Self-Care For When You Don’t Care

TW: MENTAL HEALTH, DEPRESSION

 Graphic by Juliette Baxter

Dealing with depressive episodes can be incredibly difficult. When you search for images of “depression” you’ll likely see an attractive white person crying or sitting with their head in their hands in an elegant black and white photo. In reality, depression isn’t elegant. It’s dirty and messy, and sometimes smelly. It makes you not look after your basic health and hygiene. It’s dirty plates and dirty laundry piling up, and your hair getting tangled and your house feeling cramped and trapped because you never open the door. Some people say it’s like drowning, but it’s more than that – it’s drowning and not even caring.  So, how do you come back from that?

Mawiyah Patten explains it best in The Mighty when she says:

What social workers and other people don’t often tell you is that self-care can be completely terrible. Self-care includes a lot of adult-ing, and activities you want to put off indefinitely. Self-care sometimes means making tough decisions which you fear others will judge. Self-care involves asking for help; it involves vulnerability; it involves being painfully honest with yourself and your loved ones about what you need.”

If you go on Pinterest and search for “self-care”, you’ll get a lot of stuff like “wear a nice perfume”, and “bake something delicious!” and “watch a Ted Talk”. Excuse me, but how am I supposed to bake when I can barely stop crying long enough to eat? Why would I go and find a perfume when I haven’t brushed my hair in three days? How am I supposed to care about what this Ted Talk guest is saying when they have no idea what I am going through right now?

So, hot tip #1 – ignore the positive, “good vibes”, pinterest-esque nonsense that too many sites peddle as self-care. It’s all well and good if you’re already in a good place, and you should absolutely practise it when you can, but when you are a week into a depressive funk it just won’t work. You’ve got to clamber back out of a dark hole to get to that point.

What is the first step to climbing out of that hole?

TELL SOMEONE.

I know it’s scary telling someone how far you’ve fallen. It’s embarrassing and shameful and it makes you scared they’ll be disgusted and not help you, or worse, they do help you and then there’s another person you owe. But trust me, it is really important.  If you fall too far down the rabbit hole, you cannot get out without help. So reach out, even if you don’t think anyone cares about you.

Be honest with them.  Tell them you haven’t showered or brushed your hair or eaten anything other than one-minute noodles and that you hurt so badly you can’t move. Ask them to help, even if that just means bringing some groceries over for you.

Of course, the best time to tell someone is before you fall into the hole. I now tend to be able to feel the despair coming on. Often, I don’t tell someone because I don’t want to burden them or seem weak, and that’s my biggest mistake. If I tell someone before the depression hits, sometimes I can manage to stave it off.

Friends of people struggling; think about what you can do. Can you run your buddy a bath, or brush their hair for them, or help them move from the bed to the couch? Maybe you could do their washing up while you’re there, or make them some coffee, or even a meal.  Any little thing you can do will help.

But what if you have no one, or can’t bring yourself to trust anyone? What then?

DON’T ASK TOO MUCH OF YOURSELF.

Pinterest might tell you to have a bath. You probably don’t have the energy, or maybe the bathroom is too far away. Instead, take a small step – grab your deodorant and whack that on.

Buzzfeed will tell you to make your bed or put fresh sheets on or something. If you can, that feels amazing, but if you can’t, maybe just start with clean pjs, or even just clean socks.

Marie Kondo will suggest decluttering a room. That’s too much for me on a good day. Instead, find one tiny task that you’ve been neglecting. Pay a bill. Throw some undies into the wash, because they aren’t as heavy as a full load and clean undies are very important. If you can’t unload the dishwasher, wash up a single plate so you have something clean to eat off later.

If you can’t wash your hair, grab some dry shampoo and spritz your head. If you can’t wash your face, use a facial spray to refresh yourself or even just wipe it with a damp washcloth. If you can, pull a Cindy from Orange is the New Black and take a moment to do the “tits, pits and naughty bits” check. If you can’t clean your teeth, gargle some mouthwash.

If you can’t manage a healthy meal, knock back a Berocca. It will wake you up a little and support the body you’ve been neglecting.

Can’t bring yourself to go outside, or physically can’t make it? Open the blinds or curtains to get some natural light.

You see where I’m going with this – take tiny little steps. Treat each one as a victory. You rolled aside the fog on your soul just for a moment to do something good for yourself. If you can’t do more, that’s fine – congratulate yourself on what you have done. If you can, fantastic! These things do tend to snowball, and I find that if I’m able to do one thing I feel more up to trying another. Any step is a good step, and I cannot stress enough the importance of looking after your body. There is no easy way to motivate yourself to do these little things, except by telling yourself that you have to, and they are easier than the big things. Hell, start even smaller than I’ve suggested. If you’ve been lying still, staring at the same spot for hours, tell yourself to roll over. Make yourself do it. Congratulate yourself on that, and don’t beat yourself up for not having done it sooner. Then take the next step.  Maybe that’s sitting up, or stretching, or drinking a glass of water, or taking ten deep, slow breaths. Whatever it is, congratulate yourself and forgive yourself. Self-love is part of self-care.

TAKE YOUR MEDICATION

No matter what it is, whether it’s a painkiller, an anti-depressant or even just a supplement, don’t stop taking it unless advised to do so by your doctor. If you do nothing else, take your medication. They are there to help you. If you stop, you will be setting yourself backward.  I have been guilty of this and I regret it every time.

That being said, if it becomes clear that your medication is not working for you, tell your doctor and talk about switching or stopping them. A good doctor will not force you through awful side-effects for no appreciable gain.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GOOD DAYS

You will almost certainly have some good days. Use them to their fullest. Take those Pinterest and BuzzFeed tips. Get out in the sun. Have a fancy bath! More importantly, clean up the mess that has accumulated during your dark days so that when it happens again, at least you aren’t starting on the back foot. Eat well and sleep well. See your friends and let them know that you are okay right now, but you may need them to help you soon.  Ask them to lovingly hold you accountable.

FORM HABITS

This closely follows on from the last tip, because you need to do it when you can. The more ingrained something is, the more likely you are to do it. When you are well, turn self-care into a habit so that it is easier for your body to perform the motions on the bad days too.

As I said, none of this is groundbreaking. This is basic stuff that is really, really hard, but necessary because it will make you feel better for having done it. I cannot overstate the value of feeling clean, or even just cleaner than you were, or knowing, “I did an adult thing and I didn’t give up.” It will probably seem tiny to others, but they have no idea how much of a battle it was for you, and consequently how big a victory you’ve won. Also, despite my hating on Pinterest, Buzzfeed, and Marie Kondo, I love all of these things deeply and encourage everyone to share my love.