Once again, I am confronted by the weirdness of the time I write these posts versus the time I post them. It’s a bit different this time, though, since I’m writing this only two days before it goes up. There will be no gap in post coverage, but it has been almost a week since I wrote my last blog post. I respect the break I took because I do feel better rested, but I also don’t want to not have blog posts for six days. Also, I have a lot to say since I did that thing where I escaped with a variety of activities and did a lot of thinking in the background while I kept my fore-mind busy. I’ll skip this upcoming weekend, but I’m going to get a couple extra posts written this week to fill in the gaps I created while I rested.Continue reading
One of my goals for this year is to find balance in my life. While it might seem like this statement is so vague as to be entirely useless, I kind of planned it that way. I get so caught up in my goals and working on projects that I find it difficult to split my attention or to stay focused on big goals instead of little ones. So, instead of giving myself narrow, specific goals to work on or work towards, I’m keeping them general and focusing on the big picture. Instead of trying to lose weight this year or trying to prioritize my mental wellness, I want to be healthy. Instead of updating my blog every day, working on a book, or running three D&D campaigns, I want to create. Instead of trying to stay three weeks ahead in blog posts or reading a book a week, I want to find balance between work and relaxation.
Self-care is a bit of a difficult topic these days because a lot of the online world has begun using it to mean “indulge yourself” when it is really supposed to mean something like “take proper care of yourself and your life, even if it’s hard. ESPECIALLY if it’s hard.” It’s been interesting watching a counter movement crop up in response to the “self-indulgent self-care” movement. People seem to get quite angry or insistent that self-care means scheduling doctor appointments, doing your taxes, and cleaning your place, often while asserting that things like bubble baths, naps, and quiet activities for yourself aren’t really self-care.
Like most things, the truth lies in the middle. Self-care definitely includes getting your taxes done in time, but it can also include bubble baths, so long as the bubble baths aren’t getting in the way of living a healthy life. If you find bubble baths relaxing, then self-care is totally doing your taxes and then winding down from stressing about money by soaking in some scented bathwater and bubbles. Maybe with a good book or a glass of wine. You do you. The important part is that you’re seeing to your needs, not just doing whatever you want all the time.
Sometimes, your needs are quiet time filled with books and video games. Sometimes it is cooking healthy meals, working out, and staying active every day. Sometimes, it can even be some ice cream after a difficult day, so long as it isn’t always ice cream and you’re not eating it by the pint. A pint of ice cream as a reward for doing your taxes is a dangerous step toward self-indulgence. A small bowl of it totally is. Self-care is complicated and varies from person to person, so it can be difficult to work out a definitive list of what “counts” and what doesn’t.
For me, self-care is a lot of the important stuff that I don’t like to do, such as scheduling appointments, updating my budget, limiting my expenses so I stay within my budget, and cleaning my room. I’m already really good at the self-indulgent side of things, which I really ought to scale back a certain amount. At the same time, sometimes I just need a quiet evening of popcorn and favorite cartoons, or a good book, because I feel every kind of drained. Tonight’s going to be one of those nights.
The occasional night like this, and every version of self-care like them, is important to me because I spent a lot of time wrapped up inside my own head and sometimes need a chance to be pulled out of it. If I spend all my time wrapped up inside my head, my thoughts get muddle, my emotions go haywire, and I usually wind up making myself feel miserable because I get so wrapped around whatever problem I’m trying to work through that every other part of my life fades away. I need something engaging and fun to pull me out, but that still makes me think about things, so I can stretch my mind out again. Pull it away from the problem I’ve been worrying at for however long. Give myself a chance to recover and the thoughts/problems time to breathe. Usually, after a few nights of this kind of peaceful relaxation, I have the clarity I need to finish working through whatever’s on my mind.
Proper self-care is important. If you aren’t taking care of both your mental and physical health, you’re going to wind up causing worse problems for yourself further down the line. Taking care of one at the expense of the other can work for a short time, if you’re in desperate need, but it isn’t something I’d recommend doing if you can avoid it and definitely something you shouldn’t make into a habit. It can be incredibly tempting to lose yourself in some athletic activity in order to avoid what’s on your mind or to indulge in a giant bag of chips or some sweets because it pushes the happy buttons in your brain. Once is not good, but it isn’t bad. Repeatedly losing yourself in athletics until you’re too tired to think or eating a bunch of junk food because it feels good becomes a serious issue.
Well-rounded self-care is key. Some therapy for the mental stuff, rest for your body and mind, healthy meals and exercise for the physical stuff, and a decent amount of the things you enjoy to keep your spirits up. Moderation in all things, of course, but that’s more of a suggestion than a rule or a guideline. You’re really the only person who can say when something goes from self-care into self-indulgence or self-harm, so make sure to keep an eye on what you’re doing and how it makes you feel.
