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?

Understanding, Compassion, and Respect.

We’ve decided that 2016 is going to be the year that we only include people in our life that treat us with understanding, compassion, and respect. People that can’t or won’t do this, will not have a place in our life.

During our last hospital admission (over Christmas 2015) we spent quite a bit of time contemplating what life would be like if we believed we deserved understanding, compassion, and respect.

What would it look like?

We’d take care of the body. We’d meet the body’s need for food and fluids. We’d plan for, and pace ourselves with all activities to help better manage our ME/CFS. We’d use more helpful coping strategies in order to avoid self-harm because we’d believe that we don’t deserve more pain and suffering.

We still struggle to believe and accept that we do deserve understanding, compassion, and respect. We go around in circles arguing about our worth, evidence for and against it, and usually end with overwhelming self-hatred.

Asking ourselves what we’d do if we believed that we deserve understanding, compassion, and respect bypasses that unhelpful circuit. We can ask that question of ourselves without having to believe it.

To make it a little simpler to understand let me tell you about a situation I found myself in recently. I was struggling with the eating disorder (ED) and was feeling anxious, upset, and desperately wanting to avoid emotions, thoughts, and my next meal.

I realised I had a choice. I could side with the self-hatred, shame, and more self-hatred. I could skip the meal and dive further into the ED. Safe, comfortable, familiar, but a cruel, and torturous headspace.

Alternatively I could pause and ask myself a question. ‘What would you do if you believed you deserve compassion, understanding, and respect?‘ I’d eat that meal. I’d eat it because I deserve food and nourishment. I’d eat because that’s how I care for my body. I’d eat because it allows me to think clearly. I’d eat because it allows me to be a good friend.

Comparing the two possible outcomes was interesting. I could plunge further into unhelpful behaviours and self-hatred, or try something quite different and end up feeling more okay about myself.

Being able to try the alternative behaviours whilst bypassing the ‘we’re bad, horrible, undeserving’ argument has been incredibly helpful. It’s helping us to make better choices as well as very slowly beginning to think better of ourselves. Maybe one day we’ll be able to believe it 100%.

 

The Body Deserves Respect.

I think that most people understand the concept of respect, but do you understand self-respect? For me, this is a complicated, and somewhat overwhelming concept to understand and put into practice.

Let’s start from the beginning with what respect actually means. Good old Wikipedia defines respect as “Respect is a positive feeling of esteem or deference for a person or other entity (such as a nation or a religion), and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem.” If you’re like me, that kind of definition isn’t particularly enlightening. It feels quite abstract and isn’t something I can connect with.

When I think about respect I think of two things – 1) respecting others and 2) respecting myself. I grew up in a chaotic, conflicted home and by age sixteen I’d come to a conclusion: Respect needs to be earned. Age, status, position, and authority give a certain level of respect, but, for me, that respect is only maintained if a person’s behaviour justifies it.

By age sixteen I’d decided that just because my parents were my parents, didn’t mean they were automatically respected. I thought (and still do) that my parents do not deserve respect. The way they’ve behaved and treated those around them warrants only shame and disgust. I think I tend to respect people who a) treat me with respect, b) treat those around them with respect, and c) treat themselves with respect.

Moving on to self-respect. Now that’s a trickier one to deal with and definitely something I struggle with. On a surface level I seem to respect myself, like myself, be okay with who I am. Deep down though? Nope. I’m filled with loathing, disgust, shame, and guilt. I don’t think I’m an okay person. I don’t think I’m loveable, let alone worthy of love. I don’t think I deserve friends or the love, kindness, and care they show me.

Whilst I was journaling this morning, it occurred to me that we tend not to treat ourselves with respect. Not just that though, we don’t treat our body with respect. All the ED behaviours, the self-harm, the overdoses (no OD’s for a long time). That’s not how you respect your body. I wondered what respecting your body would look like.

I think it’s about listening to your body and meeting it’s needs. Eating when hungry, stopping when full. Not misusing or abusing medications, alcohol, or drugs. Not physically hurting the body through self-harm or other unhealthy behaviours. Listening to physical pain and treating it appropriately. Seeking medical attention promptly when needed.

Whilst I feel uncomfortable about about respecting, valuing and nurturing myself, I think it’s something I can do for my body. Having DID means that I share my body with other parts or alters. It means that I can actually see my body as quite separate from myself, and in this case it’s quite useful. It provides a starting point for self-respect. So whilst, deep down, I don’t respect myself, I think I’m prepared to do all I can to take care of my body.

My body has been through years of abuse. Ten of those years were self-inflicted. Starving, binging, over-exercising, cutting, overdosing, and more. Our body didn’t deserve that then, and doesn’t deserve that now. I’m going to try something new…

I promise to try to do all that I can to nourish, care for, and look after our body.