As promised, I want to talk about self care today. It’s something I’ve touched on pretty often, but I’ve never really written about straight out. It’s also something that I think we all struggle with.
This isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to writers. It’s not exclusive to parents, though I think parents are slightly more likely to fall victim to it. It’s not exclusive to people who suffer from depression like me, though I think it’s more damaging to us.
It’s just that, once we’re adults, we stop thinking that we need taken care of. We stop having someone to take care of us, and we’ve started taking care of other people. We need, though to take care of ourselves.
Your physical health
It seems silly that we, as grownups, should have to be reminded to look after our health. But it happens. Especially those of us in our 20’s and 30’s. We really think we’re freaking unkillable. Until something happens.
Like when my husband was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. You decide to get healthy really fast after that.
- Make doctors appointments for yourself, and keep them. See your PCP, your dentist, your eye doctor, your lady parts doctor if such things apply to you. I am so bad at this! I hate taking the time off work, or out of my writing time. But I’m getting better. It helps that I can finally get health insurance.
- If you’re a woman, preform self breast exams. Every month, not just in October when everyone’s reminding you to.
- Watch your diet. Make sure you’re making yourself a decent dinner, at least five times a week. There are a ton of recopies and tips on making easy weekday meals, so I won’t bore you with it. That’s what Pintrest is for. In fact, if you follow me on Pintrest, I pin them all the time.
- Go to bed! Again, I try to shoot for at least five times a week actually getting seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Get some exercise, outdoors if possible. I have the best way to do this, I don’t have a car. The walk to my day job is about 20 minutes, so that’s at least 40 minutes, 5 days a week that I walk.
- If a doctor has prescribed you medication, make sure you’re taking it. Talk to your doctor about what vitamins you should be taking, too.
If you don’t fail at adulting like me, physical health might not be something you struggle with. But mental health is something I find a lot of people take for granted. And this, really, usually comes down to doing more than you should for more people than you should be doing things for in the first place. Here is what I consider bare minimum for mental care.
Meditate. I try to clear my mind for ten minutes in the morning and evening, then do a longer Chakra meditation three times a week. I say try, because it doesn’t always happen, but most days I can get at least ten minutes in.
Learn the difference between an indulgence and a self defeating habit. Generally, this comes down to portion sizes and timing. As an example, I like to have a glass of wine after work. I don’t do it every night, and if we’ve got a tight budget I won’t do it at all. That’s a healthy indulgence. I also like to go shopping for frivolous things I don’t need. I am a compulsive shopper, and the less control I feel over my life, the more likely I am to buy something I don’t need. I also have a hard time saying no to my kids. That is a self destructive habit, and I need to stop it.
Watch your inner monologue. This is one that I struggle with when I get depressed. I feel lazy and worthless. I hate everything I’m writing and I hate my day job. I also am sure that no one in my family really likes me that much. And no, just telling myself over and over that I’m smart and loved doesn’t waive a magic wand over my brain and fix the legitimate chemical imbalance that makes me feel shitty. But not constantly telling myself that I’m a useless waste of flesh doesn’t help any.
Have some hobbies. Now, this one is big when you’re a writer, because writing is no longer your hobby. There’s pressure there to succeed, and produce. Hobbies should be low pressure. For instance, I like making fancy coffees. I can use a french press, and make espresso. I also discovered the wonderful world of makeup recently, and that’s been fun. It’s low pressure, and I really like the results, whether it’s a good cup of Mexican coffee or a great smokey eye.
I did a whole post about this once before -Insert link to Yes and No-, so I’ll not rehash it a lot here, but learn when to say no. I like to look at it this way; if the thought of doing something makes me want to cry, I should say no. I actually think it’s kind of crazy that there was a time in my life that I had to be told this!
Know when to get help
Help comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s no longer doing something that you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. Sometimes it’s seeing a therapist. Sometimes it’s just asking for a hand.
First and foremost, take a long look at your list of to dos. If you have kids, I bet there are some things on that list that shouldn’t be there. For instance, I used to make myself responsible for getting my kids up and ready for school. I even considered it my responsibility to make sure they had clean clothes. At some point I realized how terrible that was. My monsters are responsible for cleaning their rooms, and I have a bin in the hallway for all of their dirty clothes. I was the clothes, sort the clothes, and they’re responsible for folding and putting their own clothes away. If I’m doing my part of that, and they’re not, why was I rewarding them for that?
I’m a big fan of dividing the work. My darling husband takes care of all of the homeschooling details, so I do some housework. Like laundry, because I really don’t mind laundry. I also keep the living room and bathroom tidy, since I’m the ones wrecking those rooms anyway. These things are things that don’t make me cry. Dishes are another matter. I don’t do dishes. Nor do I cook, or clean the kitchen. Those are things my darling husband does. These are things that don’t make him cry.
If you’re not in the position to share chores with a spouse, consider what you can do to either swap chores you really hate with a friend, and when to hire it out.
Finally, if you’re feeling down, stressed, or just worried a lot, it might be time to talk to a therapist. Since I don’t know anyone who isn’t either down, stressed or worried a lot, you should probably make an appointment with a therapist. Think of it as seeing an eye doctor if you don’t have glasses. You’re probably just fine, but it’s a good idea to check in every now and again.
My four Lists
I think you knew this was going to come down to lists. But I depend on these lists, and they might help you, too.
The first of the three is what I call my gold standard list. It’s the things I try to fit into every day for self care. And I actually think that my gold standard list will look pretty similar to yours. A good night’s sleep, a breakfast heavy on good fats. Reading time, meditation time, family time. A good walk. If I can get all of these things into my day, I feel good.
It doesn’t always happen, though. Some nights I can’t sleep, some mornings I don’t have avocados. Some evenings are full of chores and I can’t get any time with my book. On those days, I have a bare minimum list. It is a list of things I must do, or I’ll feel like hell.
A granola bar with coffee before work if I don’t have time for a more substantial breakfast.
A through face wash, followed by some primer and eyeliner, if I don’t have time for a full face.
A ten minute meditation in the mid afternoon, when I transition from day job to home.
At least half an hour watching a tv show with my kids.
Now, here’s the magic of that second list. I have faith in it, like Dumbo with his feather. I believe that if I can do those four things I’ll be okay.
Finally, the most important list is the list of things I know trigger depression episodes. I can’t always avoid them. Sometimes I can be very good, and do everything I’m supposed to do and I still just get smacked in the face by it. But I also know that certain things mess with me. If I sleep in, if I fight with the husband and we don’t make up for over a day. If I don’t drink enough water, leave work early, or eat too much junk food. All of these will trigger guilt, which triggers depression. If I’m in a crowded place, in public for too long, or just knocked out of my routine for more than a day, I’m running the risk of an anxiety attack. This is all very specific to me, but I advise you to make your own list.
Basically, I want you to consider this your personal permission form to take care of yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s not weak. It’s what you need to do to make sure you’re physically and mentally healthy enough to take care of your family, and your writing. If I could boil this whole post down to one suggestion, it would be this. Treat yourself the way you’d treat someone you really love, because you should be someone that your really love.