“No Bones Days” and the Normalization of Self-Compassion

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Even if you’re not on TikTok, you’ve likely heard about Noodle, the 13-year-old pug who has rocketed to stardom with his daily Bones/No Bones forecasts. Each morning his owner, Jon, gives Noodle a loving back massage before picking him up to a standing position and seeing whether Noodle stands up on his own or flops back down into the bed as if he has suddenly lost all his bones. If Noodle stands up, it’s a Bones Day, and if he falls right back down, it’s a No Bones Day, and it’s time for some serious self-compassion.

Jon follows up with recommendations for viewers based on what kind of day Noodle has predicted. If it’s a Bones Day, Jon advises harnessing that energy to take your day to the next level, and if it’s a No Bones Day, he advocates for “soft pants and soft lighting” and an extra level of self-care. His advice is a little humorous and exaggerated for effect at times, but it almost always boils down to “be gentle with yourself and honor whatever your body and mind are asking for today.” Self-compassion might actually be a radical concept right now.

This silly TikTok account has struck a deeper chord with many people because it’s so refreshing to have a real conversation about the fact that we are not robots and are allowed to have different mental and physical energy levels each day. American culture has been fixated on some version of “the hustle” for as long as the idea of the American Dream has existed. We are taught that real commitment means working harder and longer than others. We celebrate stories of pushing past our limits to achieve greatness. “Lazy” is one of the worst things you can call someone, and many of us feel shame on a daily basis about not being able to live up to the ideals of perfection that our society reveres.

This pressure is arguably even more intense for moms, who are expected to be “selfless” at every turn, even as our responsibilities grow heavier and support becomes increasingly scarce. In addition to being the ideal wife, employee, daughter, friend, volunteer, neighbor, we have to be “the perfect mom,” and that’s a job description that could extend into infinity if we let it. And the pandemic has only made motherhood even harder.

I (like so many other moms) live with depression and anxiety, so the tension between society’s expectations and my varying levels of capacity is even more extreme. Some days I wake up in a deep pit of self-loathing and despair, completely disconnected from any feelings of purpose or direction. On those days, I am consumed with an overwhelming certainty that I’m worthless and nothing matters. It can take hours to dig myself out of the pit enough to fulfill my basic responsibilities. And usually, I’m beating myself to a pulp inside my mind for even having this challenge, making it even more difficult to get out of the pit.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I’ve had in managing my mental illness (other than taking medication for it) is using self-compassion and radical acceptance to make peace with the unpredictability of my moods. I’ve found that when I use self-compassion to embrace whatever mental and physical energy I have, I get out of the pit much faster and can even end up having a really great, productive day. Setting a tone of tenderness toward myself is somehow the most effective combat strategy against the monsters in my mind. 

So while you might not experience the same challenges I do, I hope you’ll allow Noodle to help you give yourself self-compassion when you need it. Jon Graz and Noodle have given us a new addition to our vocabulary around mental health, a light-hearted description for a universal feeling. The “No Bones Day” phenomenon is helping to lessen the stigma and judgment of having an off day in a world that expects us always to be on. Especially during a moment when mental health issues are rising for nearly everyone, Noodle is a reminder that we all have rough days, and accepting our own limitations can actually feel peaceful and cozy if we permit ourselves to slow down.

So the next time you have a No Bones day, remember that millions of people wouldn’t be laughing at this pug on TikTok if they didn’t have No Bones days, too. Some self-compassion will go a long way.

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