Talking about self-care is a big thing right now.  Google "self-care" and you'll get 61.2 million hits.  That's a lot of people talking about self-care.

Ideas for self-care range from the completely practical (like eating well and staying hydrated) to the new-agey (get in touch with your inner child/spirit guide/beast/etc.).

The world probably doesn't need another post about self-care, but taking care of yourself really is important.  So I present to you the n00b's guide to self-care.

Most, if not all, of this is going to be so completely obvious that you'll probably laugh at me or not read any further.  These ideas are so basic that a three-year-old understands them.

But be honest: even though these things are obvious, do you do them?

Are you tired?  Go to sleep.  Is it bedtime?  If yes, go to bed.  Even if it's 7 p.m.  If no, take a nap.  Adults don't take enough naps.

Are you hungry?  Eat something.  If it's time for a meal, have a meal.  If it's not time for a meal, have a snack.

Are you bored?  Go play.  Or read.  Do something fun, even if your version of fun is cooking a four course meal or cleaning the bathroom.

Are you thirsty?  Get a drink.  Water is best.

Are you sad?  Do something that makes you happy.  Dance.  Read a comic book.  Talk to a friend or loved one.  Or if you need to, cry.  It's OK for adults to cry (even you, gentlemen.).

Do you have to go to the bathroom?  Then for the love all that's holy, please just go to the bathroom.

These seem so simple.  But when was the last time you actually listened to what your body is telling you and then took care of your needs?  It's not selfish to take care of yourself in the most basic ways.

What simple things do you do to take care of yourself?  Please let me know in the comments!

 

 

1

It's been almost a month since I wrote about talking about mental illness.  I pulled a paragraph out of that post to help highlight what I'm going to write about today:

"As I mentioned earlier, I'm now transitioning from prozac to wellbutrin xl.  Having transitioned from celexa to prozac several years ago, I knew what the whole process of switching antidepressants was like, and it's not enjoyable.  For the past twelve days I've been even more tired than usual, have found myself becoming impatient easily, eating more sweets than normal, and crying (It was difficult to cry on prozac.  I had to be really upset to do so.).  It hasn't been quite as awful as being unmedicated was, but it has been difficult.  I've had to tell the people closest to me that if I start acting depressed again that this is why."

I've been on Wellbutrin XL for a whole month now.  The past four weeks have been difficult.  I cried a lot, sometimes over stupid things.  I lost almost every ounce of patience that I had.  I was extremely irritable.  The combination of no patience and irritability made me not want to be around myself; I was really glad that Jeff and Liam were camping so much with Boy Scouts so that they didn't have to be around me so much.  I was prepared for all of that though.

What I wasn't prepared for was how absolutely worn out I became each day.  Not just tired.  Worn out.  Like I'd been doing hard, physical labor for eight hours, and feeling like this by nine or ten in the morning.  And on top of feeling like this and wanting to sleep all the time, I was having more difficulty than usual falling asleep and sleeping well at night.

Two weeks ago, it got so bad that I decided that I had to make time to rest for a whole day.  Fortunately, Jeff and Liam were going to their last weekend of Scout camp and I was able to pull this off without worrying about making sure they got fed.

So I took that whole Saturday off and did what I wanted.  If I wanted to sleep, I slept.  If I wanted to watch tv, I watched tv.  If I wanted to read, I read.  I ate when I was hungry, I avoided Facebook and twitter, and spent the day making time to take care of me.

And I felt really selfish and guilty at times.  There were at least five times that my brain said, "This is stupid.  You have stuff to do around the house and errands that could be run."  When that happened, I did what my therapist has instructed me to do:  I acknowledged the thought, pushed it away, and told my brain I wasn't going to feel guilty for taking care of myself.

Because that's what rest is, ladies and gentlemen.  It's taking care of ourselves.  We work eight hours a day, then go home and take care of houses, spouses, and kids.  We use our weekends to do housework or play too hard.  We stay up too late surfing the web or watching tv.  We rely on caffeine to get us through the day instead of plenty of sleep and healthy food.  We go too fast, live too hard, and then wonder why we're tired all the time.

And those are normal circumstances.  Throw in stressful life circumstances or illnesses and our bodies eventually give out and start demanding more rest.  We become worn out, irritable, stressed, depressed, and sick.

Unfortunately, those of us living in the United States have been taught that "Idle hands are the devil's playground."  We've been taught a work ethic where we must always be busy.  Our jobs ask us to multitask, even though research has shown that multitasking is a myth.  Even when we have down time, we use it to finish little projects that use just enough brain power and energy that we're not really resting.

And God forbid that we actually rest.  If we try to do that, we get guilt from our culture, acquaintances, friends, family members, and even our own brains.  Sometimes it's just easier to keep going, no matter how tired we are, than to take the time our bodies need to rest.

I can't do that anymore.  My personality demands alone time to recharge.  My body demands rest.  My brain chemistry is crying out for me to listen to my body and stop.

