Mental health

On the importance, and difficulty, of self-care

The reason that I’ve not written much on this blog recently is that my mental health has not been good. (Urgh: as I say here, just writing those words feels tremendously embarrassing). I’ve written about mental health before, but I only find I can only do that when the worst of it passes — and right now, it’s been two weeks and I’ve not yet reached that point. So, y’know. It’s been hard. But one thing that I do want to write about, and which I feel I can, is a teeny tiny thing that I only started doing a couple of weeks ago, but which I have found useful regarding self-care.

When I talk about self-care, I’m not talking about having a bubble bath and getting a massage and eating chocolate. I’m talking about the most basic kind of self-care: brushing your teeth; doing your laundry; eating three meals a day; going to appointments. These activities are a vital part of being a basic, functioning, human being, but doing any of them can feel like Everest when your depression is putting a heavy weight on your chest. And there’s a neurological basis to that difficulty.

For example, this week it took until Thursday for me to cook a proper dinner in the evening. Each evening before that I had gone to a fast-food restaurant, eaten sweets, or eaten nothing at all.

Anyway. Something I’ve found useful is this.

self-care sheet
I’ve not included the actual things I tick off each day. I don’t want the Internet knowing my vices.

This is laminated and it lives in my bedroom. There are seven (redacted) things along the left-hand side that I ought to do (or not do) each day, and every day I tick off whether or not I’ve done them.

The key thing here — and the only reason this works — is that I don’t attach any value to whether or not I do the thing. Whether it’s a forest of ticks or a sea of crosses is irrelevant. I’m not judging myself. I’m just recording.

Why does this work? Because it gives me context. It lets me see whether it’s actually been a bad week, or whether I’ve got more to be pleased about than I thought. By adding all the numbers together, it lets me track how well I’m taking care of myself over time. And it’s satisfying to have something I can fill up and clear off each week. (The same reason stickers and gold stars are appealing to kids).

It’s not a miracle cure. But it’s helped me detach myself from the bad days, and feel pleased on the good days. It’s something that helps. And there aren’t too many of those right now.