Suffering from an invisible illness is HARD. Most people don’t realise that the majority of the time it is an exhausting, frightening, daily struggle. Occasionally I find myself secretly wishing that an ignorant person would be forced to spend a week in my headspace, just so they know what it’s like: they would experience my thoughts, fears and pains, they would finally understand that not even words can do the torturous feelings justice. They would finally comprehend how it feels to have to ruminate and worry about so many things that others take for granted as being straightforward and simple.
Yes, everyone struggles and has tough moments in their life. Yes, I am privileged and extremely lucky that I do not live in a war zone, that I do not suffer from persecution, nor do I have severe financial worries, etc. But that doesn’t mean the mental illnesses are any less painful, and aren’t a part of my reality. If I am crying myself to sleep, or am struck by paralysing anxiety, or struggle to look at myself in the mirror, thinking about a poor person in a developing country doesn’t tend to help.
But I am getting side tracked, as I often do…
Just as someone who has had a bad day at work, dealt with a mean teacher at school, or is suffering from a break up, people with mental illness need support, love and understanding. A listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are often much more helpful than problem solving or positive psychology. Yet friends and family can’t be there for us all the time, and a mental illness is generally there all the time, so it’s up to us to take care of ourselves sometimes.
And that’s harder than it sounds, because all too often we have convinced ourselves that we do not deserve to be loved. We believe that we are selfish, lazy, stupid, and tell ourselves that we are undeserving of kindness. The level of harshness, judgement and criticism which we bestow on ourselves is considerable.
So why bother taking care of ourselves if our heads have convinced us that we are the scum of the earth?
Because self care is not only good for us, but more importantly is also a direct contradiction to these cruel thoughts. Generally these a mental illness cannot be battled by logic and apathy, rather we need to directly disobey them before our headspace will change. We have to act before the thoughts even think about going away. (Ooohh, meta…) For instance, with an eating disorder, the urges to do a behaviour such as restrict or binge will always be there if you keep on giving in to them. They’ll only go (with time) if you do the opposite: eating what your body needs and not punishing yourself with food. This is actually self care – it’s not just candles, yoga and playing with puppies. It’s focusing on our health and wellbeing.
Some of these acts of self care can be big scary changes, as they involve fighting against urges and using non-existent energy, but even little deeds can help to build up the at first shaky belief that you are worthy of love, health and contentment.
So you start off small. Don’t let yourself freeze if it’s cold, rest if you’re sick. If you can, eat the food your body requires. Sleep, shower, breathe. Wash your hair now and then.
Then you keep going. Give yourself a break from social media. Read a book in bed (it’s ok if it’s trashy). Paint your nails. Have a bath with lots of bubbles. Watch a movie or TV series (doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it before, as long as you enjoy it).
Now you’re getting it. Go out with a friend who makes you happy. Cook your favourite meal, bake your favourite treat. Do some painting, colouring, drawing, or craft. Get someone to play a boardgame or cards with you. Call a family member. Write down compliments people give you. Go for a walk during your favourite time of day.
Keep it up. Moisturise, shave, get a manicure and a massage. Go out to a good restaurant. Throw a small party or BBQ. Make yourself a picnic. Go on a roadtrip. Stay in a nice hotel. Buy yourself something nice from the shopping centre, even if you don’t need it. Go to the beach. Google for more ideas because I am running out of them.
Remind yourself that you’re not selfish or lazy for taking care of yourself. Remind yourself that you’re not giving yourself the credit you deserve for choosing recovery and not giving up. Remind yourself that you’re pretty awesome for facing demons that people are blessed to not know. And most importantly, take care of your body and mind.
Til next Thursday :o)
Feel free to share if you think this would help someone you know.