Taking care of yourself comes in many forms, some easier than others and some more pleasant than others. Throughout my years of depression, self-care has meant several things to me. In times of severe symptoms, self-care focused on basic skills; eating, bathing, and taking my medications. When I’m doing better, self-care looked more like the conventional meaning of the term; taking time to relax, allowing myself tasty treats, watching a favorite show, etc. But no matter the state of my mood disorder, self-care has always included a mental component that can be particularly difficult: being nice to myself.
I know, that sounds so obvious it’s ridiculous, but you can absolutely do the actions of self-care without believing you deserve it. I run into this issue a lot; I spend an evening in sweatpants and a cozy sweater, absorbed in an episode of [insert ever-changing favorite show here]. Great self-care, right? Except I finish up the whole endeavor with terrible self-criticism for having let myself waste time and be lazy when I could have been getting work done. Somehow, it seems like that negates all the good that the action of self-care does for me.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there are plenty of benefits of self-care even when you’re not feeling it. If you’re doing something essential to your survival, like eating food, of course that outweighs whether or not you think you should do it. Plus, there’s likely some neurological benefits of taking care of yourself- dopamine, less cortisol, heck, there’s probably benefit to just practicing those neural pathways and making them feel more natural. But it also seems logical that the benefit of self-care itself would be even better if you let yourself have it guilt-free.
Sometimes, the hardest part of self-care is believing that you deserve it. And that’s usually when I need it most urgently. It’s a work in progress, but I’m trying to be less critical of myself. Deliberately being nice to myself sometimes feels like a big lie, like I’m only humoring the part of me that thinks all my negative self-talk is pretty crappy. Living with depression makes it complicated because I know that I need to do things like exercise, take time to relax, and let myself say “no” to things. But the part of me that fights tooth and nail to appear “normal” resents the fact that if I’m not gentle with myself, I might end up debilitated by depression again. I don’t want to need anything, and certainly not anything pampering. I’m fine how I am.
“I’m fine,” she says stubbornly.
Sometimes you’re not fine, and that’s ok. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been not fine- you still deserve to take care of yourself. Sometimes I feel like having been depressed for a long time means that I’ve been indulgent in my sluggishness and I need to be hard on myself to get out of it. I would never tell someone else that. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend in the same situation.
Stress and anxiety abound right now, so take care, stay busy, and get some fresh air when you can.