Tiny Acts of Self Care for When You Just Can’t

I write about self care a lot. I started this blog to chart my decision to choose happiness, at a time when I didn’t feel like anything could ever make me feel happy again. I write to remind myself why I made that decision, and how I continue to make that decision. And sometimes I think maybe I’m helping other people to choose it too.

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A lot of people seem to be struggling right now. I think that happens a lot in the springtime. Things start to change and for better or for worse, change always dredges up the dirt that’s lying under the surface. And when you’re struggling, every single step you take feels heavy and impossible and pointless – even the ones that you know might help. How are you supposed to summon the energy to start an inspiration journal when you can’t even face taking a shower or cooking a proper dinner? I’ve been there, and I promise it gets better. But until then, here are a few teeny tiny little acts of self care for when you’re genuinely not up to joining a yoga class, starting a healthy eating plan or taking up knitting.

Put On Some Clean Socks

I’m not even joking, I feel like a new woman when I’m wearing clean socks. If I’ve been travelling or if I’ve had a really rubbish day at work, I come home and put on a pair of clean, comfy cotton socks. Boom. Ready to face the world again. I told you they’d be teeny tiny. But it helps.

Breathe

Go somewhere warm. Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing. Don’t try to alter your breath – you don’t have to be doing deep, mystic, yogic breathing, just let your body do its thing. Cry if you feel like you have to. Let your thoughts come and go and try to be gentle with them. If you feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, stop. Being still works for some people, being active works for others.

Make Your Bed

Okay, this can be a hard one, I know. I wrote an entire post shortly after starting this blog about how the hardest thing about feeling like the world is falling apart is dealing with the fact that it actually isn’t. You still need to wash your clothes and pay your bills and do your dishes. Pick just one thing. Decide to go and make your bed right now. Or empty your bins. Or wash your dishes. Let yourself take pride in having done it. Self care isn’t always a bubble bath or a trashy movie. Sometimes, it’s doing the thing that has to be done, even when it makes you hurt. You’ve got this. I promise, you’ve got this.

Cuddle Something

I’m a very tactile person and I sometimes feel like I get an actual high from a good hug. Hey, if people are allowed exercise highs, I’m allowed hug highs. But if you’re not into touchy feely people, it doens’t need to be a person. Cuddle your dog. Dogs are great, and they always know when you’re sad. Wrap your arms around a big pillow, or around your duvet and give it a big squeeze. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Wash Your Face

This is similar to the clean socks in that it makes me feel like a brand new person. I’ve obviously internalised the idea of a clean, fresh start very literally. Grab a facecloth, run it under a very hot tap and place it over your face. Breathe in that steamy goodness. Enjoy the feeling of something warm and soft on your skin. Now wash your face in gentle little circles. No vicious scrubbing, we’re loving ourselves, remember?

Come take my hand, my darling. It’s okay not to be okay. Recovering from depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to be a gigantic hose of positivity and hope all the time. It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. It’s okay to just survive, if that’s all you have the strength to do. Look after yourself, survive, give yourself the chance to fight again tomorrow.

One Year On

So today marks one year exactly since I started writing my blog! Happy blogday to me!

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I have, of course made cupcakes, because any excuse, right?

But it’s also given me a really great excuse to look back over the past year, and it’s been amazing to do that. I know this blog is generally full of makeup, and my shoes disintegrating and me dressing up as Winnie from Hocus Pocus, but when I started, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind to think about any of that kind of stuff.

If you’ve never read my first post, here’s the short version:

I created this blog because I was depressed. I had been working for about a year in my “dream job”, and had known for quite a long time that it wasn’t making me happy anymore. But when I told people what I did, they would go “Ooooh, that’s amazing”, and look totally impressed. I had my big girl job, I was on the way up, I was A Success. I fell in love with this image of myself, and told myself that as long as nobody knew I was miserable, I’d be okay. Eventually, it got too much for me and I told everyone I knew, including the internet, in a crying jag that lasted about a week. I started this blog to let other people out there know that maybe it’s okay not to be okay, and to stop me shutting people out like that again. Two weeks later, I quit my job and signed up to an online counselling service. This was basically a collection of all the scariest things I could ever imagine doing, all happening at the same time.

