woman taking a selfie

What Nobody Tells You About Self-Care


In social work, “self-care” is one of those terms that is so overused, it has ceased to mean anything. Typically when self-care is referenced, the speaker is referring to activities and experiences that bring you pleasure. “The work in this field is really tough. You have to practice self-care. Go to a yoga class. Take a walk on a sunny day. Protect your leisure time. Get a mani-pedi. Soak in a bubble bath. Treat yo’self.”

Pleasure is great, and it is important. During seasons when I am depressed, I force myself to indulge in pleasure as though it were a lifeline, because it is. Most likely, there is actual theory and clinical principles behind this, but I’m no clinician, so I can’t speak to that. Here’s my interpretation: feeling bad all day, every day, is exhausting. It’s not good for your body, or your heart, or your psyche. So when I reach day 3 of feeling sad and terrible, I force-feed myself pleasure, even though depression sucks all desire for fun and pleasure out of you. For me it feels similar to the way you might force yourself to eat a salad because you know it’s good for you, even though you may fucking hate eating salads. (I am doing that right now, by the way – eating a fucking salad. It is picture perfect, with local lettuce and beets, tomatoes, dried cranberries, with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette. I hate it. I’m eating it anyway.)

I thought I was doing this self-care thing the right way until November when it became obvious I was not. Yes, sometimes self-care looks like pleasurable activities, and in such cases, it is not so hard for me to get myself to do it. But if that were all that self-care entailed, I would not have found myself in the place I am in. I’ve been doing that kind of self-care for years with insufficient gains, so this leads me to believe my self-care regimen was incomplete.

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.

I am reconstructing my ideas about what it means to take radically good care of myself. I am making it a priority, to the detriment of other priorities, because I have to come the realization that my life depends on it. I will tell the truth about my present self-care, even though I have zero assurances I am getting it right. Because a) getting it right is not the point (but God, do I love to get things right), and b) the other thing nobody tells you about self-care is that it’s nearly impossible to know if you’re doing it right, until months later when you either find yourself feeling better or shittier. Check in with me in June for an addendum.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY.

Medical self-care is completely unglamorous. Is there anyone on the planet who enjoys going to the dentist? If I go to the dentist once every three years, I’m doing really well. Self-care is paper-gowned, bare-assed vulnerability, as you do the un-fun work of showing up for your Pap smear, mammogram, or enema. Medical self-care is particularly difficult for me when I am depressed and anxious. The depressive part of my brain doesn’t care if I’m sick because it can’t care about anything. The anxious part of my brain doesn’t want to make the doctor’s appointment because what if something is wrong, and what if the nurse is mean, and what if the doctor commits a microaggression, and what if I have to go to doctor’s appointments by myself for the rest of my life because I never find a partner? I’m almost 30, and I can no longer indulge the myth that I am invincible and I will never have physical health issues. Right now, self-care means getting the medical care I need, even if it is difficult and scary for me to accept I am a person who sometimes needs medical care.

QUIT.

In the past year, I have just been quitting shit left and right. Marathons. Jobs. Pet ownership. I hate quitting so much, I can’t even tell you. For a Type-A perfectionist who has always based my self-worth in my accomplishments and being perceived as a capable, self-reliant person, admitting I’m not well enough to do something, like work a full time job, is one of the most painful realities I can imagine. People talk about setting boundaries and avoiding over commitment as though it’s fun. That shit ain’t fun. It is not fun to sit in the office of your work supervisor and explain why you keep calling out sick. It is even less fun to finally suck it up and leave a job because you’re not well enough to work full time, even if you think you ought to be. Even if I have been before, I am not now, and self-care means being honest with myself and other people about that.

The painful self-care I am doing now is coming to terms with the fact that I have built my life around performing only the best parts of myself for other people, or performing for myself to project an image of who I would like to be. And it’s time to quit that shit. I hate it. I feel weak and lazy and dramatic and irresponsible. But I know deep down I am not any of those things, and regardless, it is the self-care I need to do. I can hate it and do it anyway. And maybe tomorrow, I’ll hate it a little bit less. And next week, I’ll hate it less still.

ASK FOR HELP.

