The Monotony of Self-care

Eating, drinking, showering, cleaning teeth, brushing hair. That’s self-care, right?

It is, but there’s so much more to self-care than the short list above. Self-care is everything I need to do to stay well. Some of that will cross over into specific relapse prevention techniques, but I’ve found that thinking of it as self-care is more helpful.

My days include basics like eating, drinking, bathing, and sleeping, but there’s much more to it than that. There’s daily medication, then PRN medication to help manage varying mental health symptoms, as well as managing ME/CFS symptoms and flare ups.

I usually have one major task to complete each day that brings a sense of success and achievement. That could be work (retail cashier), a small gardening project, a household chore, or an outing (eg. a friend taking me grocery shopping, or going to a healthcare appointment).

On top of all that I try to do at least one thing each day that brings me joy or pleasure. What that activity is can vary greatly. There’s creative projects (eg. knitting, painting, colouring in, sewing), gardening, taking photos of the birds that visit the birdbath in my courtyard, watching a movie, taking an epsom salt bath etc. It’s a limitless list!

In between each activity there’s rest. Lying down to help ease pain or changing from a high energy activity (eg. household chores) to a quieter activity like watching a movie or TV show on my laptop. Resting so often, and so much is how I carefully manage ME/CFS symptoms.

My final activity most days is journalling. I turn my laptop, and the TV off. I turn a small lamp on in my bedroom, and turn off the main light. Then I get all our journalling supplies (we each have our own pen to write with) and our journal and get started. I write everything that comes to mind. I let my thoughts wander and write whatever comes. I checkin with everyone and we, as a group (a committee!) discuss whatever comes up.

I usually take bedtime medications that make me drowsy halfway through journalling. By the time we’re done writing we’re sleepy, relaxed, and ready to sleep.

This, all of this, is self-care. Every single day. Over, and over, and over. This is part of staying well.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

What Are Your Warning Signs?

Mondays are therapy days. The one guaranteed day each week that I drag my exhausted, sore body (thanks ME/CFS) out of bed, and out of the house. Today was no exception.

I spent my time in the waiting room chatting to a friend on Facebook. I hadn’t given the upcoming session much thought. Things seemed fairly on track. Stable mood, no suicidal ideation, no self-harm, eating enough, and generally coping. Plus allowing more internal communication and switching.

One hour later, and I had a completely different perspective. My psychologist did a very good job of pointing out the warning signs I hadn’t yet seen, and expressed her concern for the behaviours I’m engaging in.

It’s made me think about the relapse prevention work we did in group whilst in hospital earlier this year. In one group session we had to identify relapse warning signs, and work on strategies to prevent. I dutifully filled in the worksheet and participated in the group discussion. When I came home the worksheet went away, and I haven’t thought about it since.

However, I do know my warning signs. It’s just that this time I’d forgotten to keep an eye out for them. This isn’t a complete list, but these are some of my warning signs.

Eating Disorder
Increased concern and worry about body shape, size, and weight.
Avoiding or restricting specific foods or food groups.
Significantly reducing portion sizes.
Swapping meals for low calorie protein shakes.
Skipping meals.
Ignoring hunger.
Using fibre supplements to avoid eating.
Abusing laxatives.
Bingeing.

Depression
Decrease in social activities.
Decrease in enjoyable activities.
Failing to see the point in engaging in the above activities.
Feeling like there’s no point to life.
Feeling hopeless.
Not seeing a future for myself.
Feeling like a failure.

Hypomania
Increase in enjoyable activities.
Talking more quickly.
Multi-tasking to the extreme.
Starting new creative projects.
Laughing much more than usual.
Swearing a lot more than usual.
The urge to buy things, or actually buying many, many new things.

Dissociation
Increased switching and associated memory loss.
Losing chunks of time (more than several hours).
Increased occurrence of flashbacks and body memories.
Difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Knowing the warning signs isn’t enough to prevent a relapse into unhelpful behaviours. Being aware of them, or having others point them out to you certainly helps, but it’s not enough on it’s own. Awareness is only the first part of preventing a relapse.

My task for the week is to work on tackling some of the symptoms that make up my Eating Disorder warning signs. I haven’t relapsed. This is about staying on track and preventing a relapse. I’ve been warned by my psychologist that a relapse will only lead to another hospital admission. Having already spent 7 weeks in hospital this year, another admission is the last thing I want.