05 May 2014

Depression Is Not Spelled S-E-L-F-I-S-H: Compassionate Self-Care

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them, humanity cannot survive.
~ Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Join me in blogging to erase the stigma of mental illness so our loved ones can seek the help they need.

his weekend mirrored my life: a little light, a little dark; a hill of joy, and a hole of sadness.The moments of light outnumbered the darkness.  But darkness weighs more. 

And when your Sunday ends with both your energy level and your mood on the craptastic end of things, Monday is a just a joy-filled experience.


The Necessity of Compassion
All I could feel as I sat at my desk this morning was loss, betrayal, anger, and helplessness.  It was compounded by the text I received from my therapist, who tried to be supportive, but ended up pushing my spiritual cliché b*itch button.  

I waited half a beat before texting him a snarly reply, and he agreed that his words weren't actually helpful. 

Two minutes later, I followed it with a “I’m-so-mind-f*cked-please-ignore-whatever-I-say” text.

To which he replied: 
“No worries – we understand and accept each other just as we are: fire and light; light and shadows.” 
Which immediately calmed me down.  The feelings didn’t go away, but the hold they had on me lessened.  I was not my feelings ~ they just were what they were, and soon, they would pass.

Pack Your Bags for a Guilt Trip!
Even still, I struggled with ideas for today’s post, beating myself up for not having something more encouraging to say.  Why couldn’t I just focus on the good feelings that
had made up the majority of the weekend?  I should be ra-ra-ing and being a beacon of light for mental health, blah, blah.

Well, yeah.  And guess what?  Part of shining a light on mental health is being truthful and transparent about my own struggles.  And having suffered with bouts of depression on and off for years, I know that self-care is a huge stumbling block for us.  Because many of us ~ probably even the majority of us ~ are care-givers in some capacity.  

The expectation that we need to be “on” twenty-four/seven is hammered into our psyches and woe betide anyone who is switches to the “off” position.  
If we feel exhausted in the middle of the day and lay down to take a nap,
we feel guilty.  
If we’re depressed or anxious and take a pill to cope, we feel guilty. 
If we make plans to meet friends, and then call off because socializing takes energy we don’t have, we feel guilty.
The sad thing?  Our loved ones ~ who should be supportive and accepting ~ usually help us pack for the guilt trip, berating and upbraiding us for our “failures” and our “weaknesses.” 

And because we are already depleted, our boundaries bombarded and our hearts bruised by mental illness, we listen to their lies and their barbed words and fall deeper into the rabbit hole of isolation and depression.

Planting Your Own Garden of Self-Care
But it’s okay to take a nap during the day.  Hey, the Europeans do it and no one calls them lazy!

It’s okay to take medication to help lift your spirits.  Not, I’m not a huge fan of Big Pharma, but I do believe there is a time and a place for certain medications.  And certain mental illness are chemical in nature, so meds are a necessity, not a superfluous luxury.
Image credit: Eleanor Brownn

It’s okay to back out of plans if you’re depressed.  I know this is not a popular sentiment, but the ones who usually get upset are friends and hostesses who don’t understand what it’s like to have such low amounts of energy that getting from the bed to the bathroom takes a Herculean effort.

And I am eminently qualified to make such a statement because I used to be the kind of hostess that would huff and puff if someone canceled on one of my big fancy dinners at the last minute. 

Now I’m all like ~ hey, no problem, more for me!  Just kidding, I’ll make a plate and bring it by if you like.

Learning As I Go
I don’t have all the answers, but that’s okay too.  I’m suffering and learning as I go.  What works for me, may not work for you.  But what is universal is that we need to give ourselves permission to relax.  

To sleep when we need to.  To eat healthy.  To have a bubble bath in the middle of the week.  To get a massage or a have a full spa day.

And to remember, we understand and accept each other here: light and fire and sun and shadow.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Why is that taking care of ourselves is seen as selfish?  How can we destroy this false belief?

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