In my experience, people talk about reaching out for help as though it is cathartic and will always be well received. The truth is it is scary and uncomfortable, and until you’ve done it, you have no assurance about how people will react. You would think it would be easier if you have strong loving relationships with your friends and family, but I am lucky enough to have all of that, and I still find asking for help completely terrifying and painful and shameful, even though it ought not be any of those things. Having loving parents means I worry about causing alarm. And if the people who love you are empathic people who pour intention into your relationship, it can feel really scary to let them into the dark places of your life, and own up to feelings of deep sadness or suicidal thoughts. For me, a person who is driven to please and to perform, and who has immensely loving friends and family, being honest about my depression causes a unique anxiety – fear that I will say, “I don’t want to live,” and people will hear, “your love is insufficient, and so insignificant to me that I’m willing to leave you.” This line of thinking binds me into a false choice between my pain and someone else’s: if I am honest about my pain, I will cause pain for the people I love; therefore asking for help is a bad choice. No. Reaching out has been necessary, and now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m glad I did, but it took a lot to overcome that line of thinking, and it certainly was not the pleasurable type of self-care.

Also, maybe there are some people in this world who have the ability to ask for help in a graceful and appropriate way. However, I do not possess that trait. My efforts at reaching out and asking for help have fallen in the center of an unattractive Venn diagram, the circles of which include a) clumsiness, b) histrionics, and c) mild disregard for other people’s needs and perspective. Asking for help is difficult on a good day, so when you’ve waited until you are the worst version of yourself before you try to do it, it’s not a pretty picture. You’ve gotta do it anyway, because self-care; it’s totally shitty.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR RELATIONSHIPS.

I believe there’s usually a lot of ugly shit at the root of our depression. Yes, it is a medical and physiological disorder, and I’m trying to unpack the stigma I didn’t know I had toward depression. But mental disorders and illness are never as simple as, “here, you need more of this chemical between your neurons.” Underneath the physiological processes, there is usually a ton of FOO (Family Of Origin) issues, some maladaptive coping, and some cognitive distortions surrounding your identity and your relationship to other people. Recovering from depression means confronting some of that shit and working through some it. (I say some, because baby steps.) Recovery means hard, honest conversations with your loved ones about what you need, and what you don’t need. It also means doing your best to love and support the people who are loving and supporting you, at the very least on your good days. Unfortunately, experiencing a major depressive episode does not suddenly make you the center of everyone’s universe or give you permission to be an asshole. Taking care of your relationships when you’re depressed or anxious can be hard. Not always, but sometimes. I am finding the only way to do this is through open, honest, direct communication. I am stumbling through it, and I am lucky enough to have people who are willing to stumble inelegantly along with me.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BASIC NEEDS.

Pay your bills. Plain and simple. It’s necessary if one wants to continue living indoors. I can only speak for myself, so I’ll say that financial responsibility is really hard for me when I’m anxious or depressed. I don’t want to log in to my bank account because I’m afraid of judging myself for seeing how much money I’ve spent on eating out because cooking meals at home is too overwhelming a task. I’m forgetful and have trouble focusing, which means utility bills get paid at the last minute, and vehicle oil changes get done 1000 miles too late. Even though these things are hard to do when I’m depressed, I have to find ways to make them happen, even if it means asking for help or reminders.

IN CONCLUSION

If you’re doing these un-fun aspects of self-care, I’m proud of you. If you’re doing them, and you are sick, mentally or physically, or if you in a tough spot in whatever way in your life, I’m really, really proud of you because it’s not easy to do. If you’re not doing all of them, or you’re struggling in asking for help, or you’re struggling in quitting something you need to leave behind, I believe in you. It’s not fun or easy, and you can do it anyway.

Follow this journey on Each Little Spark.

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What Nobody Tells You About Self-Care



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What Happened When I Started Telling People About My Depression


Talking about the darkness that lives inside me hasn’t always been easy. It took years for me to tell anyone other than my parents. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I felt so alone. I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand what went on in my head every day, and it was a difficult thing to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

Looking at me and my life from the outside, you’d never know. I work hard to slap a smile on my face every morning. It’s never easy, but it’s necessary. I greet everyone I pass with that same smile and a “hello” hoping to make their day better than it was before. It reassures me I’m still needed on this Earth. I try to be as upbeat and as chipper as possible, even though I know it will completely and totally exhaust me for the rest of the day.

From the inside, you’d see the darkness that dwells in my soul. You’d see the hurt that creeps into my heart and shatters it into a million pieces. You’d see all the tears I hold back on beautiful, sunny days as I lay in bed, too exhausted and sad to greet the world. You’d see the terrible things I think about myself held behind my tongue and bouncing around my brain fighting to escape my lips.

One day, I decided to let the light in. No one would ever choose to live in darkness. I started telling people who were close to me about my diagnosis. I then talked with extended family members, classmates and coworkers. A funny thing happened once I started to share my story. I found out I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. I heard the phrase, “Me too,” come out of many people’s mouth. I found out that I wasn’t the only one who struggled.

