In light of the current political climate, what I’ve been half begrudgingly/half jokingly referring to as the “Trumpocalypse,” self care couldn’t be any more essential than it is right now.
Many of us fear for our lives, for our futures; we worry about having access to contraception and hormones, and being deported by our government. As a result, our communities are coming together to comfort one another and to protest. So with so much going and so much needing to be done to ensure the future of our country includes us all, taking time for self care can feel selfish. But it’s more important now than ever.
Amidst all the chaos, we still have our mental illnesses to manage. We still have jobs and responsibilities and books to read. If we let these troubling times consume and immobilize us, we can’t care for our pals and loved ones who need us. But based on the magnitude of things that must be done to help each other in the coming months, as well as the stigma surrounding mental illness as a whole, self care can feel like a guilty pleasure.
I read a pretty disturbing an article awhile back, “Your Anxiety Isn’t An Excuse To Be An Asshole” by Chelsea Fagan, which basically shamed folks with mental illness as being too coddled by notions of self care. The main premise of the piece, as the headline suggests, is that your mental illness doesn’t make you entitled to irritability or abusive behavior. I agree with that wholeheartedly. But that message is coupled with the idea that self care is coddling and excessive–that somehow my love for a bubble bath and need to take breaks from social activities to color and zone out are somehow harmful. As someone with serious mental illnesses, I agree with Fagan’s initial stance. But to say that self care is basically unnecessary infuriates me. In order for me to be the kind and functioning human I’ve evolved into, I need those self care rituals as much as I need my medicine to make me the non-abusive human I’ve worked so hard to become. If anything, forgoing self care is more selfish than “indulging” in it. Because when self care disappears for me, I’m the least helpful human being to myself and those around me.
I have rapid cycling bipolar disorder and PTSD manifesting from three separate traumatic experiences–so on any given day, I have to do a lot to stay healthy and balanced. I take three kinds of psychotropic drugs, I attend classes about coping skills for my illnesses at an outpatient program in my town, and I cultivate lots of loving and productive me time. This week, that’s sort of fell by the wayside. I’m still taking my meds, but I skipped my classes and my self-care routine for a few days. If I’m not talking to anyone, I obsessively pace in my room or lay down and cry (besides the catastrophic election results, I’m also dealing with a family member dying in the hospital). And for the first time, after months of committing myself day in and day out to self care without interruption, I’m reminded of just how essential it is for my mental health.
Though my bipolar symptoms have been under control for about a month now, I now feel depressed every day again, and cry incessantly. I snap at my mom when she tries to comfort me. I’m less than responsive when my terrified friends reach out to me, asking for or lending their support. My mania feels out of control again as I throw myself into funeral arrangements, laughing and talking loudly and quickly until I tire myself out. And my PTSD-related nightmares are back.
Now, I’m trying to get back with that. I’m slowly easing myself back into caring for myself, trying to fit in a yoga practice here and there and pick up the book I’ve been reading again. I vow to go back to my treatment center next week, and get support from my peers and counselors during this relapse of symptoms. Because I don’t want to be a crying, sleepless, anxious mess who lashes out at people when they need me most. And in order to be that person, in order to properly manage my mental illness, I have to dedicate hours a day to therapy and meditation and writing. It may appear selfish to some, but I know that it makes me the best friend and support system to myself and others that I can possibly be.
As hard as it feels right now, please be sure to take a break from fighting and planning and consoling this week. Take a bubble bath. Get a manicure. Do a face mask. Cry to your therapist. Binge watch your favorite show. It may seem inappropriate and even eerie to get enjoyment out of life right now when so many people are panicking. But self preservation is what’s going to help you become a strong and important part of a family, friend circle and revolution.