Throughout my mental health journey, I’ve repeatedly run into an obstacle, which I will loosely dub ‘I’m not sick enough to deserve help’.
Whenever I would think about getting therapy or talking to anyone about what was going on, I’d say, ‘Well, I’m still going to uni and getting my assignments done. I don’t take drugs. I can leave my house. I might be depressed, and having panic attacks every other day, but I can sort it out. I just need to stop being lazy.’
I think a lot of us take that perspective on our mental health. But let’s flip it so we’re talking about physical health, instead:
‘I hurt my leg a few years ago, but I can still crawl around to places. It’s not ideal because I have to drag this dead weight around with me, and I can’t put weight on that side. Still, it can’t be that bad, because I can use the other leg. I’m not gonna bother getting it checked out until I lose function in both legs. I’m just lazy and need to work harder.’
Sounds dumb right? Granted, lots of us do ignore our physical health for too long, but I don’t think it’s as normalised in our society.
Every time I get sick – usually by becoming so exhausted I can’t function anymore – I say the same thing to myself: ‘I’m shutting down purely because I stopped looking after myself. My body is forcing me to take a break so I can stop, and take care of myself.’ I remind myself that I need to integrate self care into daily life, instead of waiting until I am forced to.
So why do I (and you, probably) keep doing the same thing? Plenty of reasons, but here are some suspects:
- Not feeling like I should care about, or like I deserve to look after myself. It’s easy to get into a slightly nihilistic, ‘nothing matters so why should I matter’ attitude about self care. In the end though, that thought path doesn’t offer much value to me — but it is familiar and actionless.
- Enjoying the self-destructive cycle. Like when someone tidies after it’s been a pigsty for ages – there’s a weird satisfaction in getting back to square one. I’m the same with my room, repeatedly letting it get bad and then cleaning it in within about a week.
- Not observing my limits for energy, etc. I’ve been experimenting with those limits at the moment, by seeing how much I can take. However, I’m not being mindful of my current level as a cut off point, only focusing on where I think I ‘should’ be.
- Not being consistent in how, or when to practise self care. When I’m doing a lot of new things I fall back on fulfilling basic needs like sleep, eating and hydrating. I often underestimate the importance of just those things.
I think for once I have caught myself and started to rest before I got too bad. But there’s still room to improve. I have been very good at pushing into discomfort (the ‘push’) skills detailed in my post on designing a mental health workout. Regardless, it’s clear I’ve been neglecting the ‘pull’ (or self care) skills quite a bit, which is a bit like exercising vigorously every day without rest.
Looking over my plan, I can see I’ve dedicated hardly any time or thought to it in my daily plan, despite doing some extremely tiring and difficult things!
(Like karaoke… Never thought that would happen)
- Clarify what counts as self care and not self care for me: what supports me? What makes it harder to do what I want to do and how can I address those things
- Make focus on ‘basic’ self care such as sleep, eating right, etc, a priority in my plan.
- Plan in time to do that self care, and check in more often with myself.