasperated that my circumstances don’t reflect that or, should I say, don’t reflect what I want.

SBM: How does this play out in writing and keeping at it? Have you ever felt like you could burn out or quit, and has self-care helped you in some way?

AM: Omg. Do you know that I’m only just now starting to trust myself as a writer again? I went through an extended S.A.D. phase in the winter of 2013 that lasted through that summer and it heavily impacted my writing. I began to question everything: my ideas, my intelligence, whether I was actually even any good or if everyone was just lying to me. It was so bad.

Self-care didn’t directly help me get through that, but my practice of putting my emotional security first did allow me to trust (reluctantly) in my body to go through what it needed to go through, even though it was maddening.

SBM: How did you let yourself feel that through?

AM: I was anxious and sad and frustrated all the time. The things I’d learned about intuition just helped me talk myself down. I sent so many hot mess pitches and forfeited so many good opportunities because I didn’t think I was good enough. The only thing I could do was retreat to my baseline and be like “okay this is dumb but you’re going through something.”

SBM: At that point, was your self-care routine — did it feel like a way of correcting something, or drowning out the noise? Were you working on some kind of routine?

AM: I know I have so much more to learn in life, but I feel like that’s when I had an ‘aha’ moment about taking guilt-free time for myself, and also that my gut/intuition was an ally: because eventually I started to crave company again, and even later, I regained some confidence in my writing.

It didn’t become a routine, more like a method? Now when I feel certain things come up I know that it means I need to stay in and do me, or go home early without feeling guilty, or take the morning off from the gym, or buy that overpriced salad. I love overpriced salads. The more expensive the tastier it is.

SBM: Absolutely. Is there a difference between a method and a routine?

AM: Method feels more thought out? I have a routine too: I work out 4–5 mornings a week, I luxuriate in the 20 minutes it takes to put my makeup on in the morning. But the emotional stuff, the more reflexive stuff, feels like a method.

SBM: What does your makeup routine look like and have you changed it up recently?

AM: I have completely overhauled my makeup routine. Someone recently referred to my new high-velocity routine as #RadicalVanity, which I guess is a thing, but I don’t like the idea of situating myself as somehow more enlightened than, like, every other girl I know who loves makeup? I don’t know, maybe I’ve got the concept all wrong. Anyway, I just discovered FOUNDATION and it has changed my life. Specifically Makeup Forever’s HD Face & Body. I used to do just use concealer and powder but foundation is a game-changer.

My routine goes: primer, foundation, concealer, contour/highlight, set, blush, brows, eyeliner, mascara and then lipstick. I’m obsessed with MUFE’s Aqua Brow gel and Stila’s All Day Liquid Lipstick in Aria, which is this vibrant berry colour. I definitely look more “done” than I ever have in my 15+ years of wearing makeup, but I like it. The routine is super soothing and the girls at my gym who I get ready with in the mornings, who are like bottle service girls or corporate types, always compliment me on how it looks. My forbidden crush also told me I looked pretty and glowing the last time I saw him and that made me feel good too.

One of my personal fav tweets from the last little while has to do with self-care.

SBM: Which one?


pettiness as self-care

— anupa (@_anupa) April 15, 2015

SBM: Oooh, pettiness — here’s what I also wanted to ask: Can caring too much be self-care? Or can it be destructive?

AM: I think caring too much is destructive when it starts to leach into your behaviour. It’s one thing to indulge and honour (lol, sorry) your feelings. It’s another thing — and i’m speaking specifically to pettiness here — when you start to act reckless. Self-care isn’t about primacy of self at the expense of everyone else; it’s about learning to be a better human.

SBM: Do you ever compartmentalize your feelings? Or do you feel them through and let them happen?

AM: This happens sometimes. I think a lot of it is residue from a relationship I was in six years ago with this guy who actually did talk about his feelings, but when the thing unravelled he completely shut down, did the whole “you’re too emotional” gaslighting crap and made me feel like I was totally insane. Shortly after that, the uncle I was closest to had a stroke and I remember being so blocked I couldn’t even cry. That messed with me so so much. I think I’ve undone a lot of that and made emoting a priority again. BUT I’ve also learned when emotionally reacting can be detrimental to yourself and your partner. Now, I compartmentalize more in my friendships. Recently I sent these hella soft emails to a bunch of my girlfriends about something shitty that had been done to me and how I felt unsupported in the wake of it, but how that was basically my fault anyway because I’d acted super nonchalant or nonplussed/”STRONG.” Why would people assume I needed to be coddled like a giant baby if I hadn’t asked for the help? It was a hard e-mail to send but everyone responded with love and the goal of sending it was to actively work against compartmentalizing.

SBM: What was one of the hardest parts of discovering yourself or figuring yourself out?

AM: My best friend called me out on my impatience years ago and I continue to struggle with it. To that end, LOL → It continues to be a struggle to feel like a lot of people aren’t as committed to knowing themselves. I’m trying hard to see it as less linear — people arrive at their own pace and on their own terms — while understanding that I need to be around people who are on the same frequency. I think this is the thing that is behind so many dissolved friendships and relationships; people just not working through their stuff at the same pace. Earl Sweatshirt recently tweeted this and it’s just perfect, he’s so bout it: “if you really with me, than (sic) grow upwards with me. That’s the best form of support anyone could present to me as proof of authenticity.”

Previously: A Pair Of Eyes And A Brain

Photo by Cris Saliba.

Sara Black McCulloch is a writer living in Toronto. Mute her on the Internet here.