When Self-Care Becomes Self-Sabotage


A few weeks ago, I realized something: I had begun using my mental illness as a crutch. Not so much with other people, but mainly with myself.

On days when I wanted to stay in bed (which, up until recently, has been most days), I allowed myself to, equating it to exhaustion and fatigue. If I couldn’t meet up with others, I blamed it on anxiety. And if I couldn’t bring myself to go to work because my depression was just so bad, I told myself it was OK and I that deserved a mental health day.

All of the above is fine in theory, but using “self-care” as an excuse actually turned out to be self-sabotage. Sure, when your body is tired, it needs rest, when you need a break from the world, you should be able to take one, and if you truly need a mental health day, by all means, take one.

But it’s almost as if I knew these were “easy,” acceptable options and began relying on them too often rather than motivating myself to get up and do things that were good for me.

Instead of staying in bed, I should have gone to the gym to work out, a proven mood booster not just for me, but for a lot of people. Instead of shutting out the world, I should have been enjoying time with my loved ones. And instead of attempting to work from home, which always puts me in a worse mood unless I physically leave my house and work somewhere else, I should have gone into the office, interacting with others and keeping myself busy.

Being open about my mental illness has been both good and bad — good in the sense that I am no longer ashamed to hide it, bad in that I started using it as a fallback. But that has never been my intention.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be mindful of the signals that point towards me going downhill again. More often than not, it’s when I know in my gut I should be doing something (ie. see that friend I haven’t seen in forever, go to the gym or write in my journal), but there’s some sort of opposing force that encourages me not to, almost wanting me to go down that rabbit hole and stay in that rut. Sometimes I’m able to fight it. But other times, I just give in, chalking it up to said “self-care” that I mentioned above. Again, self-sabotage. And I think that’s why I feel like I’ve been stuck for the past few months. I’ve been using this excuse with myself and others and, in turn, keeping myself in a dark place.

Like I said, I’m not against self-care at all, but it’s different for every person. And I know the “self-care” I have been indulging in (read: staying in bed and “resting,” which is essentially just me laying in bed and scrolling mindlessly through social media) is not good for me.

What does constitute as legitimate self-care for me? Working out, for sure. Dancing, something I’ve always loved and finally pushed myself to start again. Playing music. Writing in a journal. An epsom salt bath. Meditating (I’ve meditated every day for the past 30 days, and I am damn proud of it). Being around good, positive people. Feeding my soul.

Motivating yourself is the hardest thing when you have depression. Grasping onto that little bit of hope you have left, and working with it is one heck of a challenge. My false version of self-care led me further and further away from it.

So from here on out, no more of this self-sabotaging self-care bullshit. It’s time to push myself to do things that really put my mind at ease and brings me to a happy place. And if anyone catches me using it as a crutch again, please, call me out on it.

Follow this journey on Madelyn’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via eggeeggjiew


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