Something I have realized about myself in therapy is that I have a very hard time making decisions for myself, based on my own wants and needs. When I make a decision, I make it based on how someone else will feel about it–my mother, my roommate, my friend, whoever. I don’t necessarily mean that I decide things by what my choices will make them think of me, although sometimes I do that too, but more that I decide them by how they’ll affect other people.
I think, will this keep everyone else happy? Will this inconvenience anyone? Will this make anyone angry? Will this cause conflict? Mostly that last one; conflict is what my boggart would be made of.
Very, very rarely do I initially think, is this what I want? Will this make me happy? Is this what’s really best for me? And if I do think that, and decide accordingly, I always feel guilty.
The thing is, I don’t tend to think of myself as an actual person. That sounds ridiculous and melodramatic, I know, but it’s the way my brain works. When I think of myself, it’s as an existence, a life, not as a physical person who needs things. I can’t think of any other way to explain it. I have theories about why this is, but they’re not important here.
All of this means that self-care is something I really, really struggle with. Doing things to make myself feel good and happy is not something that is a high priority to me, but, more than that, sometimes even the simple day-to-day things (brushing my hair, washing my face, et cetera) feel like more effort than I can put forth. This is obviously not a desirable state of things, and I obviously do feel better when I am actively caring for myself rather than relying on other people’s caring to give me good feelings. So, I am writing up a kind of self-care cheat sheet that I can look at when I start to feel like I need it, to remind myself that there are a lot of things I can do to make myself feel better and not all of them require tons of effort. Some of them seem very silly and/or superficial, but they help me and that’s what matters.
- Indulge my seemingly frivolous obsession with bath and body and hair care items. Stop denying myself, even if I have the money, simply because I don’t really need them.
- And, then, provide myself plenty of time to put them to use. Take the time and effort to make myself feel pretty even though it usually feels like too much effort, not for anyone else’s pleasure but for my own. I feel better when my exterior does not reflect the useless lump I often feel like I am.
- Regularly spend time outside. Sunshine and fresh air are sometimes more important than seclusion, and I always always feel better after being out among growing things and flowing things for a while.
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. Vital for stress and anxiety management, and so incredibly difficult for me to consistently maintain.
- Eat regular and filling meals, and occasionally put something healthy into my body. My eating habits are worse than my sleeping ones, two small meals a day if I’m lucky and if they consist of fresh, non-fast food it’s a miracle.
- Go to sleep early enough to get as much sleep as my body needs (ten hours) without waking up at noon and beyond. I don’t know why this is such a struggle for me, but it is and it has gotten truly out of control recently.
- Read, widely and often. This should not be something I need to remind myself about, as voraciously as I have read all throughout my life, but in the past year or so I have severely neglected it, along with most of my other former pleasures. Books are one of the best personal medicines I know and I miss them.
- Write, also widely and often. Once upon a time, I used to write journal entries in multiple journals, short stories (as silly as they were), poetry, lengthy emails … any possible excuse to write, I grabbed it. Now, I’m lucky if I write one blog post a month and a handful of status updates. Maybe I don’t need it the way I used to anymore, and definitely I no longer want to make a career of it, but I still miss it and feel that it’s the best way I have for expressing myself. even if it’s just a paragraph a day, I would like to get back to it.
- Do the things I need to do to manage anxiety, without worrying about how other people perceive those things. I am fortunate that I have far fewer instances of focused anxiety than I did even two months ago, but it’s still there sometimes. Whether it’s controlled breathing, or making a crazy person safety checklist in case of a break-in, or carrying around my pillow pet to stroke (a technique endorsed by my therapist because I am very texture-focused and repetitive actions are soothing to me, so I’m not as weird as this makes me sound), if it helps, it helps.
- Allow myself more time spent alone than time spent with other people, without feeling guilty about it (this seems to be a theme with me).
- Stop unnecessarily interacting with people I don’t even like. Life is too short and there are too many people who will enrich it to keep bothering with people who don’t.
- Talk to people occasionally, real talking, not just in text. As much as I don’t generally like to do it, I have found that it actually makes me feel more grounded. I have a tendency to isolate myself in my own head and convince myself that no one else in the world has ever felt the way I’m feeling, and that is an unacceptable trait in anyone who is not fifteen. Plus, it’s just nice to know that verbal communication is not in fact entirely beyond me.
- Stop and check in with myself on how I’m doing occasionally, acknowledge when there is a problem, and actively work to fix it. Usually, I ignore what my mind and body are telling me because I’m just lazy, or overdramatic, or silly, and I’ll get over it. Sometimes that is the case, but sometimes it’s not and it’s okay to say so and treat it seriously.
- Be kinder to myself, in general. The self-talk I practice in my own head is terrible, there is no way I would tolerate being spoken to that way by anyone else, no reason to tolerate it from myself either. I am never going to get better if I don’t even think there’s anything to fix, or that I am worth the fixing.
- Set personal boundaries, and don’t allow myself to feel guilty for enforcing them. I did an exercise a couple of months ago that required me to write down instances when I set boundaries and stuck to them when they were pushed, and in every single case I felt guilty afterward. I am so sad about that, it needs to stop.