MY SELF-CARE PROBLEM

It’s a cycle. Terms get appropriated and take on wider use, and in the process, I think, almost always broader meaning. But also in the process, I think, these terms can lose the meat of their meaning. And then, the question is, how do people who need to convey the original meaning of the term make their needs known?

 ‘Triggered’ is a perfect example. I think about this a lot. How do people with PTSD express these days that they are actually triggered when everyone on the internet throws this word around, makes fun of this word, overuses this word to describe mild discomfort, you name it.

 I think a lot about this in terms of self-care too. Back in the day, my various therapists and psychiatrists, as well as any other mental health workers involved in my care, used this term to describe non-pharmaceutical interventions that I could effect on my own to help manage what has been diagnosed differently over the years (mostly because the symptoms have changed over time), first called bipolar disorder, then schizoaffective disorder, and now happily back to bipolar disorder. (There was a big helping of PTSD in there at one point too.)

 Basically, my self-care involves stuff like eating healthfully, consuming as little added sugar and caffeine as possible, steering clear of alcohol and street drugs, exercising regularly, keeping morning pages, and living one day as much like the next as possible. (This basically means doing stuff at roughly the same time every day. Having a schedule creates regularity. Regularity, in turn, can do a lot to create stability. LOL though, because my current job makes this impossible and I am struggling a lot as a result.)

(10 Jan 2019 UPDATE (happy, happy): My job no longer makes self-care impossible. Turns out all I had to do was write a firm email outlining my scheduling needs. Turns out Germans really respond to firmness. It’s not even a problem…and life is better already. Thank goodness.)

 During times of crisis, my self-care might look different. Time to amp up the self-care, I might say to myself when I first notice symptoms. At this point of my life, my biggest challenge is fighting off the manics so these days, increased self-care might look like doing a lot of (relaxing) yoga, totally cutting out caffeine, added sugar, and alcohol, going swimming, spending some time with my mandala coloring books, listening to relaxing podcasts. Getting depressed self-care involves some of these things as well, but also revolves a lot around curling up with steaming mugs of tea while reading Neil Gaiman. Suffice it to say, I know what works for me.

 It also strikes me that a lot of these things on my list could be construed as generally healthy and good for anyone. And in fact, the term self-care has really taken off among everyone and their cousin and I see it mentioned all the time on the internet, and on the one hand, in this cruel, confusing world we all live in, I think it’s excellent that people are focusing on taking care of themselves to live and fight another day. On the other hand, I no longer know how to explain that I have to engage in self-care. For me, it’s not any kind of optional. It’s not, I will feel a lot of unpleasant discomfort if I do not engage in regular bubble bathing. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself, I don’t actually have anything against baths, in fact I enjoy taking them, it’s just that…they seem to take up a lot of oxygen in the most obvious, overdone, mass-market conceptions of what self-care is.) But substitute bath for any number of things and the result is the same.

 No. Unpleasant discomfort is not what I’m talking about. Without self-care, I’m talking about a descent into potentially life-altering illness, and thanks to the suicidal feelings that sometimes accompany episodes of mental illness, death, or at least some harrowing hours/minutes/days grappling with the idea of it.

 And that’s a big, super-important difference. Living with unpleasant discomfort versus living with the specter of illness and/or death.

(If you ask me, anyone dealing with any kind of chronic health condition who engages in self-care to manage their symptoms is working along similar lines. In other words, it’s not just about feeling good, it’s about avoiding falling ill, or at least being able to live with illness.)

 So here’s my problem. I have to do self-care. For example, I have to work out as close to every day as is humanly possible. It’s not a luxury. It keeps me functioning at a basic human level and does a lot to keep my mood stable and anxiety at bay. It’s also true that most people feel better when they exercise regularly. How could this be a problem?

 My job sucks and if I can’t figure out a way to even out my schedule, I’m in deep shit. I can’t go three days in a row without exercising because I have a ridiculous schedule that has me arriving at work at 8 am and leaving first at 7:30 or 8 pm a few days a week. But that was my life for a few months. And, unsurprisingly, I started to get manic.

 But I also can’t explain the situation. Nor can I so much as voice a concern, because then I’m told that we’re all in the same boat, even though this is almost assuredly not true because we almost assuredly do not all have bipolar disorder.  

Brief aside. Being told to toughen up is the worst when it comes from someone who has possibly never faced what you’ve faced or vanquished what you’ve vanquished. That is the one big drawback, I think, of life with a hidden condition. It’s a struggle unseen, and therefore a strength, even a tremendous strength at that, also unseen. And largely erased.

I don’t feel comfortable talking too much about my job online, but suffice it to say that my one non-resolution resolution for 2019 is to maybe be a bit more of an asshole and not give a shit what other people think about me and put myself first, because if I don’t, no one else will. And not because I’m a super magical princess who deserves to live a super magical life, but rather because I don’t want to get sick. And I think that’s an acceptable thing to want.

And maybe do some other stuff I really enjoy more often. Like drink more smoothies and golden milk and stuff. Try to read thirty-five novels instead of twenty-six. (I read a lot of poetry too last year, and some nonfiction and other stuff too. But I want to make 2019 my year of the novel.)

That is all. Thanks for reading.