Skip forward a year. How am I doing?

Well, I’m doing pretty great. I know lots of you have been following my blog and seeing me living it up in London, and to be honest, my life is going pretty damn amazingly. In the past year, I’ve seen this blog grow to be something that I’m really rather proud of, and it has charted my journey to being someone that I am really rather proud of. I’ve done some incredible things this year, and realised some really important stuff.

Firstly, don’t let anyone else ever, EVER tell you how you should go about being happy. People don’t come out of cookie cutters. Different things make different people happy, and we don’t ever get to judge someone’s success by our standards. Don’t ever be ashamed of what makes you happy, it’s such a waste of time and emotions and energy that would be better spent being smug about how happy you are.

Also, our idea of success is the most fucked up. The most fucked up. Apologies for swearing, most of you have probably noticed that my personal posts tend to get a bit sweary. I mean, how crazy is it that our primary, and sometimes only, barometer of success is the work that you do? Our careers have become the most important thing to strive for, we fall over ourselves to be busier than each other, to talk about how absolutely crammed our lives are with meetings and suits and serious-looking charts. Stop. If you have a high flying career that you adore, hats off to you. Seriously, that’s amazing, and I hope that it continues to bring you happiness. But what about the woman who spends her days pouring coffee and her nights making beautiful art? Or the guy who works a boring office job and struts out of the office at 5:01 every day, work forgotten. Or the stay at home mum whose life revolves around her kids. We look down on these people and we judge them because their lives don’t fit the specific image of success that we’ve spent so long building up. I did that to myself, and it made me really, seriously ill.

Doing stuff that scares you is incredible. This blog has pushed me to do so many things that I would never have done in a million years. I went to a champagne tasting in a skybar on my own. I handed my business card to a Radio One DJ. I blagged my way through countless beauty and fashion events where I felt in over my head the entire time. And it’s been one of the best years I can remember. Seriously, 2014’s photobook is gonna be an absolute corker. I try to say yes to things without even thinking, because I know that once I think about it, I’ll talk myself out of it.

The people who love you are the most valuable asset you will ever have. At points in this past year, I have had literally nothing. No money, no job, no self esteem, no idea what I was doing or where I was going. All I had were those people. They have mopped up buckets of tears, picked me up when I felt like I couldn’t take another step, forgiven me time and time and time again when I hurt them in fits of self destruction. I will never be able to express the gratitude and love that I feel for them. For my family. For Ruth. For Niall. For every single person who got in touch with me after I posted that first blog and told me that they felt the same. For the hundreds and thousands of hands that came out and took mine when I thought I was completely alone. People love you, I promise. Give them a chance to show you and you will be blown away by the kindness that they can show you. I know that I was.

Okay, I’m definitely crying a bit now.

When I started this blog, even when I started to get better, I was determined not to show you some squeaky clean, shiny, happy, perfect vision of my life. I wanted to be real, always. If people loved my writing, I wanted them to love my dark days, my mishaps, my swearing, my awkwardness, my everything. I wanted them to read it and go “Oh my god, thank god someone is talking about this”. Sometimes that means you have to write about porn. Sometimes it means admitting that you almost set yourself on fire taking your cute blogiversary photo. Sometimes it means you have to spill your entire heart on the internet. Social media is a god damn nightmare for making you think that everyone else has their life together. If I hadn’t started this blog and had people get in touch to say thank you, I would think I was the only one of my friends who felt like they lost control of their lives the second they graduated. We lie all the time on social media, and here, on my very own little corner of the internet, I don’t want to lie.

