TW: Depression, Mental Illness
N.B.: Before I go on, I think it’s important that I address an issue that has recently come to light with me writing these blog entries, and it has to do with the effect they might have on my close friends and family. I realised that friends and family members may read these entries and find out things they didn’t know, or maybe just hear things phrased in a very candid way, and then they might go on to feel guilty somehow, like they should have known how I was feeling. Or maybe that they should have been there more, or been more supportive. To incite these kinds of feelings is not what I intend to do with my blog entries! Please understand that I have always felt fully supported and loved by my friends and family. And I’m so sorry if I write anything that is upsetting or shocking, but I am doing this for me, as a kind of therapeutic release, and also to try and encourage more open and honest conversations about mental health. It is not about placing blame on anyone for not doing enough! In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more that could have been done. When you are in the middle of a depressive episode- and I’m sure those of you who have personal experience of this will back me up here- one of the hardest things to do is pick up the phone and ask for help. It’s not even because I don’t think I will be supported, it’s just that it takes so much energy to do this, and all of my energy at the time is centred on my internal feelings. This probably deserves a whole entry to itself, but I just wanted to make it known before I go on that I blame no-one for my mental illness, and do not feel let down or unloved by anyone close to me in my life. If you read something you’re unhappy with, please let me know. I’ll be happy to talk about it.
This week has been hard. Like, really hard. But I’ve definitely learned a lot from it, and something that I’ve been thinking a lot about is self-care.
For me, self-care is essentially the opposite of self-harm, and the absence of it is even a form of self-harm. If you google it, the following definition is given:
“In terms of health maintenance, self-care is any activity of an individual, family, or community, with the intention of improving or restoring health, or treating or preventing disease.”
So what immediately springs to mind are things like washing, eating, drinking, sleeping, taking medicine, exercise etc. etc… And those are absolutely activities which come under the umbrella of ‘self-care’. But it also includes other behaviours that many people do instinctively, like resting when you are ill, and forgiving yourself when you make a mistake, or when something doesn’t go to plan. For a long time, and even now still, self-care has been extremely difficult for me. It is something that comes up in near enough every counselling session I attend, and I feel like it’s at the root of most of my mental health issues.
Somewhere along the line when I was growing up, I got it into my head that I wasn’t good enough. That it was crucial for me to identify as a ‘Good Person’, and for other people to be able to see me as such. I formulated a set of rules and guidelines in my head, as to what constituted a ‘Good Person’, and what I needed to do to be one. Overwhelmingly, this meant I had to put other people before myself at all times. I thought as myself as a martyr, as much as I hate to admit it- I associate this label with self-righteousness for some reason, and this is not a quality a ‘Good Person’ should have.
Self-care was not on my mental checklist for being a ‘Good Person’.
And so for years and years, I overworked myself. I suppressed my own feelings when I thought it might cause people upset. I went out of my way to accommodate for other people’s wishes. And when I made a mistake, I did not forgive myself. I assimilated all the guilt, and all the blame, and I used it as a reason why I was not worthy of self-care. I didn’t feel like I deserved forgiveness, or kindness, or any form of leniency. And unfortunately, this belief became very deeply ingrained in my self-image, and it is something I still struggle with from time to time.
But this week, I have made a conscious effort to be kind to myself, because I haven’t had a great time of it. I went for an interview on Thursday but didn’t get the job, and I instinctively sunk into a dark place where I wasn’t good enough, and that it was all my fault because I should have been working harder. On top of this, I somehow misplaced my passport during a recent house move, but didn’t realise until this week… With two holidays planned in the next 7 days. Too late to get a new one for the first trip planned, and cutting it very close for the other! It had been my intention to use these holidays as a time to indulge in massive amounts of self-care, after working so hard on my MSc dissertation, and for my three part time jobs, where I seemed to be doing work of some sort every day of the week. But in an instant, my plans fell apart. I felt total despair, and cried on and off for days. Then there was the guilt, born from my feeling of having let people down…
It was an awful cocktail of emotions. I was very angry, both at myself and at the world for being so NOT FAIR. I finally decided I might be worthy of some time off work, relaxing with my friends and family, only to have it taken away from me at the last minute. Nothing would ever be okay again.
Except, it will. And thankfully, my loving boyfriend took the time to remind me of this. He looked after me, and sat with me when I was bawling my eyes out- Messy crying, not Hollywood crying (lots of snot). On Friday morning, I woke up with the whole day to myself. I had been dreading it, thinking I would sink further and further into this horrible dark feeling, and then end up damaging myself somehow because I struggle to process and deal with my emotions so often. But to my surprise, I felt much more at peace than I thought possible. I felt tired and ill, and emotionally drained, but suddenly I felt like I might actually be able to deal with life again. I suddenly had the strength to think “This is really shit. But I can get over it. Things will be better”.
And then, I did something even more incredible. I took care of myself.
I felt ill and tired, so I let myself relax on the sofa. I didn’t force myself out for a run, or sit down and write more of my dissertation. I still felt that urge to do something, but every time I managed to justify my time to myself. I deserved this. This was fine. I was worth looking after. I will inevitably make mistakes, as will everyone else, but I will only do myself harm by refusing to forgive myself.
I guess I just needed someone to remind me of that. I can’t thank my boyfriend enough for his time and attention and understanding.
As it happens, I might just scrape that second holiday after all…Fingers crossed. 🙂