This past week has been full of ups and downs (and pretty extreme ones, at that). When the downs first hit, I thought they were just a sign that I’d be getting my period, and that they’d go away (which is what usually happens). Instead, they were just the beginning of an emotional roller coaster–one that I’d like to get off.

Lately, things have been going well. I like my new job, I love my fiancé, I have great friends and family, I’m enjoying coaching

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Team Challenge Brooklyn, and my own running is going well. I’ve also got a few really exciting projects in the works. In spite of these things, though, I’ve been on a bit of an emotional decline for a while. Hence the ups and downs–external things are great. Internally, though, things aren’t as rosy. Part of the problem is the expectation I’ve always had that as soon as all the external pieces of the puzzle fell into place, I’d be happy. You know, that it would just happen the moment the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle was put in. I’m sure it doesn’t come as a great surprise to anyone that this has not been my experience. If anything, the fact that things are going so well externally might actually be aggravating the way I’m feeling inside. More and more I catch myself thinking, “Everything is going so well, but I’m not happy–it must be because there’s something wrong with me. I’ll just never be happy.”

Stating it that bluntly, I can identify that sort of thinking as irrational, and characteristic of the negative mind-set I fall into during periods of depression. Identifying the thoughts is a good first step, but it would be better if I could actually do something about them, and that’s where things have been increasingly difficult. I usually get stuck at that point, and end up overwhelmed and miserable. And so this week has been a combination of enjoying the things that are going on outside of my head, and fighting a major battle with what’s going on inside. I avoided most of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week because I was busy trying to keep my own ED in check; I had a few days where I actively restricted, and genuinely missed the days where I was able to do it all the time; I spent the majority of the weekend either in bed sleeping, or crying. It makes me feel like there’s a huge disconnect between the person I present myself as being to the outside world, and the person I actually am. And at the end of the day, am I really either of those people? I feel completely unable to answer the question.

One thing has become clear, though: I have been consistently unable to find a way to do things for myself that feel good, and I think that’s what creates a lot of the turmoil, confusion, and emptiness that I end up feeling when I’m not engaged in some kind of external activity. I am really bad at basic self-care, and it’s really starting to catch up with me. The only things I’ve done lately that have benefitted me have been connected to outside events or activities–even the running I’ve been doing has been with a partner or group. I love running, but would I be as quick to do something so good for me if I weren’t being pushed to do so by an outside party? My yoga practice has fallen entirely by the wayside, which makes me think that the answer to that question would be no.

Most days lately, I don’t feel that I have the intrinsic motivation that I need in order to care for myself. This manifests itself in a variety of ways from the basic to the complex. I ran out of shampoo and conditioner recently, and I haven’t even bothered to go get more, I’ve just given up on my hair and started using Nat’s 2-in-1. My hair feels crappy, and I feel crappy about it. Going to the drugstore would be an easy way to practice some self-care. But I haven’t done it. This is just one example of quite possibly hundreds.

I know that I can’t  stand the way it feels to be so internally unhappy. But I also don’t know where to start when it comes to taking better care of myself, as silly as that sounds. Over the years, I threw a lot of my self-care routines out the door as I became gradually more depressed and succumbed to my eating disorder. Now, trying to break free from both of those burdens, I find myself lost when it comes to getting the routines back. I’m not even entirely sure I could define self-care at this point.

Help me out: what does self-care mean to you? How do you make it a priority in your life? I’d love to hear your stories–maybe they’ll put me in a position to get my inner jigsaw puzzle as complete as my outer one.

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  1. Emilie, I relate to a lot of what you described here. I fall into the same bouts of sadness and low-grade depression. I think it’s unfair to say that just because external things are going well you shouldn’t have emotions that run the gamut–it’s part of being human. And we don’t even know what residual emotion from months or weeks prior we might be feeling at any given time!

    For me, what works is to acknowledge that I can choose differently and perform small acts of self-care to show my body and mind that I care. And sometimes, for me, that means doing nothing important by society’s standards! It means losing myself in a good book about self-care, or having more sex (well, it used to mean that when I was having it regularly!), or going to get a good haircut. It could also mean having 1 or 2 or 3 cups of tea, soaking in a bath, or sitting on the bathtub floor with the shower running and letting the water pulse on my head, or back, or shoulders for a good long while. It usually involves showing love for my body in some way, asking it what it needs. I also skimp on these when I’m feeling low, and that will usually alert me to my moods and make me pick them up again.

    I have a friend who makes showering somewhat of an event for herself every day. She’s in there for 20-30 minutes, and when she comes out she’ll file her nails, cut her cuticles, examine her pores, and slather creams all over her body. She never rushes through it. I watched this process once and was in AWE of her love for her body.

  2. Self care for me is showering and shaving regularly. In depressive periods, I find it extremely hard to keep up with these two simple tasks. Even after reading and hearing so much about learning to give yourself credit for the things you do, I have a hard time saying “Good job Nick. You took a shower.” It seems so little and insignificant compared to what I think I should be accomplishing. A shower wow [sarcastic finger twirl]. It’s nothing compared to running a 10 mile race or surviving the M.A. reading list. I wish I knew a way to truly appreciate and feel good about the tiny shower sized victories when I’m down. Belittling the baby steps sucks away the the baby pleasures and rewards for me. If I don’t shower I feel bad for my inactivity and if I do shower it doesn’t create any positive emotion.

    At the risk of rehashing things you’ve likely heard many times, I’d pick something small and simple to work on as your starting place for improving self care. Focus on that one–like flossing everyday–and try not to get too bogged down wondering if it’s the right thing or caught up thinking about everything else you could be doing. I know, that’s much easier to say than to put into practice when your brain isn’t fully cooperating. Courage!

  3. These two responses are perfect. I myself love nothing more than showering in the morning followed by the ritual of applying lotions and/or perfumes and blow-drying my hair. It’s all about loving your self. And it’s a real treat for the senses. It works.

  4. I’m not very good at self-care, as my body is changing with pregnancy I find it slipping more each day. And I’ve also decided that I perhaps don’t know what it means to “be happy” in regular life. I’ve, of course, had moments that made me really happy… but I don’t think you can live in that feeling all the time. I think there needs to be a more general state of contentedness, but I don’t know how that feels or where it comes from or how to get there.

    I do think it’s self-care that you are getting out to run with friends/groups. It’s good for your mind, body and soul. So even if the negative voices inside you are not making you more intrinsically motivated, at least you are not blocking out and shunning those external motivators.

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