Yesterday’s poem and my weekend binge of doing literally anything but think about the problems I’m facing got me thinking. Eventually. It wasn’t until last night, after a stupid amount of time playing borderlands, ignoring my roommates, and pretty much ignoring every part of my life I could get away with ignoring, that I started thinking. As I stared blankly at my blog and thought about just giving up on the daily updates thing, I realized just how toxic my mental space had gotten while I stewed in frustration and pain for almost three whole days. I forced myself to find an old poem to post and took a brief moment to bask in the coincidence that the first one I found was “Self-Harm.”
After a brief disclaimer that help put things in context for myself (and hopefully kept anyone close to me who might read it from worrying), I posted it and decided to stop playing video games. I took a hot shower, had a difficult internal debate, and then took a few deep breathes, all of which helped me push through the fog of depression that I’d let into my mind. I was finally back to reality. There was work to be done, a difficult conversation to be had, and the demeaning specter of my depression to face. All at the same time.
The conversation was productive, my fears were quelled, and I proved to my depression once again that I am not an unlovable wretch. There is still work to be done, there are still conversations to be had, but I feel up to the task now. I don’t think my depression has entirely returned to the calm sea it usually is between wave events, but it’s calm enough for me to work with.
I haven’t been doing much writing aside from the daily blog posts in a long time. I keep making plans to write more, but I never seem to get it done. Every time I sit down to write, I have trouble focusing or I get caught up in blog stats. I lose track of what I sat down to do and content myself with trying to track metrics that’re ultimately meaningless. Feeling productive as a writer is helped by tracking the total number of words I’ve written each month, but actual progress on my goals is far more helpful. Blog posts every day is a great goal, but I know I can do so much more. A year of consecutive blog posts is going to feel amazing, but I’m selfish and want more.
Honestly, there really isn’t much stopping me from writing more. I’ve got plenty of ideas, I could easily work ahead in any number of blog post projects, and I’ve got enough time each week to easily do another thousand or so words a day without losing the time I spend on recreation. The only thing getting in the way of me writing more is myself. It is entirely self-sabotage. Some of it is subconscious, like when I got to this paragraph I realized I hadn’t checked all of my webcomics, so I took a quick break to see if any of them had updated since I last checked. I clearly don’t want to face the topic I’m heading toward because it makes me uncomfortable. Some of it is conscious, like when I decided to put off writing this until the morning because I knew I’d have to hurry through it and might not be able to get it all written before I had to leave for work. At the very least, I wouldn’t be able to think about it very much until after I’d done the work of writing it.
I get in my own way a lot. I’ve never engaged in cutting or any kind of physical self-flagellation, but I’ve been absolutely horrible to myself in terms of criticism and preventing me from working on goals or feeling positive. All my self-harm has been the non-physical kind that tears you up inside but never leaves a mark. There are a lot of people who do the same thing and we all call it just a part of anxiety, mental illness, depression, and so much more. After this past weekend, I’m inclined to call it all a form of self-harm.
I literally spent three days being miserable, basking in my own misery, telling myself I wasn’t worth the effort it’d take to proactively fix things, and wallowing in the waves of my depression as they repeated everything bad I’d said about myself since Thursday but magnified many times over. There was nothing preventing me from actually doing something productive, either to fix the problem or to make use of one of the various positive coping mechanisms I have that help me reflect on and find the truth in my internal conversations. If I’d written something about what I felt, I’d have discovered what was actually bothering me and what to do about it. If I’d talked it out with someone, they could have explained I was being far too critical of myself and that my depression was making everything seem worse than it was. If I’d done almost anything but what I did, I would have felt better.
Normally, I’m not this hard on myself. I don’t normally spend that much effort and energy on creating the ultimate stewpot for myself so I can bask in my own misery. This was a particularly bad weekend because it followed on a week of severe depression which was following on a week of growing-pain conversations with my girlfriend. It was a hurricane. The “perfect storm” of my depression, my anxiety, and my OCD and I swam right into it.
I’m willing to cut myself some slack here, because there’s a good chance that the current pulled me toward it, the wind pushed me toward it, and the spirals made it almost impossible to escape, but I’m not going to lay all the blame on my mental illnesses either. The first stroke was mine and mine alone. I chose this storm for myself because some part of me thinks I deserve to be miserable. Some part of me fears extended periods of positive emotion. Some part of me believes being in constant misery is exactly what is best for me.
That’s horseshit. And bullshit. And Zebrashit. If planets could shit, it’d be planetshit, too.
I’m not good at advocating for myself, not even to myself. I don’t do a good job of defending myself against anything. So, when someone says something that hurts me, my depression grabs ahold of it and tells me “Aha! I’m right! This clearly shows you’re worthless and no one will ever love you.” and I just let it. I don’t really fight it. Most of the time, I can just ignore it. Sometimes, like last weekend, it fits right into the internal narrative I’ve been constructing because I feel like I deserve to be punished for something so I just sit there and take it.
The part of me that believes I deserve misery and pain is probably the same part that is the source of my depression, anxiety, and OCD. I’m currently working with my therapist to address that and see what we can do it make it go away, but that’s always easier said than done and never a guaranteed outcome. I mean, I’m trying to talk about it now and, even after a couple of editing passes, this whole thing still feels super self-critical. Probably because I can still see and hear the words I’ve taken out, but that’s because they’re the words I use on myself all the time. How dumb is that? One of the ways I inflict emotional pain on myself is by giving myself a hard time about how I’m prone to self-harm through emotional pain. I’ve gotta be careful here, or else I’m going to start adding even more layers of recursion. It’s insidious!