It is an incredible feeling to know there are people just like you in a world. We cried together about the bad days and celebrated the little victories we accomplished.

When it all comes down to it, I share my story for two reasons. The first one is for awareness. Mental health needs to become a priority in our country. We cannot be afraid to talk because with more awareness comes more support. With more support comes more programs and professionals who can really help people in need or in crisis.

I also share my story to shine my light for others. For the people who can’t navigate the high seas of sadness, I am the lighthouse. For people who can’t find their way through the depths of depression, I am a flashlight. I shine the way because others have shined the way for me. We cannot be afraid of this light. You must shine it for others to guide them through this confusing and terrifying journey. It is a beacon of hope on cloudy days and a sign that we are never alone. Collectively, we will bring light to this condition and make sure no one is afraid of the dark ever again.

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3 Silver Linings of Experiencing the Storm of Depression


Depression is like a thunderstorm that strikes at the heart of our body and soul. It ravages our personality, massacres our behavior and twists our thought patterns. Many who have survived the storm of depression would guarantee one thing. Once the storm was over, they were not the same person they used to be. The mark is imprinted on our mind and soul forever. Our lives change forever.

Though that sounds so pessimistic and chaotic, the change caused by depression may not necessarily be a liability. There are some changes that can brighten up our life in ways we have never thought of. There are always silver linings that can decorate our injured soul and replenish what we lost.

1. You feel everything deeply.

Now, some of you might regard that as a disadvantage. Feeling emotions has always been considered as a flaw in personality. A flaw that affects relationships and careers alike. Yet, believe me, there is a silver lining to that as well. Just as we feel anger and guilt deeply, we would also begin to feel deeper happiness. Even the sight of a flower booming or the sunrise could inflict a sense of tranquility upon me. A survivor of depression is never satisfied with superficiality. They dig deeper to get a better knowledge of their inner self as well as the world around them.

2. You have enormous amount of empathy.

This one factor is enough for me to justify the struggle I go through in depression. When the storm ends, we are left with enormous amount of empathy for the struggle of others, a quality that seems rare among humans these days.

We can feel our hearts break at the sight of suffering, be it the suffering of our loved ones or of any living soul. Since we have been through pain, we know what is like to be the person who’s struggling. A survivor of depression can empathize with any person and help reduce their pain. And in turn, we achieve an inner peace that can replenish our soul.

3.  A chance to rebuild your life.

Every storm leaves a whole lot of destruction in its wake and depression is no different in that aspect. And surviving the storm of depression is the most difficult part of all. It might last for weeks, months and maybe, even years. It requires patience, love, empathy and kindness to survive it. So, if you are going through depression right now, be patient. Go easy on yourself. Outside the bubble of struggling you’re stuck in, there is hope. Remember that.

Remember that if you survive, you have a chance to rebuild. A chance to rebuild your life on a very strong foundation made of struggles, pain and tears.

woman holds on to the steering wheel of a car

When a Stranger Asked If I Was All Right After He Saw Me Crying in My Car


The feeling of wanting to die is overpowering. I kneel on the floor, body caving inward as I grasp my head between clenched fingers. I slam my eyes shut, open my mouth and scream without sound. Numb, my mind is frazzled and frenzied, accelerating out of control. The world is building far too big and far too fast. Its weight is crushing my mind.

Hold on.

My brain slips, my fingers tightened around my skull trying desperately to hold my world together as my thoughts race. A panic starts to build, I clench harder and harder. I squeeze my eyes tighter, burrowing my state of conscious choice deep behind my lids, hoping the mere pressure of my tightly sealed vision will hold my mind in place. But it is slipping.

Hold on.

I open my eyes and drop my hands, leaning back I gasp for air, just now realizing I haven’t been breathing. The yellow light bulbs inset in the ceiling above me looked vile in their filthy, penetrating presence. I stand up quickly, flicking the light switch off and letting the calming darkness pour down around me. Though I have taken a shower an hour before, I feel uncomfortable, dirty and unclean.

My skin crawls and I can’t escape it. I want to be washed clean. With the moonlight shining through it, I opened my window and take the screen out, resting it gently against my bedroom wall. I climb out and onto the roof from the first floor extending out below me. I stand with my arms wide open on my rooftop. I close my eyes again, feeling the rain wash over my skin, soak my hair and calm my mind.

As the night wraps her darkness around me, I felt a stillness begin in my head. I open my eyes, step forward and stand with my toes touching the edge of the roof, two stories up. This isn’t enough to kill me, is it? I think, looking down. I shut my eyes again. I take a deep breath, as the rain cascades down along my body, fighting everything inside of me to jump.

