From someone who has absolutely no authority on the topic.
So my initial plan for this first post was to write an incredibly eloquent article based on my success in achieving a rigorous self-care schedule. As I found from this experience, plans rarely dictate outcomes. The schedule consisted of a daily checklist of tasks that I would essentially be forcing myself to uphold, and that’s completion would determine my status as “healthy.” My unhappiness, in my mind, stemmed from a lack of willpower and healthy habits. When I proudly introduced the concept of an “anti-depression schedule” to some friends, I (understandably, now) received a barrage of confused and generally bleak responses. And I thought they were dumb for not seeing how ingenious my plan was. I, of course, did not consult anyone in the mental health field after devising my plan or before attempting it because I’m an undergrad psych major and know everything already.
I am sure that you’ve already guessed, as someone more in touch with reality than myself at the time, that the plan failed. Not only did it fail utterly and miserably, but it also failed immediately. It failed during its inception because it was based on the assumption that mental health is a lifestyle that some people work vigilantly and deservingly toward, and some worse, gross people (like me) do not. Social media sure does a good job at obscuring our perception of how the rest of the world is doing.
To get to the point: If you are a neurodivergent and/or chemically imbalanced person (such as myself), do not attempt a “rigorous self-care schedule,” or at least the kind that I thought up. And at the very least without the guidance of a healthcare professional. Also, I learned that I know nothing about how to effectively care for my own mental illnesses, which makes a lot of sense.
I have some advice for you people. Terrifying, I know.
Here we go:
- Self-care is much more than an external practice
We’ve all seen the “is this self-care” memes. Well, I’ve lived the meme (lol). I had it in my head that if I worked on my outsides, on the tangible aspects of “health,” that I could force an internal transition. This does not work. The amount of self-love and self-forgiveness involved in “self-care” could very well take an entire lifetime of therapy to learn and effectively practice. With every healthy external change you make comes tidal waves of self-doubt, fear, etc., etc. (every single other possible form of negative self-talk). Don’t imagine that this is avoidable; these thoughts and feelings need to be addressed to make any progress.
2. Failure is good
This one is corny and overused, but it’s true. Blablabla, every time you fail, you learn something new about yourself. You connect a dot in your head and remember whose voice that really is that is telling you that you are a piece of shit and will never succeed at anything (hint: it’s not yours). But ALSO, there is literally no such thing as true failure if you tried. Or even if you thought about trying. You still made it that little bit further forward. Wherever you are in the process of healing is where you need to be, and I really, really believe that even though I think it sounds banal and pretentious.
3. Habit building is a slooooow process
Trust the process. It is painfully slow. Especially when it comes to adjusting your inner dialogue.
4. Any amount of progress is enough
I don’t mean that you should give up after you’ve reached a goal. Instead, I mean that even if you reach only half of that goal, you have done enough. This is a good concept to internalize because it gives you permission to grow at your own pace without self-judgment, and in the absence of that judgment, you can continue your growth. Also, I like to imagine that it is physically impossible to regress even though something may feel like a relapse/regression. You can’t just go back in time and unlearn experiences. I don’t know what else to say about this because I am still coming to terms with it (along with the rest of these points) myself and need to be reminded of it regularly.
5. Feelings aren’t facts
And shouldn’t be given the agency to decide what you do with your life. I learned this when I got sober, and it is a good phrase to repeat until it sticks. My mental illness involves–many unpleasant things– but the most salient of those things is the lack of emotional regulation tools that I possess. Once I begin to feel literally any emotion, I spin out, completely consumed by it. It’s like that feeling has no beginning and no end, I was born feeling that way, and I will die feeling that way. Which is TERRIFYING if it is a bad feeling. But when and if I remember that feelings aren’t facts, that I haven’t always felt that way and that it, too, shall pass, the whole ordeal becomes more manageable.
Whew, enough about me and my cuckoo-loco crazy fun brain. Here is a list of some things that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my day today. Big emphasis on the try! And that’s okay because I’ve accomplished way more than if I would have talked myself out of it all blablabla…
- Make my bed every day.
- Read a new book every week.
- Tell me I am enough when I feel worthless.
- Allow me to pass through feelings without feeling the need to act.
- Limit screen time (esp. Social Media)
- Long walks when it’s sunny.
- Blast music and dance like an insane person when I feel manic
- Instead of going on social media, lol.
- Time alone with my coffee in the morning
- Keep the apartment clean.
- One hour of homework every day.
- Notice how this seems low! I’ve been really good about this one in part because of this. If I can talk myself into an hour, I tend to start enjoying the work and doing more 🙂
- Do my makeup and actually get dressed every morning.
This is obviously very personalized to my life, but we all have things we wish we did more consistently! I think especially if we have a mental illness.
I hope this helps someone, and even if it doesn’t, I got the experience of writing it down! Cool 🙂