Self-Care Isn't Always Sweet And Cozy

Self-care can be raw and difficult. Image: Thinkstock.

Some nights, taking care of your mental health means vanilla scented candles and a long bath. On other nights, taking care of your mental health means forcing yourself to do your fucking laundry.

I’m in the middle of the first depressive episode I’ve had in nearly a month — in a new city I just moved to, far from the people I’ve known my whole life. I try not to work on these pieces while in such a bad mindset because, well, they usually turn out to be bummers.

I once tried to write and article during a depressive episode, and I believe I ended up writing “I wait for the sweet embrace of death” over and over again. Good times.

This time, however, I believe being in the midst of an episode could actually help inform the discussion.

I’m fairly open about my mental health struggles on social media. I think nothing is ever truly a bad experience if you can make it into a teachable moment. If you want people to listen to what you have to say, they’ve gotta believe you’re actually a person who endures hardships and lives through difficult times.

Have you ever seen those people on Instagram whose life just seem like one big vacation and everything they post is unrelentingly happy and positive?

Man, aren’t those people annoying?

One of the side effects of being open about the dips in my mental stability is that I’m often given advice about self-care. When I share that I’m in a bad place, I’m told to curl up in bed with a nice book, eat my favorite ice cream or to take a relaxing bath.

While these are all wonderful and helpful ideas, I think it’s important to discuss aspects of self-care that aren’t all about resting and treating yourself.

Self-care isn’t always sweet and cozy.

The point of self-care isn’t to “make yourself feel good.” It’s making intentional choices to improve your overall mental, emotional, and physical health. And as anyone who’s ever taken a shot of wheatgrass juice can tell you, making a conscious decision to improve your health isn’t always fun.


 

There will be many days when looking at the tasks before you feel like being a mountain climber looking up at Everest: you won’t know where to begin, and it’ll feel like ages before you get to the top. But you will get there.


 

As much as I would love for the extent of my self-care to be watching Star Wars in my bed with rainbow Christmas lights draped above me like the hipster trash I so obviously I am, that just isn't the case.

A lot of the time, self-care is staring at the ceiling for 45 minutes telling yourself that you can get up, and then actually doing it. It’s dragging yourself out of bed and getting dressed because you’ve been wearing the same pajama pants for three days straight.

Sometimes, self-care is sweet and fun — it can be cloud-watching while laying in the grass or filling a glass jar with slips of paper full of affirmations for when you’re feeling self-conscious.

But often, self-care is raw and difficult.

It’s crying twice before you leave your bedroom because you aren’t ready to face other people, and throwing yourself out into the world because you haven’t seen sunlight in far too long. Self-care is forcing yourself to eat, even though depression has removed your appetite completely.

People are becoming more open with discussing their mental illness, and it’s truly a beautiful thing. Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly more comfortable discussing my Bipolar Disorder and how it affects me, something I never would’ve foreseen when I was first diagnosed. At that time, I thought mental illness would ruin my life — that I’d have to treat it like some sort of secret in order to still be viewed as a valid human being.

We’re beginning to normalize mental illness, which is undoubtedly something we need because it’s a part of the human experience for so many of us. However I worry that, like with most aspects of being human that we grow more comfortable discussing over time, we’ll lose the real nitty gritty. When we begin to talk about and represent things like mental illness more openly it’s often romanticized, like in bad CW dramas or black and white photos you find on Instagram.

Mental illness isn’t fun, and it doesn’t make you seem more unique or quirky.

It’s something you live and struggle with every day — a lens that colors the world around you as you try and do your best to adjust and still see the beauty in the different shades. Self-care is no different.

What we need is very rarely what we want, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary or important. Some nights, taking care of your mental health means vanilla scented candles and a long bath. On other nights, taking care of your mental health means forcing yourself to do your fucking laundry. The important thing is to remember that there is a balance between the two.

For every day you do what feels impossible — be it going to work, getting a project done, or just surviving through the day — there will also be a time to rest. Your mental health needs to be treated with care just as much as it needs a stern kick in the ass from time to time.

There will be many days when looking at the tasks before you feel like being a mountain climber looking up at Everest: you won’t know where to begin, and it’ll feel like ages before you get to the top. But you will get there.

Take the initiative. Look at what you need to do in order to keep functioning, and give it a shot.

You may not accomplish it that day, but trying is better than not.

Even in the weeks when the only thing you accomplish is getting through that week, that’s something that deserves to be celebrated.

Take care of yourself.

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