So I'm making a choice to be more aware of when I'm  tired and need to be resting. That Saturday was successful.  I did it again on Sunday.  I will probably try it again on Sunday.  I may not be able to do this every week, but I'm going to do my best to make a day of rest a habit and I'm going to work on not feeling guilty about taking care of myself.

I encourage you to do the same thing.  If you are a Christian, remember that we are commanded to observe a Sabbath day.  God created the Sabbath for us, so that we can rest and recharge.

There's nothing shameful about resting.  There's nothing shameful about admitting you need to rest.  So take the time you need to rest.  Quit multitasking.  Sleep.  Go slowly.  Rest.

5

Gather round again, y'all, for a trip to the inside of Aunt Stephanie's brain.

I think it's really important to talk about mental health.  I have depression, and have had it since I was at least ten, but I know now that there are things I was thinking and feeling even earlier than that that might have been the first symptoms of depression.

When I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s, mental health wasn't really something we talked about.  The first time I was really able to put a label on it, I was sixteen, but I thought that being depressed was just another part of being a teenager.  I didn't tell my parents what I was feeling because I thought I could deal with it myself.

The first time I talked to a doctor about it, I was almost 28.  I took wellbutrin for a little over a year, and this was back in the days that wellbutrin was taken once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  I was alway really good about taking the morning dose, but forgot the afternoon dose on a regular basis.  I think it helped, but that was several years ago and I wasn't terribly consistent with it.  I quit taking it shortly before I found out I was pregnant with Liam.

When I next talked to a doctor about my depression, I was 35 and about to enter my last semester of grad school.  I had been unmedicated since quitting wellbutrin, and I was miserable.  If you've ever been depressed, you know what I'm talking about.  If you've never been depressed, I hope you never understand the combination of sadness, anger, apathy, fatigue, irritability, and hatred for yourself that is depression.

When I started taking the antidepressant the doctor prescribed for me, I slowly started to feel better.  I figured out that what I was feeling and thinking wasn't normal.  I wasn't sad and angry anymore.  It felt good to not worry so much about life and not feel like I had to take everything so seriously.

I was on that first antidepressant (celexa) for about two and a half years, and had to abruptly switch meds (to prozac) due to health concerns.  I was on prozac for about five years, and I'm now in the process of switching to wellbutrin xl.

I'm not telling you this to extract sympathy or get attention.  I'm telling you this so that, if you've never known chronic depression, you understand that mental illness isn't a made up disease, it's an illness.  And for those of you who know what it's like to have depression, I want you to know that you're not doing this by yourself.  

I talk about being mentally ill and having depression to help end the stigma that surrounds the description "mentally ill."  I'm not crazy, I'm not psychotic, I'm not a sociopath.  I'm just mentally ill.  I take medication and see a therapist so that I can deal with a very real illness.  I talk about it because when I was young and going through this, I didn't have the words to describe what I was going through.  I didn't know how to tell someone, not even my parents, that what I was feeling was real and bothersome and not normal.  When I was growing up, people didn't talk about mental illness.  How could I have the words for something that was a real thing, but that no one talked about?

As I've gotten older, people have become more aware of what mental illness really is and have started talking about it more.  It's really important that we talk about it.  You know why? Because somewhere, there is another ten year old feeling exactly how I did.  She needs to know what mental illness is so that she can put her thoughts and feelings into words and get the help she needs.  I talk about it so that other people know it's a real illness that can be as deadly as cancer.  I talk about it so that people who are younger than me won't have to stay silent and die slowly.

We have to talk about it so that we become comfortable talking about.  I'm open about having depression, taking medication, and seeing a therapist so that my friends and family become comfortable hearing about it.  I don't want sympathy for me.  I want understanding and compassion for others.

Usually when I talk about my own mental illness, I talk about it a generalized sense.  But today I'm talking about it in a more focused way because I'm feeling the weight of depression more lately.

Sometimes when you've been on an antidepressant for a long time it will become less effective or stop working entirely.  That seemed to have become the case with me and prozac.  It was still working, in the sense that I wasn't depressed and angry all the time, but it had become less effective.  Full disclosure, between my brother's death over two years ago and being fired from a job I hated eight months after that, I was giving the prozac some serious overtime.

For several months, I've been feeling more and more unmotivated to do anything.  I can get out of bed and get ready for work, but getting myself to do dishes or laundry has been a real struggle.  I used to love to write.  I've wanted to be a writer since I was fifteen.  Writing is almost nonexistent for me anymore.  I'm ok once I get started, but getting started has become increasingly difficult.  I'm tired all the time and taking more naps than I probably should.  I'm an introvert and need alone time, but I've been needing more and more alone time recently and could see that it might become a problem in the future.

