Checking In With Yourself

When you’re feeling really depressed, upset, or anxious, it can be hard to come up with ways to understand what is happening with yourself, let alone what to do about it. Even the most basic self-care can be hard to remember when your executive functioning is down.

This is a very helpful list to have handy for those times when you are unable to generate the energy to remember how to support yourself:

 

Mindfully Running a Half-Marathon

Having PTSD and asthma means that there are many times I can’t run or my training is derailed for short or long periods.

I began running because it was an activity I remembered enjoying in childhood, and I really wanted to reclaim it. I also wanted to improve my cardiopulmonary health. I never thought I would make it up to even a single mile! But that wasn’t the important part. I wanted to develop a habit and create new, positive mental associations.

My training method was this: I would run only as far as it felt good and enjoyable, and then stop or walk. If I felt like it, I could start again. When I felt done, I was done!

Because I took the performance pressure (“shoulds”) off myself and made the activity 100% about enjoyment and health, it ended up being something I have stuck with, and I progressed far more than I imagined possible.

Not only do I only run as much as feels okay, I likewise never pressure myself to run when I’m not feeling well, or I’m too tired from missing sleep, or something hurts.

In this way I am mindful of not being a punitive taskmaster towards myself, which would activate PTSD symptoms and also put me at increased risk for injury or illness. Exercising punitively is a form of perfectionism that can be injurious very quickly.

I accept my current level of ability as it is, knowing it does not make me superior or inferior to anyone else. I also know my ability is temporary, fluctuates, and includes a large component of sheer luck.

I pay caring attention to my body’s needs, which sometimes (often!) means I have to re-start my training all over again from mile 1. But it also means I am more likely to be able to continue running further into my lifespan.

I hope that whatever kind of exercise you prefer, you remember that the point of exercise is to improve your physical and mental health, rather than to punish your body (for eating, for example!) If you are exercising in a self-punitive way, it will not be healthy for you for very long.

And I want you to experience as much physical and mental health as you can, for as long as you can!

Stopping the Cycle Matters, and It’s Hard

For those who are taking on the life’s work of recovering from any kind of childhood abuse, what you are doing really, really matters. You are blocking the spread of abuse with your own body and heart.

It takes an enormous effort to put something positive out into the world, or to pass something better on to your own or others’ children, when you weren’t even given enough resources yourself to begin with.

Being the one to stop the damage from propagating further means you are spending energy repairing your own injuries while also spending energy moving forward and putting good into the world. You are working twice as hard with fewer resources and while healing from your injuries. In a way, you are repairing the past, present, and future all at once.

No wonder changing the world is so exhausting!

Have a Restful Labor Day!

Art by Ricardo Levins Morales

Remember that the original purpose of Labor Day was to promote worker solidarity and to reduce the length and number of workdays. So keep the spirit of the day and take some time to rest!

The US Department of Labor describes the first Labor Day

We often imply that only paid labor is “real work,” but in fact unpaid labor is at least as crucial to society and is usually unpaid only because of who is doing it: from the work that women do that literally holds society together but is not counted in the GDP, to the not only unpaid but also forced labor that built this country in the first place.

~Honor your own contribution as valuable, whether paid or unpaid. Know your worth.~

 

Self-Care: Becoming Your Own Good Parent

I frequently hear people describing “luxury” activities, such as getting a manicure or buying things for themselves, as “self-care.” Often it’s said jokingly, but I get the sense that many people do not really know what self-care is. Sure, self-care may usefully incorporate some luxurious activities. But that’s really not what it’s about. Self-care is simply doing for yourself what a very good parent would do for you, to the best of your ability. And a good parent would make sure your needs were met. Every day.

We learn what we live. If you grew up in a chaotic, dysfunctional, or abusive household, you may not have received a complete template for what a good parent does.  If that is the case, then you have had a long time to practice not treating yourself very well. The only way to retrain yourself in that skill is the way you develop any other skill–by practicing. So here are some things a good parent would do for their child that you can practice doing for yourself:

A good parent would make sure you had a regular bedtime and enough sleep, maybe even a nap when you’re feeling cranky or sick. They would make sure you were getting enough nutritious and enjoyable foods. They would make sure you bathed, brushed your teeth, and had clean clothes.  They would make sure you had some time to run around outdoors. They would make sure you got medical care.

Do you do those things for yourself? Or do you make yourself operate on too little sleep and put off eating until you’re drooping? Do you treat meals like sins or punishments instead of necessary and pleasant events? Do you treat exercise like a penance for eating? Do you ignore illnesses and injuries until they are simply unbearable?