It’s a difficult problem without a clear solution. If I take myself to task too severely, I tread right back into dangerous territory. If I’m too lax, I wind up inventing problems just to cause myself misery. If I get upset because someone did something that hurt me, I find a way to magnify it and make myself feel I deserved it. I rarely get angry or project my negative emotions outward.
I’m not saying that’s the solution to this problem, either. I’ve seen the pain that anger and negative emotion directed outward can cause. I’ve been on both ends of it. I hate hurting other people more than I hate hurting myself, so it is often easier to make myself miserable and spend a bunch of time feeling like I deserved it than to let someone else know they accidentally hurt me. I’m going to be in pain either way, so why not spare the other person? Ultimately, there’s a fine line I need to walk and I need to stop automatically jumping to the “embrace all the pain by yourself” side of it.
After a week back at work, I can definitely say that I miss being on vacation. Normally, I am glad to be back to my routines and my habits, but I definitely miss my leisurely days and lack of anything but time and a list of things I’d like to do. Work is fine, of course, but I miss the feeling of being in command of my schedule and feeling like I am the master of my day-to-day fate rather than someone swept up in the rigors of modern life. I do not miss sitting on the couch and watching Psych for 12 hours while also playing Legend of Zelda from when I wake up until I go to sleep. I just miss feeling like the day was entirely mine to spend.
That being said, I still don’t really feel different from how I felt before the vacation. I took the whole week off of work and writing because I felt burned out and used up. I needed to rest and recharge, to let myself unwind. However, whatever I expected didn’t really happen. I thought maybe I needed to go back to work for a bit, to see how my weeks contrasted, to really appreciate the change my break had wrought. Unfortunately, I still feel no different from before. Maybe a little less burned out, but not any less cosmically or existentially tired.
I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy my vacation. I enjoyed the shit out of it. I read a bunch, went on walks every day, actually got a good amount of sleep each night instead of just making do with 4-6 hours like I do when I’m trying to write and work 10 hour days. I cut way down on my caffeine intake, spent time away from the internet, and took the time to just let everything go for a while. I spent most of Thursday just existing. Sitting in my armchair, watching the cat jump at leaves blowing past the sliding door and staring out at the bare trees and empty blue sky. It was peaceful and an excellent change of pace.
Afterwards, though, I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what it will take for me to feel more relaxed. To escape the feeling that there’s always something more I could be or should be doing. I’ve even spent some time wondering if I ever will. If I’ll be able to look back and say that this was good or that was what I wanted. If I’ll ever be able to not wish that I’d done or was doing more.
Part of me wonders if that feeling was a result of so many people in my life telling me that I was going to do great things and change the world when I grew up. Maybe I’ve got unreasonable expectations. I’ve spoken about it with my therapist and she recommended that I focus on the times I used words like “should” to describe the items on my to-do list. None of those things are really “shoulds.” They’re “coulds,” at best. If I’m constantly recriminating myself for not getting something done, I’m being too strict with myself. Yes, I enjoy feeling productive and actively pursuing my goals is the only way they’ll get done, but I could probably stand to give myself a little more slack.
I’m not very good at that. No one has higher expectations for myself than I do. I’m pretty certain that’s at least part of the problem. I expect so much of myself that any time taken to rest or recover from how hard I work is time wasted. I know exactly what will happen when I start drinking energy drinks every day at 5pm. I know how depressed and worn out I will get if I don’t get enough sleep a few days in a row. I know nothing good comes from a caffeine dependency and worsening depression. I really don’t have enough nights where I felt energized and productive as a result of these things to make it worth it. I have some nights and those nights feel amazing, but I have many more days of lethargy, exhaustion, and depression and those feel horrible.
And yet here I am. One week after the end of my vacation and I’m barely sleeping enough to get by each night, drinking more caffeine than usual to keep myself going, and trying to fill my nights with work on any one of my several writing projects just so I can silence that voice in my head that says I’m not doing enough. I am doing enough. I’m doing too much. I work harder than most people I know. One day it will pay off, but I can’t forget that this is a marathon and I’m never going to win it unless I learn to take care of myself the entire time. I need more breaks, more mindfulness, more time to rest my mind each day. I need to push myself enough to get things done, but not so hard that I don’t have the energy to do some reading every night.
That last thing is probably the most important. I need to read every day. Even with the caffeine and the lack of sleep, I’m feeling stronger than I normally would because I’ve taking the time to read. As long as I can make sure to do that, I think I’ll be able to keep myself on track. Reading is the ultimate self-care for me because I never feel guilty for spending time reading. Exposure to new stories and different writers will make me a better writer over all. So long as I am reading, I am enjoying myself and investing time in improving myself.
I don’t think I can say that I’ll get through a book a day or even a book a week, like I do when I am on vacation, but it will keep me going longer than rest alone.