Self Care – how do you practise it?

So we looked at what Self-Care means to people, what stops us taking care of ourselves. Then I asked –

“How do you practise self-care if/when you do?”

Now there’s a case to be made about what is self-care and what is nurture, because the two things aren’t the same… I see them as occupying similar places to surviving and thriving.

We need Self-Care to survive – drink enough water, eat enough food (and hopefully more towards the nutritious end of the scale), get enough sleep, take your medications, keep clean, be in contact with supportive people, check in yourself and see how you’re doing.

It connects to the base 3 layers of Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs (No, not the one with WIFI drawn in!).

Nurture seemed to connect more to the higher 3 levels, with connection to others being the overlap.

What Guidance for Approaching Learning Is There From ...

I looked at what people sent me, and wondered, is this self-care or nurture?

Does it matter? Well it might do to people who are very short on time, energy or struggling with mental health. On days where the duvet weighs a few tons and the world is dark, looking at a list of creative pursuits and listening to birdsong might seem daunting or frivolous.

And that’s not what I want these posts to be. I want to find ways of slipping Self-Care in through the chinks in our lives for when we most need it. Of starting up a Self-Care routine from just one deep breath, just one instance of asking yourself how best to be kind to yourself today, and knowing from that little droplet, if we keep dropping it, ripples will start to spread.

The most common answer I got was some form of “slowing”, of reconnecting to ourselves and what we need in that moment. How people did that depended on their lives. Some were able to use being outside, looking at nature, being away from dependants. Many mentioned being able to take time for themselves or realising that this was what they needed if possible – what people did with that time ranged from nothing at all to being physical and active, creative and crafty, focusing on nature rather than people/work/city, avoiding TV/Computer, reading fiction of choice, meditation, connecting with self by writing or talking with trusted friends, healthy or indulgent food choices (maybe depending on what the norm is?).

I’ve read a few things lately regarding how toxic some self care articles can be, how they are actually about nurture with an unspoken message that if you aren’t doing an hour of yoga every morning before your organic home cooked breakfast well it’s no wonder you’re like this! And I’m trying so very hard to not do that.

You are you. You live your life. And you need a specific set of Self-Care Tools in your toolkit.

And it’s alright to start with the small easy tools that fit.

Take a single deep breath.

Ask yourself how to be kind to yourself today.

See if there’s an answer.

If you can do more, do.

If you can’t. That’s a start for today. The ripples will spread.

 

 

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Self Care – What gets in the way?

What stops you practising self-care if/when you don’t?

My lovely friends helped me answer this question too.

While we can understand what Self-Care is and why it’s important, many of us struggle to either make it a regular part of our lives, or to include it at all. Usually at a time when we need it the most. We all harbour doubts over how much we sleep, what we eat, how active we are, how much we support the important people in our lives. We all struggle to do (or not do) things that we know will actually help us feel better.

Why?

There are many reasons and all of them valid. This post isn’t about guilt tripping anyone who finds Self-Care difficult or impossible, but hoping to acknowledge and understand why and see if we can work within the restrictions that life or our brain (or both!) impose on us.

If you find Self-Care tricky, know that you’re not alone.

Many people find that they feel guilty or selfish if they take time out for themselves – there’s always a big pile of stuff that needs doing, that task list doesn’t get smaller by itself! There are friends and family, younger and older people who need your love and attention and care, some of whom simply can’t do without you.

Sometimes we are simply too busy, there’s just too much to do and it’s real and pressured and important and we are not able to stop.

We get exhausted and ill (both physically and mentally), Self-Care can take time and energy and effort, which we simply do not have at times.

Sometimes low moods or mania, anxiety or full on depression can convince us that we simply aren’t worthy of Self-Care (or don’t need it) and that insidious voice is so loud and persuasive that we can’t argue against it, let alone take the extra step of taking care of ourselves.

Maybe we just don’t know anymore what Self-Care is for us. We just know that we don’t have room for it, or the time to investigate further.

Sometimes we’ve tried Self-Care, but perhaps we’ve overwhelmed ourselves by trying or expecting too much too soon and we burn ourselves out. We can’t keep up the regime we set ourselves and believe anything less isn’t worth it.

Or we look at the amount of information out there and get lost vacillating between healthy nutrition and indulgent treats, walking in the fresh air and allowing a duvet day. Am I practising Self-Care or being a lazy pig? And the brain gremlins perk up their ears and rattle the bars of their cages…

There are so many reasons why Self-Care is difficult or even impossible and that’s okay. Life is full and busy and chaotic and it just doesn’t stop.

