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.
We’re almost two weeks into the new year. Gyms all over the world have been inundated with newcomers suddenly motivated to achieve their fitness goals that they started to neglect at the end of the year. I myself have been trying to get back into yoga and start bouldering again, with the help of Yoga with Adriene and (hopefully) my colleagues.
Still, regardless of whether people actually achieve their fitness goals — the joke is that people often don’t, of course — it’s seen as such a normal thing to create a plan for physical fitness and stick to it. Even people who can only manage one push up are aware on some level that regular exercise is necessary to keep our bodies working. Not quite so for mental health, where most of us believe we’re fine until we’re not, with little thought about how we got there.
Mental health is not seen as a skill that can build or deteriorate with time; it’s something you have or don’t. But since reading Mark Freeman’s book, The Mind Workout, I’ve often wondered — why aren’t there easy, accessible routines to follow for mental fitness?
Dear Rat Brain,
Let’s face it, we spent about 90% of our teenage years, and the first part of adulthood so far, in relationships. And I spent 100% of that time trying to force you out of them.
Dear Rat Brain,
I’m sorry I never trust you. I’m sorry I put you down all the time and pretend your opinions don’t matter.
You don’t deserve that.
A strange thing happened recently.
Dear Rat Brain,
I’m sorry I made you (well, both of us) sick. I know I’ve been expecting it for a few months now, but it’s still somewhat down to me. And viruses.
I often do this by ignoring stress, telling you to shut up and delaying illness until it’s ‘convenient’ to handle it. Except there’s never a convenient time to be ill so eventually I just crumble. Like clockwork, I always get an extremely bad cold after an extended period of stress – several breakups, starting work, finishing my dissertations/exams… It’s happened every time. I’m literally forced to rest.
I’ve luckily never had pneumonia, bronchitis or anything like that, so these illnesses were just bad enough to keep me from functioning without actually causing me long-term harm. So I’d get over it, and just carry on the way I was. As a result, sometimes I’d just resist the illness entirely, making it worse. Some colds have gone on for weeks because of it. Once my A levels were finished I had an asthma attack for the first time after ten years. During my second year of university I was literally getting a new cold every 2 weeks. Not surprisingly these were both incredibly turbulent times in my life.
Not surprisingly, when I’m kind to myself and accept that I’m ill quickly, I recover a lot faster. This is kind of following on from my last letter to you, but if I hadn’t told you to shut up and go away in the first place we wouldn’t be in such a mess every few months. I largely ignore you when you want me to rest or stop giving myself such a hard fucking time.
Not surprising that you end up flicking the kill switch on both of us just so I’ll go to fucking bed.