I started writing this weeks ago, but the timing didn’t feel right. Social media was being flooded with the topic of ‘self-care’ and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Then there was the suicide of a prominent New Zealander, and the debate erupted again. So again, I took a step back. But I do feel like there is more to be said and I think the more perspectives we get on the topic, the more we can learn.
I have one friend, who like me, objectively has a pretty great life, but also finds herself battling depression. We flip between sending memes about our condition to talking candidly about breakdowns and tools we’ve learnt in therapy. Sometimes we laugh, and sometimes we cry. While we circulate these memes, you’ve got to wonder why there aren’t more talking openly about the latter. Last month, I took my first sick day for my mental health, it was a big step. There was only one person who took it seriously, only one who asked me when I returned the next day if I was okay. So when we are asking people to reach out, we need to get real about what that looks like.
When I first went to see a psychologist, I was given some sort of ‘feel better’ checklist which included things like going for a bike ride, picking flowers or meeting a friend for a coffee. When you haven’t showered in three days, you sure as fuck aren’t going to be putting on a face mask or calling a friend to go for coffee. There are different levels of self-care and that’s taken me a long time to learn. Some days brushing my teeth, having matching socks and adjusting my ponytail from the night before is looking after myself. I’ve been seeing these lists all over Instagram lately and I can’t help but laugh, it’s the equivalent of telling someone with anxiety to meditate. When I was struggling with anxiety after the death of my dad, there was nothing that could trigger a panic attack more reliably than the last ten minutes of silence in a yoga class.
Recently I saw one of these lists labelled something along the way of ‘how to make a bad day better’ which I think is a much more apt title. On the day I took off work, I was simply feeling overwhelmed by life, I recognised the early signs and took action. I took myself out for coffee, lunch and cake. I read and I wrote. But sometimes it doesn’t pan out like this, I slide too quickly and I can’t catch it. When this happens I change toolboxes, now it’s about staying afloat. I’m someone who uses face masks, has baths, writes, reads and exercises regularly, so when I’m in the dark corners of my mind, these lists can trigger more feelings of not doing ‘it’ right. Do what you need to do to survive, celebrate the wins, whatever they look like to you. When my mental health is good, I try to find ways to positively contribute to others, so that I can have some sort of external reminder, a safety net for when my mind wants to fight me.
I’ve been suicidal in the past, and for me it came from feeling I didn’t have a purpose. I knew I was loved by many people, but it didn’t seem all that meaningful. So yes, check on your friends, tell them you love them, but also tell them why they matter, what they uniquely contribute to the world that would be missing if they weren’t in it. That made and continues to make all the difference to me. In a society that is so focused on individuality, it can be hard to see yourself as woven into the fabric of the universe. Every thread counts. We need to work on making the weave tighter, so no one comes loose. Let’s move the onus away from those who are suffering and spread the load between each and every one of us.
If you or someone you know needs help, please check out www.lifeline.org.nz or call 0508 828 265. The Mental Health Foundation also have some good resources as well as links to more help www.mentalhealth.org.nz