Most people probably don’t find life as hard as I and many others living with mental illness do. It’s very, very difficult to be kind to yourself on days when you can’t do things, and to practise self-care when life gets tough. Getting a bus to a new place, eating, getting dressed, taking a shower, going outside, knowing what you feel and acting (safely) on it are just a tiny number of the many everyday things I struggle with.
I can sometimes manage them and sometimes not. Not to mention the big things, like meeting new people, attending events, working. And it’s not a case of not wanting to do these things. I really want to. I just often find that I can’t. It’s much easier to judge, criticise, feel ashamed, and engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms.
When life gets tough
But today, I did really well. I feel sad. Because yesterday was hard. I had to go to a new therapy group, and it was too much for me and I ran away, literally. But to be honest, what happened is irrelevant and what I am really pleased about is my response to today’s emotional repercussions. I did not engage in any harmful activities. Instead, I automatically turned to the skills I have learnt in my 18 Months of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy: mindfulness of emotion, self-compassion, self-care, self-soothing, distraction. And it worked: I felt better. I felt my emotions, but I was able to cope. This is a very new thing for me.
Things I am proud that I managed
- Knowing I was sad.
- Knowing why I was sad.
- Choosing not to wallow in it or avoid it.
- Communicating with relevant people to update them on where I was, that I was safe, and explaining my behaviour, instead of avoiding all contact due to fear and shame.
- Immediately deciding that a day of self-indulgence was necessary, setting up my cosiest bed nest, and finding something to watch that would distract me and make me feel better.
- Asking for help and comfort from those who can give it to me – small things, like my partner bringing me foods that I know I will eat, because it’s hard to eat when I feel this way.
- Feeling minimal guilt about taking this day. And every time the guilty feeling pops up, reminding myself I had a long, busy, emotional week last week, and that yesterday in particular was very difficult. And saying to myself, “I deserve this, it’s OK to indulge myself, I deserve this”.
This is important, because a year ago I would have done none of those things. I would have got stuck before the first one. I never used to know what I was feeling, and I made every effort to block out all emotions, especially negative ones.
Emotional self-care – It’s OK to feel sad
So even while feeling sad, I can reflect on my progress and be proud of myself. Because everyone gets sad when sad things happen, and it’s OK to feel sadness, and to give myself comfort and ask for support from others when life gets tough.
Self-care takes many forms, and doing it can be hard, especially when guilt gets in the way. But I am doing it, and I am feeling better by the second.
So to anyone out there struggling and wondering if therapy might help, I say YES go for it. I had no idea I could change, but I have, and I couldn’t have done it without Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and an incredibly committed individual therapist.
Therapy changed my life and I get better every day.
Reproduced with permission, originally posted here