When my antidepressant gave out a couple of years ago, I had to undertake a long, slow climb back to a functional state. Finding a new medication took years, so in that time I had to rely on my self-care (and self-preservation) skills. The problem with that is: self-care is incredibly hard to practice in the midst of parenting, a new career, and a constant onslaught of political insanity. I was inconsistent with taking care of myself (as parents often are), as it was entirely too easy to push my needs to the back burner while trying to parent a high energy toddler and a complex pre-teen.
I did approach mental health equilibrium last summer and for a couple of months there, I started to feel like myself. Then a mystery illness hit me like a truck and I suddenly had zero energy to do even basic things. Test after test came back with no answers, with the exception of low Vitamin D and C. I still don’t have an explanation for most of my symptoms, and the doctors I’ve seen have given up looking into it. (I know this is not a unique experience. I have many friends who’ve dealt with the same frustrations. That is a whole other blog post!)
This experience has been awful and incredibly frustrating, but it’s also been somewhat of a blessing. It is teaching me a lot about how to take care of myself better. I may just come out of this having mastered regular self-care.
There are probably a million self-help books that cover the things I’m relearning, but I have neither the time nor the brainpower to focus on a book like that. I’m guessing I’m not the only one, so maybe these lessons will help you too.
The questions I ask myself every day are: What absolutely needs to get done? and What can I reasonably accomplish?
Even the essentials can pile up. I can easily end up in a situation where I have booked 7 appointments in a week. To help me organize my time better, I bought a family calendar and every Sunday I review what is planned for each member of our household. Writing it all down helps me see when I’m overbooked, and I can adjust our schedule, delegate, or ask for help.
Sadly, socializing has been pushed off the calendar more often than not. It takes a lot of precious energy to socialize, especially if I have to leave the house. I can typically power through it, but when the fun ends I crash hard. It have to remind myself that even if I feel good at the moment, my energy is not infinite (see Spoon Theory).
Ask for (and Accept!) Help
If I’ve filled out our family calendar and the schedule looks too overwhelming, I need to ask David to take over with certain appointments, reschedule them, or cancel. I remind myself that in most cases, appointments can be pushed out.
Accepting help is a whole other beast. My aunt reached out to me last month and offered to fill up my freezer with pre-made meals. I said yes, please, and thank you, which was a big accomplishment for me. I am fiercely independent and worry about being beholden to anyone. At the same time, I always try to help others so…if I want others to accept my help, and if I want to teach my kids that they don’t have to carry the weight of the world on their own, it starts with me. (Can you hear my inner pep talk?)
Sometimes everyone is busy or too far away (my closest family members are 2 hours away) and/or have their own struggles. Enter babysitters, takeout, and grocery delivery! If paying someone to do something for me helps relieve stress or preserve precious energy, then I need to do it. (If I can afford it, of course.)
I always have a long list of to-dos and I want to get them all done RIGHT NOW. Procrastination makes me anxious, and my expectations for myself are typically high and often unreasonable. I end up running myself into the ground trying to get things done, or getting overwhelmed and getting nothing done. I’m trying to find a balance and that means slowing down whenever possible.
Can it wait? is my new mantra (errr, one of them…).
I also plan regular breaks. I remind myself that doing just a bit of housework is still helpful, and it’s okay to sit down midway through for 10-20 minutes before I finish.
Rest and Recharge
Downtime is essential. Sometimes I don’t have a choice – I simply can’t keep my eyes open. Other times I feel the need for a nap but my instinct is to fight through it. I am actually listening to my body more often now and trying to manage feelings of guilt by reminding myself that my family is gaining independence when I’m not around! (This may seem simple, but I have to fight a lot of internalized negative messaging learned from my family.)
I’m also figuring out how to recharge. I just started scheduling regular massages to try to work out the stress I keep in my body. I bought a yoga mat so I can try out restorative yoga. (Did you know most yoga studios have discounted trials? I didn’t! I plan to try out a few different yoga studios and types of yoga to find the best fit.)
I love to craft but often it takes mental energy to plan projects, and I can’t do much crafting at home without Dez getting up in my business. I have friends who are Stampin’ Up! demonstrators, and attending their events where projects are pre-planned has been awesome! I just have to be mindful of extra socializing.
I’ve gotten a few apps that help me, too. Insight Timer helps me practice mindfulness at bedtime so I can relax and fall asleep more easily. I don’t use Yoga Studio as much as I would like (hopefully my new yoga mat will encourage me to make the time), but it’s an easy way to get started with yoga and it’s worth the low price.
I don’t know if this illness will ever go away, but I’m determined to live my life anyway. I guess I’m making lemonade?