So just know one thing.

Your reasons are valid.

They don’t make you a bad person. No one else can tell you how, when or if to practise Self-Care. No one else lives your life or has your priorities. Only you can know what time and energy you have (if any!) and what will work for you.

Allowing yourself to have the intention of Self-Care may allow little spaces in your brain where Self-Care can creep in. A positive thought here, a deep breath there, sounds like nothing probably, but every task big and small starts with the intention to start it. Allow yourself to start wondering what might make some positive difference to you, and maybe the first step is to let yourself accept just how tricky this is and letting that be okay.

Recognising what stops you practising Self-Care is important. Recognising that those things are real and valid is important. You, your life and everything in it, are important.

Self Care – What does that mean to you?

I’m doing some research on Self-Care for a series of workshops and talks designed around helping people develop their own Self-Care Toolbox. I decided to ask some friends for their thoughts, feelings and opinions. This post is concerned with the first question I asked:

“What does ‘Self-Care’ mean to you?”

For many people it meant taking time for themselves. Self-Care was an amount of time with their own well-being as the priority. Slowing down the pace of their life in order to think and reassess – being mindful of their life, the world and their place in it. Stopping and checking in with themselves about what they needed, then if possible, supplying it. The first step was to stop and ask “what do I need?”

For many parents, that took considerable effort and planning so wasn’t something that felt it could be done often or regularly, or sometimes at all. Simply not putting yourself last, self preservation.

The concept of self-care was offered as looking after yourself so that you are in turn able to look after others. Or anything that made them feel healthier in mind and/or body – including just feeling happier. The main reason given for Self-Care was in order to de-stress (being happier often being part of that). Suggesting that Self-Care didn’t kick in until we were stressed enough to have to do something about it.

It made me wonder, is it possible to put an element of Self-Care in place to reduce or avoid stress? Of course life can thwack us unexpectedly around the head and stress can never be completely avoided, but can Self-Care come into daily life rather than being applied as an emotional sticking plaster?

Self-care often seemed to be focused on the foundations of well-being:

  • Washing
  • Dressing
  • Taking medications/vitamins
  • Eating nutritiously (if possible), sometimes, just eating.
  • Drinking water
  • Exercise/moving/fresh air

Self-care could be seen as something that felt mildly indulgent or even selfish sometimes.

I have to say, that made me a little sad. Self-Care should be seen as essential and necessary. Like breathing, water, food, taking care of ourselves is part of that package.

It’s also something that’s fluid and changing, sometimes it was taking the break that your body and mind needed, sometimes it was kicking yourself up the butt to get something finished or started.

“It isn’t being nice to yourself, it’s being kind, and in some cases that means practicing self discipline. It’s also different for each person.” Kate, 24, Cambridge.

Kate’s words said exactly what I wanted to, so I asked her permission to use them verbatim.

So Self-Care is different things for different people, and also different for the same person.

The common element is taking a moment to ask yourself what you need right now. What is essential to get done, what will help you de-stress and be happy. Also, what is possible. Life is busy and full and tough and we need to find ways of slipping Self-Care into the chinks available.

The first step in building a Self-Care toolkit is wanting to.

Have the intention.

Find a time when you’re alone – in the bathroom/shower in the morning? On the work commute? Waiting for the kettle to boil? – a minute, 30 seconds – and think something along the lines of, I want to be kind to myself today, how do I take care of myself today, what do I need today and what’s possible? Whatever words are best for you.

That’s the first tool for your toolkit. The tool of intention.

Try it, see what you think and let me know.

Next post is about how Self-Care is practised.

Okay, 2017…

The attitude I like to maintain towards life being a struggle is one of hope, one of tenacity. Some would say stubborn refusal to rest. I’m not going to argue with that now.

I try not to use the word “fight” because I don’t enjoy conflict or confrontation. But sometimes it is.

It’s certainly work.
And it takes it out of you.

I keep going for as long as I can. I’ve spent my time in the dark realms of depression and I will do whatever I can to avoid being there again. That’s why I work so hard. For the most part I succeed.

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But sometimes you need to sound a retreat and leave the field.

It’s not defeat. It’s a tactical withdrawal.

Heal up, mend your armour, recruit new troops and when ready, you can return.

