Yup, I hear you all groaning. Me too.
But I’m going to talk about it because it is important.
Like everything else, I’ve been on a bit of a journey with self-care. In my 20’s and early 30’s probably, I didn’t take very good care of myself.
As part of my old narrative, I didn’t feel worth it, I didn’t see how it could help me feel better and LOOK better. And to be honest, I was too full to the brim with self-loathing and internalised rage to even consider doing nice things for myself.
I was rapidly gaining a lot of weight, due to an auto-immune disease that saw me have to give up my full-time job and pretty much my life as it was.
I HATED my appearance. I saw how the change in my appearance shocked and concerned others – even though most of them wouldn’t ever dare comment. And those who did dare, had some body shaming comment to make.
I felt SO out of control. I’d try to diet and end up putting weight ON! I was bereft. My whole life was falling apart. My body was out of control… ravaged by an immune disease that could kill me if I didn’t get it under control and my life was out of my control now too. I couldn’t work, I was bed bound or at least housebound. I became more insular, I didn’t want to be seen.
I was ashamed of myself, my body, and my life – or lack of.
It has taken me over 10 years of being ill and 7 years plus of therapy to untangle it all and really find out who I am. Who I WANT to be!
And really it’s just in the past year or so that something has really clicked inside of me. I have trained myself to have a more nurturing internal voice.
I have finally got some control over that evil inner critic! The one that says, “ you’re fat, your ugly, you can’t do that, you’ll fail, no one likes you, you are unlovable….”
Well he’s piped down a bit. I say he because it seems like a male voice rather than my own.
He still likes to pop up often to let me know he’s still there, but now I have a more motherly protective voice that gives him into trouble for saying nasty things. He seems to bow down to her!
I LOVE my new Motherly internal voice, she really nurtures me and encourages me and makes being me an okay place to be usually. She is a healthy adult, she is the voice of reason and of stability and gentleness and truth.
I’ve had the bad inner critic since I was a tiny child, and so it’s nice to finally have a new voice inside that encourages me to grow instead of one who tries to destroy me and berate me at every turn.
The new motherly voice enables me and stabilises my mood. I no longer feel like things are pointless. I know I have the capacity to mould my life into what I want it to be. I know I am worthy of belonging and of love. I feel energized a lot of the time.
When I first started therapy…. In those dark days I was under a heavy spell of depression and feeling very close to suicide. And when my counsellor at the time used to talk about self-care to make me feel better, I used to get so angry.
I thought to myself “ It doesn’t help. Taking a bubble bath or hugging myself is the most empty and pointless suggestion ever to be made, how DARE she suggest this a serious way to help me not want to die.”
I felt like I was bleeding out right in front of her. I felt like I was showing her all my stab wounds and all of the blood pouring out of me and she was suggesting I hug myself better!
What I desperately needed was to be loved better. Hugged in someone else’s arms for a while. I need taken care of. I felt like I’d survived my whole life by containing myself, by ensuring my own survival amongst a life of turbulence and pretty severe emotional and sometimes physical neglect.
I did my best.
But now I was exhausted. Now someone had to take over or else I’d die – by my own hands.
How could I ever be nice to myself when it had never been modelled for me? I had so many negative internalised messages from family that I couldn’t even find myself anymore. Not that I wanted to. I had cut that girl out my consciousness a long time ago. Rejected the little girl everyone seemed to be repulsed by.
We learn by experience. But I had no experience of being worthy. I didn’t even feel like I deserved to take space in the world.
I so badly needed it modelled to me. How to take care of myself.
I mean, I knew all about self-care, from what I’d read. But I couldn’t make it an experience that was meant for me. I couldn’t imagine how any of it could help my brain which was a terrible place to be.
And here’s what I learned;
Self-care alone is not going to resolve your mental illness. It won’t even make a bad day better in all likelihood. And on realllllly bad days, you probably won’t manage to get out of bed let alone go for a walk or a bubble bath.
When you are in the middle of a mental health flare up, you most likely need good people around you. Meaningful connection is the ante-dote to soul-crushing trauma.
However…. What I want to say is this; Self-care is important, even if it isn’t going to make you magically feel better.
Your healing journey has lots of elements to it. If you have mental illness or PTSD then you need a full-body approach. The key to healing is tackling all elements of your being, so activities that help your BODY MIND AND SOUL need to be incorporated into your new routine.
It takes the brain a looooooong time to rewire, so you may not feel the benefits of any of it for months or years to come. And that’s why it’s so easy to just skip on the self-care stuff. Because it doesn’t seem to be helping, right?
But it is helping. They’ll come a day eventually where those things do help. There will come a day when the psychological stuff dials down a bit and it’s then that you’re able to feel the full benefits of self-care activities.
I suppose it’s about drip-feeding your brain positive messages of self-worth. You might not feel worthy of self-care right now and that’s okay – you are where you are, but with enough good therapy and enough commitment from you, there will be a day you feel worthy and deserving of self-care.
And that’s why it’s important to start now, today.
Self-care isn’t always about bubble baths and candles or painting your nails. It’s not that insipid. Self-care is sticking to therapy, not missing sessions. It’s about eating healthier, it’s about getting a routine that works for you, it’s about learning how to establish healthy boundaries, it’s about creating space in the day, to just be you, to rest or to exercise or meditate – whatever you love doing – do more of that! It’s about remembering to take your meds, brushing your teeth, reading about your illness – knowledge is power.
Self-care is about challenging that bloody inner critic that insidiously whispers in your ear day every minute of the day. You can’t allow yourself to passively listen to that voice if you want to heal. You have to start being more aware of what your inner voice is saying. That’s the first step.
Try it. Listen to the voice and what is it saying?
In the beginning of therapy, I was asked to start paying attention to my inner voice and to start challenging the negative stuff.
I was amazed once I actually started paying attention to my internal dialogue how cruel and abusing it was. Some of the stuff I wouldn’t have said to my worst enemy!
I started challenging the voice. I would shout STOP (inside my head not out loud LOL) to stop the negative tape playing over and over.
It was hard to remember to do it, but gradually it became habit. And that negative voice wasn’t so loud. Still there, but not so loud and maybe not quite as mean.
Your therapy journey isn’t a passive one. You need to take control. You need to decide you want it enough. You need to attack the mental illness that you are suffering from, from all sides. Just talking about your issues isn’t going to be enough.
I wish someone had told me that at the beginning. I wish I’d understood what a huge undertaking it would be. And that’s why I’m telling you now.
We all need to start somewhere. No matter where that is, if you take one tiny step most days, it’s still progress and it all adds up pretty quickly.
If you only managed to get out of bed for 15 minutes or shower or open a window… that’s progress. That is a step forward. Congratulations!
Do something today that future you will thank you for.
My self-care focus this week is to really hone in on what I’m eating. I have lost around 35lbs so far but I probably have the same again to lose. I’ve slipped a bit with the nutritional eating so I want to get back on it because when I eat better I feel better. And when I lose weight I feel happier, healthier, and more in control. My mental health improves too and my autoimmune stuff dials down a bit as well.
I also want to cut down on the amount of chemicals in my house. That has also slipped a bit over the summer. So, I am looking at what chemical products I can change for eco-friendly and vegan ones.
I also want to create some self-care printables for you guys this week, so watch this space!
What are your self-care aims this week?