Fortunately, I was due for my yearly med check a couple of weeks ago.  Bonus points: the health system I'm in recently started using a questionaire  for mental health patients to self-evaluate their illness.  As it turns out, I was on the lower end of moderate depression again.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm now transitioning from prozac to wellbutrin xl.  Having transitioned from celexa to prozac several years ago, I knew what the whole process of switching antidepressants was like, and it's not enjoyable.  For the past twelve days I've been even more tired than usual, have found myself becoming impatient easily, eating more sweets than normal, and crying (It was difficult to cry on prozac.  I had to be really upset to do so.).  It hasn't been quite as awful as being unmedicated was, but it has been difficult.  I've had to tell the people closest to me that if I start acting depressed again that this is why.

Even in the midst of my body using the last of its reserves of prozac and adjusting to wellbutrin xl, even though it's still hard for me to do the things that are important, I still have to talk about mental illness.  I must be open about it so that if you have to change meds or know someone who is, you know what will happen.  I must be open about it so we can talk as freely about mental illness as we do about breast cancer and diabetes.  I must talk about it now for ten-year-old me who didn't have the words to say and for sixteen-year-old me who didn't care if she lived or died. (Sorry, mom and dad.)

So let's talk about it.  Mental illness of any kind is nothing to be ashamed of, so start talking about it and get the help you need.  Don't be ashamed to say to your doctor that you need antidepressants.  Don't be ashamed to start talking to a therapist.  Don't be ashamed to tell your partner, your parents, your kids, your friends, and all of Facebook that you have a mental illness and how you're getting help.

Just please... start talking about it.

Gather around, everyone.  Aunt Stephanie wants to tell you a story.

I'm telling this story second-hand, with permission.

 

M is like a sister to me.  We met in high school and have been friends since then.  She's 41, has had bi-polar 2 all of her life, and is in the middle of perimenopause.

Without getting into too many details, this is important.  Perimenopause is the time when a woman's hormones get all outta whack and her uterus does really stupid things.  Some (good and forward thinking, in my opinion) doctors will agree to perform a uterine ablation or a hysterectomy for women who undergo way too much monthly uterine stupidity.  After all, a woman who is 41 and child-free by choice has nothing to lose by having one of these permanent procedures done.

In an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of hormonal wackiness and stupid uterine tricks, a few months ago M's doctor instead recommended a newer IUD that uses an an extremely low dose of hormones to regulate these types of shenanigans.  Medically, this is pretty good advice, so M took it.

Unfortunately, M's own hormones contribute greatly to her depressive episodes.  Several rounds of birth control pills (additional hormones) have triggered depressive episodes.  This is in M's medical records.  The doctor who gave her the IUD knew about the hormone-related depression, but thought that, since there is such a low dose of hormones with this particular device, it wouldn't affect M's mental health.

You can imagine how angry I was at the doctor when M told me last week that she was battling another depressive episode and actively suicidal.

The good news in all of this is that M's doctor very quickly removed the IUD, her psychiatrist adjusted her medications, and her therapist put her on sick leave with strict instructions for M to check in with the therapist every single day this week.  She is battling the depression like the warrior she is.

The bad news is that she is battling a severe depressive episode again because her doctor thought a low dose of hormones would be better for her than a hysterectomy, even though M's medical files say that hormones send her into depressive episodes.

And here's what I hear in this whole thing:  the medical community would rather try to kill my sister instead of taking away her ability to have a child.

Oh, I know.  That's simplistic and melodramatic.

But if you're a woman, you know it really isn't.  Women are insulted and berated all the time for choosing to be child-free.  Women who want easy access to birth control for themselves and other women are called sluts, even though they'll be called sluts if they get pregnant.  (Slut if you don't want a kid, slut if you have a kid. Makes sense.)  Women who have heavy periods are generally told to deal with it because the only truly permanent ways to reduce heavy bleeding will render them sterile.  Yes, a woman can use hormonal birth control methods to reduce heavy bleeding, but the use of hormonal birth control contributes to depression in women and it's so common that depression is listed as a side effect of most hormonal birth control methods.

I understand that no doctor is going to recommend ablation or hysterectomy for a teenager.  But if a woman is child-free or done having babies and she wants a permanent solution to the monthly uterine hijinks, why is she not able to choose that for herself?  Why is a woman's ability to have a child sometime in the future more important than her current mental health?

If you're a woman, you've probably had a doctor say or do something that reveals how much patriarchy affects women's health issues.

I have another friend who is a few years older than me, has two kids, and is done having children.  She has such heavy bleeding that it gives her migraines and usually keeps her home one day a month.  A uterine ablation isn't a medical possibility for her and her (male) doctor won't agree to a hysterectomy "because she only has a few years of this left."

I had a tubal ligation five years after our only child was born.  The (male) doctor asked me two questions before he agreed to perform the procedure:  what did my husband think about me having a tubal ligation and what would I do if our child died sometime after I had it done?  He apparently wasn't convinced by my own desire to not get pregnant ever again.

Personally, as a pro-life mother, I'm exhausted by the stupidity of a system that thinks of me as nothing more than a hormonal incubator and won't allow me or other women the health care we need for our mental and physical well-being, simply because it might hurt our ability to reproduce.

Women are not just incubators for the next generation.