My life isn’t perfect. Depression isn’t the kind of thing that you just brush off and never think about ever again. There are days when I look in the mirror and all I see are flaws. There are days when I don’t look in the mirror because I don’t want to get out of bed. Despite everything that I went through, and all that very good advice up there, there is still a little voice in my head that goes “You’re working a nine to five? God, how embarrassing. You’d better say that quietly. You should probably become a space octonaut instead.” Seriously, I still have that fight with myself. But at least now, the bigger part of me knows that it’s bullshit. So I’m a little further along the path than I was. And I’m working on it every single day. I hope that some of you will stick around on this journey with me, thanks for coming this far.

Unhelpful Thoughts

So, as we’ve covered already, I haven’t been feeling too braw. I gave the British method of combatting everything with a stiff upper lip and steadfast denial a go, but when that failed to make me feel even a little bit better, I decided that maybe I should go get some help. So, for the past three weeks, I’ve been taking part in an online course designed to help you identify and combat unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

As it turns out, I have quite a lot of those.

So, in the interest of science and mental health, here is a list of unhelpful thoughts that I have pretty much every single day.

  • “If my life was a horror movie, this is totally where I’d be murdered.”
  • “Is that man looking at me weird because he can hear my thoughts and is appalled by my weirdness?” *Screams inside head and watches for a reaction*
  • “Is my rabbit really fulfilled?”

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  • “Can I put peanut butter on that?”
  • “I wonder if I should quit my job and go audition for Frozen on Broadway.”
  • “Maybe I should go blonde.”
  • “Maybe I should cut my hair short.”

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  • “Maybe I should get a tattoo.”
  • “I like my new Facebook cover photo, but does it really say enough about who I am as a person?”
  • “Imagine there was an axe-murderer behind this door/in my wardrobe/behind the shower curtain/standing at my window/under my bed.”
  • “I’d probably make a pretty awesome spy.”
  • “Why does Phil make Hercules bulk up when he’s already super strong?”

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  • “Maybe I should take a nap.”
  • “It’s been a while since I encountered an enormous, terrifying spider. That’ll probably happen soon.”
  • “Maybe if I buy new stationery, my life will improve.”
  • “Maybe if I buy a blazer, I’ll become the type sophisticated girl who wears blazers.”
  • “I am so funny. I wonder if anyone would pay me just for being this hilarious.”
  • “Maybe Pinterest has the answer.”
  • “This situation will be better if I paint my nails again.”

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With all this junk floating around my brain, it’s no wonder I’m not functioning properly. Although the junk isn’t really a recent thing. Maybe I’ve always been a little bit crazy.

In all seriousness, the course I’m taking has been super-helpful so far and it’s free, so if anyone else is feeling low, check it out here.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

You know the strangest thing about feeling like your world is falling apart? Having to deal with the fact that it really, really isn’t. The world keeps right on turning, oblivious to how shitty you are feeling. Even on days where just putting one foot in front of the other seems like too much effort, you still have to brush your hair, and wash the dishes, and clean your clothes, and pay your bills, and go to work, and eat things that are not chocolate digestives.

Functioning so hard right now.

Functioning so hard right now.

I am not good at completing small tasks like this at the best of times. I still haven’t changed my address with my bank after moving last June. Parents, feel free to commence nagging, but you’ll have to get in line behind Niall.

I am useless at putting the rubbish out. Every day, I will open my front door, look at the black bin bag lying outside it, convince myself that I am far too busy to take down the rubbish, even though my walk to the train station takes me directly past our bins and leave it there.

Doing the dishes requires such a momentous amount of willpower that I always feel a bit cheated that no one is there to shake my hand and give me a certificate once I’m done. And upon discovering that a couple of hours later, dishes are once again piling up next to the sink, my mind reels at the injustice of having to wash them again. Like, seriously? I did the dishes! I earned my dish doing badge! Isn’t that enough for you, world? I just want to have a sandwich without facing the horrifying consequence of having to wash a small plate.

So, for somebody who is naturally very lazy when it comes to personal admin and daily chores, the fact that these little tasks still exist when I’m feeling low is utterly exhausting. Sometimes, the mere thought of hanging up my clothes, or washing my hair, or socialising with people makes me want to crawl into my bed and take a two week holiday from existing.

