There isn’t a happily ever after for my mental health. We measure recovery in what ways we can. Shortening the length of severe episodes, or the depth. Having more good days than we used to. Still being alive.
It is popular to think of self care as a candlelit bubble bath and a good book, which is cool. If that helps you cope, go for it. Self care in my world is often disguised as things I do not want to do, but are necessary for my ability to function.
- Learning what actually works for me.
- Setting appropriate boundaries to support my mental health.
- Setting aside the time necessary for self care tasks.
- Prioritizing activities that make me healthier, in whatever way I have to.
- Recognizing and accepting my limits.
- Grieving the losses of my past and future.
- Resting when I need rest, whether other people understand that or not.
- Admitting what hurts, and a million other things that aren’t pretty or popular.
Here are a few of the specific activities which help me:
Study has been important to understand what drives my conditions and in finding activities proven to help. Language is important for how I process, and having a vocabulary to put my mental health in context has been healing. Understanding the patterns of dysfunction has been essential to breaking them.
Writing a journal of my thoughts somehow helps them feel more substantial and valid. It provides glimpses into my mind during crisis, which is a helpful reminder that my thoughts are not me. Writing is one way I give back.
Taking the time to inventory my body and how it feels in the morning lessens my dissociative tendencies.
Mindfulness has a big place in my life. It takes practice to view my thoughts and emotions from a deeper level of abstraction, to notice and analyze them when I don’t understand. Practicing this has led to many breakthroughs.
Exercising fills a meditative role for me. Counting reps, sets, and cool down periods works well to clear my mind. Counting and breathing while stretching is a major release of stress. Focusing on breathing as I jog and walk, and managing the barriers in my mind improves my focus and determination. The endorphins elevate my mood.
Talk therapy with a trained therapist has been an integral part of coping. I found it easier to establish a trusting relationship with a single, professional individual when I began to share vulnerable parts of myself.
Just as important was having someone to help guide me through the overwhelming amount of mental health information, and keep me from self diagnosis/medication.
I am careful to take my prescribed medications every day.
Support group meetings were the first time I found a tribe. I learned to have friendships more intimate and vulnerable than any I could in the past, and the rewards of being surrounded by people who see me. I had the amazing luck of meeting someone who is very close to me neurologically and in terms of trauma, and began one of the most therapeutic friendships I have ever known.
I also got the benefit of lending my knowledge and my strength back to the group. Having something to offer is priceless.
At the end of the day, none of this is a cure. I have come a long way in understanding what drives many of my depressive episodes, learning techniques to survive the worst of it, etc. I am no longer as afraid and my life is less ruled by depression and anxiety.
But it’s still there. There will be times when, for all of my tools, I will be stuck in my own head, unable to function.
Some part of this has been learning to give myself space when I am suffering. I have had to grieve the loss of parts of my life, parts of myself. I had to learn to love myself anyway. I’m still not great at it, but I am practicing.
That void will always be a part of me. I have seen and known it intimately, and I cannot un-know it. I’m still learning to make peace with it, but for now, I’m doing okay.