Take good care of yourself: some thoughts on mental health & self care

This is fineI’m not very comfortable with publicly discussing my mental health. So, the irony of writing a whole blog post about it is not lost on me. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was 14, but – bar a nervous breakdown when I was 21, and a rather bad episode when I was 25 – I’ve managed to deal with it relatively well. I have a good job. I have a great relationship. I earn enough money to do all the things I want to do with my life. Moaning about my own experiences of anxiety just feels a bit privileged when there are others out there with real issues to worry about.

However, I’ve had a few blips recently. Blame it on the changing seasons, my new job and the sheer exhaustion born out of a daily cross city commute, but I feel as though I haven’t been thriving as hard as I could be. I’ve spent days worrying that everyone I know and love hates me, or that I’ve made some catastrophic fuck up at work which means everyone thinks I’m useless. There’s been a lot of paranoia and breathing exercises in disabled toilets. It hasn’t been much fun.

One of my favourite podcasts is Another Round. I love it because it’s funny, it’s honest and provides so much excellent life advice (not least ‘drink more water’ and ‘call your mum’.) The two hosts – Heben and Tracey – are open about their depression and anxiety issues, and how they deal with these. Most importantly, the advice they give is never patronising. It just is what it is, two good friends exchanging coping strategies on how to navigate the world when your brain doesn’t want to play ball.

A topic they frequently discuss is ‘self care,’ which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Self care is, simply, the things you do to take care of yourself when you’re tired, or feeling low. They are the strategies you put in place to protect yourself. I practice it so I have the strength to keep doing all the things which I know I’m good at, and which make me feel better about myself, my abilities and my place in the world. Some days, it will be something like attending a yoga class after work, and on others it will be something as simple as remembering to perform my cleansing routine and brush my teeth before bed (which is a big deal when I’m so tired I can barely remember my own name.)

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

I think that there’s a lot of misapprehension about self care. It can sometimes be misread as being all about vanity or consumption. (And there’s a whole other conversation to be had about why neither of those things are necessarily negative.) Plus, a lot of discussions about it on the internet (or at least the internet spaces I frequent) can sometimes read as over thought and strung out. It’s great hearing about how a Brooklyn based beauty writer or the lead singer in a band practices it, but their life experiences can often feel vastly different from mine and the people I know. ‘Why should I listen to some hipster reminding me to wash my face?’ as I once saw someone comment.

But at the same time, I don’t think that a lot of us are particularly good at practicing self care. It takes time and effort, both things which are in short supply when you’re just trying to get through the day. I try and put aside a little time each day which I can commit to doing things which will make me feel better about myself, and just silence my brain for a bit. Often, this will involve going for a lunch time walk near my office, visiting the library or sitting in a cafe and reading a good book. At other times, it will be something like buying a lipstick, applying a face mask, listening to the football in the bath (one of my favourite weekend activities) or taking some selfies to remind myself that I’m of worth and my eyebags really aren’t as bad as I think they are.

I’m also an advocate for stepping away from the internet for a bit when it all gets too much. I love social media more than words can say, but it can be emotionally exhausting. Switching off the thing I do for fun (but which is also my job) allows me to get some valuable breathing space. After all, sometimes it’s OK not to have an opinion on everything.

It’s vitally important that women have discussions on how to take care of themselves in a world which often feels antagonistic and cruel. But I’d also like to see these discussions taken out of rarefied spaces. I’d be really interested in hearing how you practice self care, and what it means to you.