In this post, my goal is to share one of the big self-care strategies that has worked for me. I don’t claim to have all the answers; I just believe in being open about my mental health struggles in order to hopefully help destigmatize these struggles and to share tools that may help others.
I have seen several counselors, and I take anti-depressants. Both of these have been important for managing my mental health. In this post, I’m going to focus on the things I do (or am planning to do) outside of counseling and meds — though those two things are definitely self-care as well!
Several years ago, I was at a very, very low point. I could make it to work … usually, if I could rush out the door before I started crying and couldn’t stop. At home I did nothing. I didn’t want to do anything, I couldn’t even think of anything to do. Any things I could think of felt absolutely and completely overwhelming. I wasn’t cooking or cleaning much or at all, and I wasn’t taking very good care of myself. Holding up my end of friendships wasn’t happening, and I felt such a huge, sucking emptiness somewhere between despair and numbness.
I thankfully had a good counselor at this time. I don’t even remember how this came about, but we started brainstorming a list of things I could do. An actual written list I could take home and look at when I was not in a space to be able to think of anything by myself. So I took home my list written on yellow legal paper, and that list gave me a sense of purpose that I hadn’t felt in a while. I was trying to think of some way I could reward myself when I did something. A friend and I had long ago abandoned a project involving using a frame and clips to make a menu board, but that gave me an idea.
I put together a frame with the days of the week running down one side and two columns of velcro dots next to those. Then I made little tabs of laminated paper, each with one item from the list I made with the counselor and their own velcro dot. I’ve posted a picture here of the frame that I made. (Sadly cracked now!)
I kept all of the tabs in a mason jar, and sometimes I would try to plan a whole week out, and sometimes I would decide that day what I might be capable of. For me, it was really helpful to dump out that jar of things to do and sift through looking for something I could possibly accomplish. And they weren’t all “chores.” Many were (like “match socks” and “vacuum”), but others were more fun (even if they felt super hard to do) like “knit,” “write a letter,” and “have a friend over.”
My reward was to move the one thing for the day to the second column to show I’d done it. And it really did make me feel good when I was able to do that. And there were plenty of days where I was not able to do that. But this really was one tool that gave me somewhere to start. And that made a huge difference. Later I made a board for exercise, and all the tabs were different ways I could move my body. I had a chore one and a more “fun” one too.
I honestly still struggle with structuring my time to include sufficient self-care. Now that I am in a much better place, I can get more than one thing done a day, and I have a tough time deciding how much to do, what to do, and when to do it. I’m still experimenting with different ways to use a planner or bullet journal or lists or whatever. I’m currently trying to create a visual system where I break my to-dos into four categories: work, play, care, and home. Something for my bullet journal that isn’t quite an activity tracker and isn’t quite a regular day-to-day calendar. I’m stubborn and obsessive, so I’ll come up with something! And I’ll pass it along when I do 🙂
If you haven’t heard of bullet journals, they can be incredibly cool because the whole point is that it works for you. If you google or youtube bullet journals, you will find mountains of information. Just don’t get intimidated by all the people with artistically elaborate ones. Those are obviously cool, but if that’s not your thing, that’s okay. Mine is black pen, pencil, and some stickers. (Stickers for motivation to complete tasks for me, because it delights my inner child!)