Hold on.

Is life really too precious to lose? The thought draws pangs inside of me. It has to be. God, it just had to be, even though it doesn’t feel like it. The pain spreads, starting in the core of my chest, outward through my torso as it punches a gaping, raw hole in my chest. I feel the freedom to cry. Wrapping my arms around myself, on this cold November night, I weep and whisper a prayer.

Depression, please, be still.

That is how I often felt, when dealing with the depression before I stabilized. It was an unending pain. I couldn’t make it stop. This symptom is often belittled or misunderstood about depression or the depressive side of bipolar disorder.

Many people want to say depression isn’t sadness, and they are partially correct. Depression isn’t solely sadness. It can be rage, depravity, numbness, cognitive dysfunction and so many other horrible things. Yet, sadness is definitely part of depression for many, many people.

It isn’t your typical sadness, though. It isn’t something that has a clear end or a, “Once I cry it out, I will feel better,” type of sadness. It is an immeasurable, unending grief. Sometimes it focuses itself around a physical thing, loss of a loved one, failure in life or something of the like. Other times, the sadness of depression centers itself around the people with depression themselves. They are grieving the idea that they aren’t lovable, they aren’t worthwhile or their life is pointless. Sometimes, the sadness has no grounds. It just is.

Mental illness can be masked for many different reasons and in many different ways. Not everyone who has clinical depression develops that incredible sadness, and not everyone with incredible sadness has clinical depression. Yet, that symptom of either life or depression can be one in the same and requires the same reaction.

Just be there. I can’t tell you how many times I wished someone was just there when I was struggling with undiagnosed depression and even before when life hit me particularly hard. When you are there for someone who is weeping or unbelievably sad, you open up their ability to confide in you and get help if they need it.

There was one defining moment, in the heat of my first depressive episode that lasted for months. It was one kind act by one old man who helped me in ways I don’t even know if I can explain. I was in a parking lot, sitting in my car and wringing the steering wheel in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t do it anymore. Life was too much. The depression was just too much.

Then, I heard a tap on my window. I wiped my eyes quickly and looked up into the kind eyes of an old man. He motioned for me to get out of the car. I wanted to drive away, but I didn’t. I got out and stood there. He reached out, put his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was all right.

He then squeezed my shoulder and told me not to give up. I looked up into those eyes, old, wrinkled and wise, and I felt OK, even for just a moment. It was enough to get me through that horrible day. I still think of that man sometimes. I don’t know if he is even on this earth anymore. He is an angel either way.

All it takes sometimes for someone to hang onto life a little longer is for someone to go out of their way and care a little more than everyone else seems to. All it takes is compassion. It isn’t hard, and you can save someone’s life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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If Depression Could Speak


I’ll lie in wait. When the door is closed and the lights are off is when I emerge. You are alone. But you have me. I sneak in and you reveal your deepest worries and regrets. You confide in me. I reaffirm and show you reasons why these worries are true. They are fabrications and I love to spin stories, but I have your trust.

I have convinced you that you are alone; I have you convinced you are the root of the problems around you, I have played on your deepest fears and I have even caused you to hurt yourself physically, just to gain relief from my constant onslaught of darkness.

Some have been inspired by listening to others talk openly about me, and some have confronted me head on and sought help themselves. But I’m confident I have you. You don’t know any of this. You don’t even know my true name is depression. I’m comfortable here lying in bed with you. You continue to mindlessly sift through YouTube. All the while I do my work in the background.

It’s starting to dawn on you what I am, but you haven’t named me, probably out of fear. We’re in bed again and you’re in so much pain, you’ve forgotten about the rest of your body. I have you stuck in one of my favorite stories. Your misery is inviting.

Ha! You are having that thought again; I have reduced it to a tiny thought. I’ve done my work on it: “Seek help.”  You’ve wanted to go to the toilet for three hours now and you haven’t even made a move… do you really think you can walk all the way to the student counseling services?

Shit, I need help. Anxiety wake up!

It’s only 3 a.m., Depression. He’ll be alone even longer if you convince him to skip lectures and stay in bed. Ah, depression – what have you done? You’re supposed to keep him stuck, not piss him off.

Look kid, you will have to get dressed to go there, otherwise people will look at you weird if you arrive in a tracksuit and a wrinkled hoody. The counselors will probably only laugh at you and tell you you’re wasting their time. Imagine if everyone you know in college finds out! That’s it — stay awake thinking about that. It’s really not worth it.

Nice anxiety, I think you have him.