This year has finally brought me to my knees. Too much has happened, too much has been lost, too much has changed and my energy has run out.

Time to stop.

Time to give myself permission to stop.

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So, 2017. You haven’t won. We shall call it a draw.

I shall be back.

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

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Donkey and Pride

Friends know about my “slight” obsession with task lists and getting things done. There’s a reason for this.

Living with anxiety goblins, I need weapons with which to fight them. I need an array of weapons. They are sneaky clever fuckers, and they learn to fight back. They have over 40 years of my life with which to attack me with and they wield my dark moments like pros.

It was while studying counselling and psychotherapy (and being the client, and being the therapist) that I learned I wasn’t a failure at life, I had an anxiety disorder. I’d spent most of my three decades up to that point comparing myself with the people around me and wondering why apparently inconsequential things knocked me sideways, why I just couldn’t seem to cope with life as well as most, and why fear seemed to rule me and be my initial response to pretty much anything.

I’d attempted to cure this by staying away from situations that caused fear. Seemed a reasonable response… but it made my world so very small. I self medicated for over two decades to numb the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety – until it became a habit and addiction that was deeply entwined with my sense of self. And the fear remained, attached itself to other things, attacked me with the coping mechanisms I was using and I eventually realised this just wasn’t working. I needed to change. I was dying from the inside out. Existing but not living, surviving but not thriving.

So slowly, so very slowly, I started facing things, pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone, doing things just because they scared me (tandem skydive for one! Singing solo in public for another), but choosing them carefully, building up slowly.

Starting to study counselling was one of these things. I didn’t consider myself particularly academic after failing my A levels (forgetting the huge personal and mental health issues I had going on at the time). I gave myself a hard time. I struggled to give up the habits and addictions holding me in place.

Another thing about me, relevant to this post is that I work in images, in stories and characters. If I can frame something with a character and story then I can understand it better.

And thus we get to the point of this post.

While studying what ended up being half a Masters Degree in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, I came across a part of my brain that seemed utterly set on sabotaging me. I had to deal with this, I’d invested a lot of money that I didn’t have in this course and wasn’t about to lose it just because part of me wasn’t playing the game.

I investigated this part of me and eventually found an image that just fitted. At the bottom of all this, hiding under the Sabotage and the Fear was Stubborness. There was some part of me simply, firmly, consistently saying, “NO”.

No, not going to do that, not going to look at that, no no no you can’t make me.

The more I tried to force the issue, the harder it stuck, like a psychological finger trap. I realised I needed to be clever. The image that I discovered was that of a donkey digging it’s back heels in.

stubborn-mule

Pulling and pushing at the donkey just made it worse. I realised, in an obvious epiphiny, that I needed to motivate it. I needed to find the right carrot…

And for me, that carrot was pride. The Golden Glittery Carrot of Pride (because making something slightly silly is fun!). I thrilled in getting praise from my tutors, from getting good remarks on my essays, for having work done by the deadlines and research ready to show the group. I suddenly realised that I’d rarely felt proud of myself before and it was a powerful intoxicating feeling. One I wasn’t willing to give up.

I thought long and hard and about what made me feel proud – and it’s an ongoing process. I am by no means a workaholic, but I do like achieving things. I have discovered a very competitive side; with myself.

The question isn’t “What makes me feel proud?”, rather it’s “What will make me feel proud TODAY?”

Because it changes. Sometimes it changes throughout the day. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is developing an honest and congruent conversation with yourself about what’s needed, what’s possible, and what, if this is something that will assist you as well, will make you proud. Doesn’t have to be work, or studying. It can manifest in any and every area of your life and activities.

Sometimes it’s going the extra mile. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed. Sometimes it’s having that self-care day and staying in bed with movies. Sometimes it’s reaching out to people and sometimes it’s riding out that dip on the rollercoaster.

Getting that donkey onside is a powerful weapon against the brain goblins.

So that’s why I have a constant task list. That’s why I put things on there just to tick them off. That’s why I sometimes say that I can’t rest, I can’t get that treat until after that thing. Because I need and crave that feeling of Pride. Which luckily doesn’t manifest by overdoing it, that’s Stupidity, not Pride. There’s no pride in running yourself into the ground, there’s only exhaustion. Pride is working within your means, and discovering that your means stretch just that little bit further that you initially thought.

As the hashtag says, #thisgirlcan. (please adjust for gender identity preference of your choice)

And there’s only one way to find out…

Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.