Self Care Won’t Save Your Mental Health

This blog post was supposed to be about float pods and their mental and physical health benefits. Which are real, and I have personally found to be quite amazing. Consequently, I found myself reflecting on all the “self-care” we do in an attempt to be happy, or to curb anxiety and stress. To distract ourselves from our daily lives, to escape. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of what has now been popularized across social media platforms as “self care.” I think treating yourself to spa days, bubble baths, and Netflix binges on occasion can be a good thing. I think the problem is that we’re treating symptoms and not causes. We’re oversimplifying mental health and putting a pretty band-aid on a much bigger problem: Why do we need to escape in the first place? Incorporating relaxation and taking time for yourself is one small piece of maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle, but lying in a float pod is not going to treat my depression.

When it comes to becoming the most physically healthy version of myself, I feel like I have the puzzle pieces identified. I may not always put them together correctly, or at all, but I’m at least aware of their existence. The method in which I need to put them together to create something that’s organized, beautiful, and that makes sense is a formula that I understand. Consistency. I try to eat mostly whole plant foods, I no longer eat refined sugar, I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs, and I work out six days a week, mixing pilates, yoga, lifting, running, and leisure activities. I sleep at least seven hours a night. I’ve been on a three-year-long mission to become healthy. And although I do recognize my body as a lifelong work in progress, at least I’m not confused about how to maintain my lifestyle. Eat whole plant foods, sleep, exercise, and stretch. If I don’t take the time to do these things, I do not feel my best. For me, staying active with intention is the key – filling my life with fulfilling activities gives me purpose, creates goals, and gives me confidence that my future with my husband will be long and meaningful.

Mental health is not the same. Lately I’ve been feeling like all the puzzle pieces in my head are jumbled – thrown together on a garage sale table or tossed into a thrift store bin. The kind where kids have taken key pieces out, swapped them, crinkled them into balls, or mixed them up to the point where they’re unrecognizable. The Thomas Kinkade missing key elements. The castle without the flag. Do we just piece together what we can and ignore the holes and scratches? Do we try to jam things into spaces where they don’t belong? What if I don’t even know what goes there? The startling realization that the answer to all of these hypothetical questions is literally: “I don’t know” is confusing and overwhelming. Typing the word overwhelming seems silly because sometimes it feels more like the end of the world, and less like a task that can be overcome with enough hard work.

If you were to ask me if I’m doing okay, my answer may likely be no, even though I’m very happy with my life. I have no idea where to go from there.

In a nutshell: Being overweight and developing type two diabetes is common on both sides of my family. So I eat healthy and exercise. Simple enough. But alcoholism, addiction, and mental health disorders also appear frequently and on both sides of my family. I stopped drinking and put systems in place to support organization, a meaningful schedule, work I enjoy, and healthy habits, but simply put, I struggle constantly with depression anyway. As I lay on the massage table and drift away (every other week), or as I’m getting my nails done (every other Tuesday), my hair done (every six weeks), or a facial or pedicure (about every month) I am painfully aware of the fact that we are fragile, and one day I could wake up changed for the worse. Unable to recognize it or go back. I could already be there. And from there the anxiety begins and grows into a depression that takes over my mind.

What pulls me out of that cycle is my real life, that is wonderful and meaningful. My husband, friends and family, my hobbies, my writing, my work – the life I have constructed intentionally and make the effort to maintain daily drowns out the fear until I forget it for a brief moment. And in that moment I feel like I can rise above the cloud, and get just enough air to fill my lungs. And then I struggle to hold my breath until the next time I can come up.

I tend to focus on physical health because even though it can sometimes be hard, it’s mostly easy and I can control much of the outcome. And it does help my mental state to a degree. The stress and anxiety has become slightly more manageable because every minute of my life is planned, scheduled, calculated, weighed for importance, and placed in categories. Lifting weights doesn’t hurt. It’s more difficult to lose your marbles amongst an extraordinarily predictable and intentional life, or so I tell myself. 

But after three years in the fog, and another three years hovering slightly above it, I am confused and exhausted trying to fix myself. Because I love my life and yet I still struggle, almost daily, to keep myself above the cloud. So I thought I’d write to contextualize my current choices, and to explain my reality. Digital minimalism is just one concept helping me unpack my mental baggage. I’m actively beginning my mental health journey, and I am thankful that I have a strong foundation of healthy habits to build from. 

Currently I’m experimenting with everything from CBD to meditation, and have been actively learning about how to heal myself without pharmaceuticals. I start therapy on Wednesday morning at 9am. (About six years too late.) The receptionist explained that since I am a new patient, my therapist would like us to note some reasons for my appointment, and I said: “How long do you have? I bet everyone makes that joke.”

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Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

http://www.photosbykimberlyann.com/contact.html

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