Some Thoughts About Self Care
What is Self Care? One would think that it is simply looking after yourself and to some extent that is true in its simplest form. You need to look after yourself physically in order to move through life.
Let’s suppose that you have the basics sorted out. How does self care affect your mental health or indicate that there might be areas that could be improved upon?
During my years working in the homelessness sector, it was noticeable that being unable to access stable housing curtailed people’s ability to care for themselves even at a basic level. Clean clothes, regular meals and access to a good night’s sleep were beyond the reach of many people.
In order to ameliorate the miserable conditions of life, the options that were cheaply available were drugs, alcohol and a lot of rollups. The people that I worked with had a doubly hard job to get to a point of self care. Over time, hard living took its toll and many people who had previously had “normal” lives seemed to forget or no longer care about giving themselves care. Our job was to help to remind them that outward self care should be remembered and practiced. Once this started happening, the job of encouraging more subtle self care started.
Once someone had a safe, secure place to live, usually in either supported accommodation or a council flat, we could help with reminding a person how to look after themselves after such a time of drastic loss of skills, motivation and mental well being. This was a long process; in the early 2000s, once someone had been homeless and then were housed, they were entitled to support for up to 2 years. We worked on building confidence to re enter a world that homelessness had excluded them from. Much of the work that we did was about building routines that would support the client in difficult times. We helped clients to understand that consistent engagement with mental health appointments, attending back to work interviews and spending money on food rather than booze was actually self care.
The very very hard part was convincing the person that it was worth them practicing self care. Feelings of self worth were so low that sometimes it seemed both for the worker and the client that the client would never care about themselves again. Over time, however, repetition of small self care actions gradually increased confidence, self worth and mental health improved or at least stabilised. In many cases, drug use and alcohol abuse decreased, improving mental health symptoms.
These days my work is with people who are not in desperate circumstances in the practical sense, rather the inner world is in turmoil. Yet I see very similar issues. Low self worth leads to behaviours that create distance from the pain. A busy mum, supporting her husband and getting her 3 children brought up properly, feels undervalued and eats for a treat.
She was a busy lawyer and although her children are her world, she feels less of herself. Gaining weight is now causing real unhappiness and yet, that isn’t really the problem. She has undervalued herself and this is the problem. Over time we have worked on her self care. She has charge of the household timetable and has scheduled in a couple of things for herself to do. It turned out that she is a talented silversmith and she’s got her tools out and started working.
We worked on reframing how she explained who she is when meeting new people. Take the scenario of meeting her husband’s work colleagues and their wives at the Christmas works do. “Oh Hi, I’m so and so, who are you? Oh, and what’s your job?”
My client replied, “ Weeeel, i don’t really do much, I’m a stay at home mum…”
Actually she runs the household, helps with homework, doesn’t have any time for herself and is exhausted and she’s clever and had a career which she gave up so that she could bring up 3 people into the world. That’s actually quite a lot of stuff. She chose her life, yes, but all of us know that sometimes things don’t quite turn out as expected in the happiness arena.
We practiced self talk. This is a really important element of self care. If your inner voice thinks you are rubbish, it is unlikely to come up with any inspiring things for you to do.
She had been so isolated so when she reported that she had enjoyed coffee with a new neighbour and told the neighbour, “I am lucky enough not to go out to work. I bring up the children and I do silversmithing”. I was delighted for her. What a difference. She said that she felt good saying that. The next week, she reported not having eaten any junk food that week.
So, Self Care is not just about drinking more water or going for a jog, or the things that are immediately obvious, it is about what you are saying to yourself about yourself inside your own mind. If you feel like you have some worth, you will make better choices. Mental health is a continuum and many homeless people that I have worked with were anxious and depressed for years, turning to things to make the pain go away and losing the lot.