A good parent would arrange for playtime with nice friends, and would limit time spent with those who were mean to you. A good parent would comfort you when you were sad or afraid, listen when you were angry, and share your happiness. A good parent would maintain healthy boundaries: they would allow you to have your own feelings and not make you responsible for theirs.

Do you do those things for yourself? Or do you spend more time with unpleasant people out of obligation, and less time with people who are good to be around? Do you dismiss your feelings, swallow your sadness, minimize your anger, ignore the importance of your joy?  Do you call yourself stupid for having a feeling? Do you take responsibility for making sure things are okay for everyone around you, even if it means you are unhappy?

A good parent would encourage your interests, your curiosity, and your work habits, and would help you develop your talents. A good parent would also give you adequate unstructured time to relax between all that working and practicing.

Do you do those things for yourself? Or do you dismiss your interests as silly or insignificant? Do you put off necessary tasks repeatedly? Do you tell yourself that your talent for sewing, mechanics, dancing, writing, music, art, is unimportant and not worth practicing? Do you always forgo pleasurable, enriching, or relaxing activities in favor of your to-do list or more work hours, even when you have some free time?

One of the tasks of adulthood is to re-parent ourselves, which really means developing the habit of self-care. If you want to feel better and function better, start the practice of becoming your own very good parent.

You Are Not “Lazy”

“I’m not getting enough done, I’m so lazy.” “I ended up hardly doing anything Sunday and I felt so lazy.” “I need to get this one task done, but I keep being lazy about it.” “After work I’m just too lazy to work out.” “I’m too lazy to keep track of things.”

In fact, I have never met a lazy person.

I’ve met people who are: overworked, exhausted, sleep-deprived, in chronic pain, ill, mired in depressive episodes, struggling with anxiety, stuck in intolerable situations, and having attention difficulties, but I’ve never met a lazy person.

“Lazy” doesn’t really mean anything clinically. It’s a “folk” term, and it is primarily used as a pejorative towards self or others. One patient summed it up as “not doing what you think you ‘should‘,” and I think that’s a good all-around summation.

Calling yourself “lazy” is usually an internalized message from caregivers in your formative years. It could have been directed towards you or towards others. The message is “You are unacceptable unless you do what I want, regardless of your ability, wishes, or how you are feeling.”

If you are injured, walk it off! If you are tired, too bad! If you are sick, it can’t be that bad since you’re not actually in an ambulance on the way to the hospital! Just because you don’t want to do something is no reason not to do it! You’re just “lazy”! In other words, how you feel and what you want do not matter. Ignore your own feelings and your wishes.

“Lazy” has also been used (and still is) as a way to demean racial minorities, those with disabilities, the poor, and women. Please be especially careful not to re-enact racism, ableism, classism, and sexism on yourself by calling yourself lazy!

The implication is that if you would just “will” yourself to do whatever it is, then you would be acceptable and worthy. If not, then you must just be a bad, unworthy person and you must deserve bad treatment.

The fact is, you are already acceptable and worthy, without doing anything to “earn” that worth. Now, you might feel better or happier if you were doing certain things, and they are certainly worth trying, to see if that is the case. But telling yourself you are “lazy” is not helpful.

Feeling awful about yourself is not a good motivator for anyone. And it is in no way helpful in mitigating situational factors, such as poverty or prejudice. In fact, it is likely to worsen your exhaustion, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and concentration, which will make it even harder to do whatever it is you would like to be doing.

Instead of calling yourself lazy when you did not do something you intended to, try paying attention to your feelings. Are you tired? Has it been weeks since you had a good night’s sleep? Have you been working 60 hours at three different jobs? Do you have an infant or a toddler? Are you taking care of others’ needs? Are you sick? Are you getting sick? Are you going through an exhausting life transition? Are you grieving? Are you experiencing chronic pain or illness? Are you in a depressive episode? Are you experiencing anxiety/phobia about certain tasks? Do you have PTSD? Are there systemic barriers to your tasks that make them much harder than they are for others? Have you been paying attention to self-care?

It may be that you have internalized some unrealistic expectations for what you “should” be able to do. It may be that some others can do the thing you want to do. It may be that on “good” days you have been able to do twenty times as much as you are doing today. But where are you, just you, today, right here, right now? Maybe you’re doing the best you can with what you have at your disposal right now. Maybe that is enough.

Another day, you may be able to do something more or something different. But accepting yourself right now is even more important than doing the thing. And that does not make anyone “lazy.”