But two week bed-holidays are neither socially acceptable, nor, based on my experience with two day weekend bed-holidays, are they very effective at making you feel better. So I stumble on: catching trains, cooking food, taking phone calls, cleaning the rabbit hutch, paying my rent, all the things that the world requires of me on a day to day basis. Sometimes this makes me feel better, but a lot of the time, it just makes me feel tired. How do you cope when it’s not the world that’s falling apart, it’s you?

Coming Out Of The Closet

Save your congratulations, folks, the title of this post probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

A few months ago, I watched an amazing talk by Ash Beckham on coming out of the closet. If you haven’t seen this talk, go watch it right now. Seriously, there is nothing I am going to say in this post that will be as awesome as that talk is (Yes, that’s a link to Upworthy. Deal with it. I like Upworthy and their manipulative, cheery headlines).

She talks about the experience of coming out of the closet, and how for her, that experience was about revealing to people that she was gay. But she goes on to say that it’s not only gay people who experience being in the closet. Everyone has their own personal closet, and they should get the hell out, because a closet is no place for a person to be living.

I felt sort of angry and upset at this assertion, because I most certainly was not in the closet about anything. How dare anyone suggest that I had anything to hide.
*Spoilers* I was definitely in the closet.

An artist's impression of my very mature response.

An artist’s impression of my very mature response.

As I would imagine is the case with a lot of people in the closet, I was afraid to admit what I was feeling because I was terrified of messing with people’s perception of me, and with my perception of myself. See, for all my endearing self-deprecation (was that an oxymoron?), I am kind of addicted to this image of myself as A Success™. A long time ago, somebody told me that the best revenge on your bullies is to live well. I took that advice and ran with it. So when I found myself graduating with a degree from the University of Edinburgh, Dream Job already landed, I was feeling pretty chuffed. Except there was one tiny snag. Within a couple of months, I was miserable. But I reasoned that as long as nobody knew I was miserable, it would be okay. As long as I could keep pretending that everything was alright, I’d still be A Success™.

Some of you may point out that being utterly miserable is not really living well. To that I say, excellent point, reader! I will now pretend that I didn’t hear it.

After a few months of feeling like my soul was being stomped on by an angry toddler, I begrudgingly accepted that something probably wasn’t right and I should maybe talk to someone about it. So, two nights ago, I did the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life. I talked to my dad.

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I planned what I was going to say for two days in advance, rehearsing scenarios in my head, imagining him casting me out onto the pavement upon the revelation that I was not the Success™ I had been portraying myself as. Because my dad is apparently the villain in a Thomas Hardy novel and I am an idiot.

Of all the things I’ve ever faced in my life, opening up and saying to someone “I am really struggling, I think I need your help” is by far the scariest. Or it would have been if I actually said that. In reality, I just wailed a bit, but he got the message okay.

And of course, it turns out that my dad couldn’t really give two shits about whether I’m A Success™ or not, beyond whether it makes me happy. We talked for hours, and for maybe the first time ever, I was completely honest with him. I wasn’t trying to be the me I thought he wanted me to be, and by the end of the conversation, I felt about a bazillion pounds lighter. Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t just talk to him months ago.

Oh, just my dad being a boss.

Oh, just my dad being a boss.

Because *GLARINGLY OBVIOUS CONCLUSION KLAXON*, it turns out that the people who really love you will always love you, even if you turn out to be something different than what they were expecting. In being afraid to shatter people’s image of me, I ended up shutting myself away from them and hoping no one would notice.

This approach, to put it bluntly, is utter bollocks.

I’m not saying that talking about how I was feeling fixed it. I still feel like I want to do nothing but crawl under my duvet and watch Legally Blonde on a loop for the rest of my life. But the thing about closets is that they’re really tiny. It’s tough to get comfy in a closet. I might not be happy (yet), but at least I have some space to breathe. And I’m really glad to be out.