Man, he’s still thinking about going. That’s all he’s focusing on.

He’s held on to this thought all night. Jesus, he looks exhausted.

So am I.

Me too.

Damn, he’s moving. What do we do?

What can we do? He’s going to the counseling center.

OK, while he’s waiting in reception we will convince him to leave.

They already have his information though…

We will have time to convince him to lie…

Damn, she called him in…

Shit, he’s broken down and told her…

Be strong enough to seek help. Taking on depression as part of a team is easier than fighting on your own. There are people out there who can help.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Silhouette of two girls holding hands

How I Describe Depression to Someone Who Has Never Gone Through It


How do you describe depression to someone who has never gone through it? How do you give them a bit of insight? Is it even possible?

One analogue I have come up with was a friend (bear with me). Imagine having a friend (your mind), Throughout your whole life you go through everything together. You take on the world. You go through ups and downs. You support one another. You trust one another and you tell that friend everything. They give you advice. You start to have accomplishments and failures. You learn and you keep going. This friend is someone who has your back. You don’t even have to think about it. It’s like breathing, like second nature, hell this friend is part of you and you are part of him/her. If you have someone in your life, like this think about that person. If you have ever had a relationship like that or close to it, think of it for a while.

You attack the world together. Things will happen but you bounce back, get up and dust yourself off. Your friend starts to suggest you should let go of some things you love to do. Starts saying these activities or clubs (whatever) are “a lot of effort to keep doing” or “Don’t you think you should spend that time on your job instead” or “What use is that activity in the real world?” Just little hints that an activity (or whatever you love to do) should take a back seat. That the world is a serious place and as such you should act accordingly. Then you let those things slide; after all, you trust their judgement. It’s so gradual you don’t even see anything wrong with it.

Then this friend you trust and have been through so much with focuses on your worries. Every worry you tell him/her about they will respond with the mentality of “That is possible and even likely” or “Yeah I know and it is even possible for [insert even more dramatic outcome] to happen,” then lists off half logical and completely fantasized reasons that it is possible.

Side note: I guess I was kind of naive in the sense that, why wouldn’t your own mind have your best interests at heart? After all, it looked out for me for so long. Avoiding things because they are difficult (even if we love them) is a way to avoid heartache in the future. Which makes sense — you want to avoid pain. Some pain is not avoidable, however, and some even necessary. The pain I avoided in secluding myself was delivered tenfold when on my own with my overly active depression.

So your friend has basically convinced you to drop things that matter to you (that make life worth living), the tough things that give you confidence or lessons to learn from. You start to spend most of your time on your own with your friend because he/she is the only person who understands why you are hold up and don’t socialize. Then you start to realize that you are unhappy, maybe even before this. You start to realize that where was once fun and life, is now just empty. When you do laugh, it is either to cover up the hollowness you feel or it pains you because it makes you realize how empty you are.

So here is where the analogue fails. My analogue includes a friend there with you. But with depression there is no one there. Well, a more accurate description is: it feels like no one is there. You tell yourself no one will understand your logic. Although, I think avoiding pain is the most basic of human urges. The trade-off is not worth it, though. The emptiness, the pain of loneliness and the self-loathing for not doing what you want to do. It was a hard experience for me to go through, but it can be done. It is a tough and long journey but it can be traveled.

Two things I will advise people to do if they relate to this post is: Be brave and be as honest as you can with the people around you. Talk until it is uncomfortable. Then say one more sentence. As much as you wish (well, I did), no one can read your mind. You have to be honest with people and some of them will even help you. The second piece of advice is that it is your journey and no one can do this for you, although they can support you along the way. You will learn so much. I also know that if you are suffering from this, you are incredibly strong. It is torture. But I know you can survive and thrive.

To those who have seen this in someone they love, I will give you this advice: People with depression often feel like a burden to those around them. You may not feel that way towards them but in their mind it is reality. So pity does not help. Pity is useless to them. Action speaks louder than words. You need to take action because a lot of depressed people may be immobilized. You need to tell their parents; forget about what you think might happen. If you are worried, that is a sign it’s serious and the alternative could be a lot worse. Make an appointment for them: Tell them you’re going to make an appointment for them on a certain day. If they say not that day, work with them to find a day. They may be more relieved then you think. If they react negatively you have to tell them that you are worried about them and let the conversation flow from there. Don’t shy away. I would recommend having this conversation while they are in a depressed state because it is harder for them to deny it.

Truth above all else. Take a deep breath and tell them how you are feeling. I believe honesty (as massive a cliche as it is) is the best policy.

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