On Loving Yourself

Self-care is an important factor for any human – those who fight a mental illness will recognise that good self-care both indicates and mitigates the severity of an episode.

For me, I find that when I am running high my self-care will be mixed. I will take a lot more time over my appearance; I will file and paint my nails, wear make-up and style my hair. The flip side is that I begin to skip meals, drink too much coffee (at work) or alcohol (at home) and get through pretty much a pack of smokes every day. So outwardly I tend to look more ‘together’ but internally I am falling apart.

This pattern is flipped in a depressive state. I eat plenty (granted, it’s never healthy – I just graze more) and my getting-ready-routine is perfunctory at best. Showering feels like too much effort; after a shower I will need to dry my hair and that requires more energy than I have available. Usually showers get pushed into the evening, when I can allow my hair to dry naturally, and even then I’ll usually be seen with my hair pulled into a loose bun because it’s too greasy to leave hanging free.

Good self-care is the first bullet point on the crisis line operator’s script. Every time I’ve called the out-of-hours number the response has invariably been “Have you thought about taking a bath?” or “Maybe you could make yourself a cup of tea.” It’s known to my team that these things don’t work for me, but for an over-stretched NHS crisis service it is standard fare. Improve self-care; improve mood. And there’s a lot to be said for that approach; it’s just that when you’re in the depths of depression or on the summit of Mania Mountain you really couldn’t give a fig for looking after number one. Your energy is being spent on either avoiding a tearful meltdown or writing endless pages of nonsense. There’s nothing in the budget left for caring for oneself.

I think that if more people understood the subtle indications that good or bad self-care provide then there might be more awareness of how mental illness affects almost everything in day-to-day living. On the down days my roughly tied up hair and lack of foundation shows the world “I used all my energy up by getting out of bed.” And on hypo days you can read my rouged lips; “Hello world, bring it on!”

Self-care is a manifestation of loving oneself too. It means the difference between feeling worthless and worthwhile. If I can spend a little time on myself when I’m low, it can be a welcome diversion from the turmoil of loathing that characterises my mental state. One thing I have learned over the years is that self-care can be disguised in mindfulness. Instead of forcing myself to show myself some love, I will instead set myself a mindfulness exercise such as doing my nails, or making a cup of tea. This way I do not have to acknowledge consciously that I am worth more than I think I am. I simply come out the other side feeling an iota calmer – better – than I did when I began.

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On Loving Yourself

Spotlight on Mindfulness

Mindfulness. It has become something of a buzz-word in the mental health world lately. People, sufferers and not, are jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon – which is testament to just how well it works.

In summary, mindfulness is the non-judgemental acceptance of your current situation. It means that you are fully present in the moment; not fretting about the future or past. Acceptance of the present is a powerful tool in overcoming anxiety especially. So much of anxiety comes from rumination (a contemplation of thoughts where they are allowed to run wild and are obsessed over). Mindfulness means that you can observe your thoughts without becoming emotionally entangled in them.

To practice mindfulness means becoming aware of the world around you in the moment; and becoming aware of your own internal world too. It means paying attention to the detail – how green the grass is, how warm the breeze is, the sound of the birds singing (using an idyllic summer’s scene here – it could equally be the sound of the storm lashing your window panes and the texture of the blanket you are laying under). Turning the practice inwards, perhaps it is about noting (but not judging) the million anxious thoughts going through your head; the trick is learning to observe without getting involved. It can be a highly eye-opening experience to see the patterns of your thoughts.

There are plenty of exercises linked into mindfulness. Some are traditionally meditative and involve soothing music and listening to a pre-recorded track – there are lots of videos on YouTube that you can try out. Others are more interested in observing the world you are present in in detail. A favourite of mine is to do ‘mindful dishes’; an activity that normally sees my mind wandering becomes an exercise in focus. I learned to notice all the little elements of the mundane that normally pass me by – from the temperature of the water, to the smell of the soap and right down to the detail of the bubbles gently tickling as they burst on my skin.

Mindfulness does take practice, but it is well worth it. Meditative mindfulness means that we can learn to see when our thoughts are taking over and takes away their control over our minds. The activity based mindfulness can be a break from roller-coaster emotions and anxieties; learning to find peace in the every day things is like a time-out for the mind. It can reduce stress and improve mood.

Setting aside time for mindfulness is of benefit too. Scheduling ten minutes in the morning can set you up for the day. Ten minutes in the evening can be a chance to unwind and relax before settling for bed. Taking a mindful walk at lunch time is a nice break from the stress of work. Whatever you decide works for you really.

Give mindfulness a try; you won’t regret it.

Spotlight on Mindfulness