Barriers to Self-Care, Continued

This is the second of a two-part article. The first can be found here.

Seasonal depression—or plain old depression. This is a tough one, because it touches on all levels of a person’s being, not just the emotional/mental, but the body’s physiologic processes, the spirit and sexuality. If not addressed quickly, one ends up in a vicious circle where there’s no physical energy to do much of anything. Then, that lack of motivation feeds back into the other aspects of oneself, further depressing the body, etc. Aside from standard treatment—which may involve overprescribed meds that don’t really address the underlying causes—what can one do?

I can speak only for me in this. When I get the blues, my go-to is often music—listening and singing, sometimes dancing. Sound is a vibration powerful enough to shift our perspective, and some people practice sound healing and music therapy, both of which may include the use of singing bowls. I don’t have singing bowls—though they are lovely!—nor am I a music therapist. What I have found that works for me runs the gamut from Jimi Hendrix’s Drivin’ South to songs by Heart. If I have the energy to get up and listen to these and to dance or sing, then I am generally all right. (I listen to sad songs if I feel I need the catharsis of tears—Poulenc or Janacek, or the Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson version of “Come Sunday.”)

If I can make it out the door, my other go-to’s are walking and observing nature. The latter I do most of the time, anyway, and it seldom fails that I don’t see something that lifts my spirits…usually in the form of winged creatures: turkey vultures riding thermals, robins running, wrens picking at berries, cardinals cleaning themselves.

The kinds of distractions I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

The kinds of “distractions” I love include watching the interaction between insects (honeybees, in this case) and plants like this meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria).

When I stay indoors, whatever pall I may be working under also tends to stay put.

Sometimes having commitments to others also helps to pull us out of our funk, so having regular activities can be helpful in combating the blues.

But now and then, we just need to feel sad and to know that that is all right. The pain often moves us in a direction different from the one we were going. Giving ourselves the space to feel down can be part of good self-care.

Distractions. Funny, I was distracted by something when writing this post, something I can’t remember that seduced my attention away from the screen (maybe another screen?). It’s easy to be hard on ourselves when it comes to this one, but let’s put this in perspective: Our ancestors would not know what to do with all the things that demand our attention. This is something we need to evolve through, to choose between what we allow ourselves to be distracted by and what we don’t. Not easy. Especially if it’s one of those, “Oh, this will just take a minute” kinds of things: answering a text or e-mail or taking on a chore that we think will only take a few minutes.

Maybe the best thing to do here would be to give regular attention to our self-care. Maybe it’s a small thing: Washing and cutting up leafy greens for supper the next night, or taking five minutes to clean up part of our space. But the point is to just do one thing toward our self-care every day.

“I’ll start tomorrow.” Why wait? You are worth starting today. This is one that has stumped me from the standpoint of concern that I will fail—that tomorrow will come and I won’t be able to continue something I started today. But this sort of thinking gets us in trouble, because we could also start something that would feel so good to us—a bath or a foot soak—that we’ll want to make sure we do it again, if not the next day, then soon. Any care we show ourselves, our body appreciates.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don't mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! This, too, can be an example of good self-care.

Sometimes, things cannot wait. I don’t mind sharing some figs with ants, but it seems somehow disrespectful not to pick them and eat them. They are such a gift! Harvesting and enjoying them can be an example of good self-care.

“I don’t know how.” This one gets back to self-intimacy. But if you really don’t know, look to people and resources in your community, for they are there. Annapolis has people who can teach you to meditate, people who can show you how to care for your skin, how to eat well, get movement into your life, laugh and have fun.

Inability to ask. As a former reporter, I take for granted my ability to ask questions. But asking for help? That never has come easily. Most of this is pride, no doubt: If I can’t handle something myself, doesn’t that make me weak? Lesser, somehow? There’s also a “pride of ownership” involved in trying to do everything oneself.

It often takes greater self-assuredness and self-knowledge to know when we need help and to be able to ask. We truly have only so much time, so asking someone for help with something they are skilled in and we are not helps us become more integrated, both into our communities but also with ourselves.

Ultimately, self-care arises, I believe, from healthy self-love, and it is through acts of self-care that we grow our love for ourselves. Like a depression spiral, developing the process of caring for ourselves and loving ourselves is self-reinforcing. It often goes against all the imagery we see around us, but the images—whether of elite athletes or supermodels—are false. Our bodies are not machines, to be used up, then taken in for some work, then put back “on the road.” It is for us to learn to work with our bodies—and all they contain—not to override them until they wear out.

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