Life · mental health

Self-Care and Physical Health

A few months ago I posted the question of what self-care means. It was never intended to be more than just an inquiry for my readers to respond to. Since that day, however, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the term “self-care” and have been trying to figure out what it means for me. It’s been an interesting experiment and has actually fueled a good deal of the writing I’ve done lately. Despite the fact that I was having a bit of a mental health crisis at the time I wrote my original post, I suppose I can be grateful that something good came from it.

If you Google “self-care” you will quickly learn that it means something different for everyone. I haven’t quite figured out all the specifics of my own self-care plan yet, but there is one that I have been unable to avoid: Taking care of my physical health. This one should be a no-brainer, but surprisingly, there are a lot of people who neglect their physical health. Whether it’s for financial reasons, laziness, fear, or lack of awareness, lots of people are guilty of this. I have certainly been guilty of this. Unfortunately, certain things happen sometimes that we simply can’t avoid.

In my early twenties I developed a mole on my back that was questionable. I ignored it for a long time. I mean, it was “just a mole.” I’ve had freckles and moles all over my body since childhood. What was the big deal about one more? About a year after that mole showed up my mother and ex-husband insisted that I get it checked out. They were insistent enough that I eventually went to the doctor, more concerned with getting them off my back rather than the mole. My doctor said it was probably nothing. Just an abnormal mole. He assured me that I was young and likely had nothing to worry about.

He was wrong.

After getting the mole tested we discovered that I had melanoma. (For those who are unfamiliar with it, melanoma is a type of skin cancer.) I was devastated. I was young and in seemingly good health. How could I possibly have some sort of cancer? It turns out that cancer doesn’t always discriminate.

Fortunately, when caught early melanoma can be treated. (When left untreated it can spread to other parts of the body and become fatal.) This was the case for me. There were some traumatic surgical procedures involved, but my dermatologists were able to get rid of it. This was also the case the second time that I had it. In the picture below you can see some of the scars that I’ve collected, thanks to skin cancer.

 

Obviously, since then I’ve learned that I need to be more pro-active when it comes to my health. Even if something seems like a minor problem, it’s best to get it checked out. You never know what it could be.

The reason I’m posting this is because I’ve been having a difficult week. Not one, but two separate medical issues have popped up recently that I am unable to avoid. I’m not sure how serious either of them are yet, but there are appointments scheduled so that I can get things tested out. I’d like to say that I’ve been handling it well, but, truthfully, I’ve been worried. Everyone is telling me not to panic until I know what’s going on, but that’s a difficult task for me. (Hello, anxiety!) As easy as it would be to just ignore these problems and not worry, I know that that isn’t the best idea.

I hope to have some answers soon and have some peace of mind. For now, I am trying to stay calm. Either way, whatever it is that needs to be done, I am going to take care of it because there is no other choice.

We spent a lot of time talking about “self-care” and what it means for our mental health, but without our physical health we can only put in so much effort.

~~~

I’ve got some pretty sweet battle scars, don’t I? 😉 

 

 

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What is “Self-Care?”

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The holidays can be a hard time for people. Whether you’re someone who struggle with mental health issues, are experiencing some kind of major change or loss, or are buried in financial problems, the holidays can create an excessive amount of stress that make this “season of joy” anything but. As I mentioned earlier this week, I was already beginning to feel anxious over the approaching holiday social gatherings I will be expected to attend. Now, in addition to that, I’m trying to cope with the loss of my fur baby, Nooch. 😥

…Oh, have I mentioned that my therapist has been on vacation for 3 weeks now? Does anyone else smell a major mental breakdown in the air!? *Joker laugh*

I’ve seen countless reminders on the internet lately reminding those of us who struggle during this time of year to practice “self-care.” But what does that mean, exactly?

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out. For the longest time I thought self-care was mostly about taking time to pamper yourself with soothing baths, massages, etc. For some reason, images of women lying in the bath tub, surrounded by candles and cucumber slices placed over their eyelids often accompanies articles on self-care, so I don’t think I’m entirely to blame for the confusion. (Side note: as a woman, I feel like a complete failure for never having the desire to buy produce and put it in my eye or smear it on my face. Maybe there are even more things wrong with me than I thought.)

On the surface, self-care is pretty self-explanatory. It’s about taking care of yourself and making sure your personal needs are being met. Taking care of your body through food, exercise, and regular sleep is a good place to start. But is it really that easy? If you’re someone like me than,  unfortunately, the answer is sometimes no. My eating disorder struggles can make eating a highly stressful, tantrum-inducing situation. My depression can make it hard to get motivated to even get up and shower, let alone exercise. My anxiety can keep my brain running at the wee hour of the morning, when I should be sound asleep.

What about other needs? Aside from the basics that we require to keep our bodies functioning, there’s your mental health to consider. Depending on who you are, your needs will be different. They might even change daily. Sometimes you’ll need more alone time, other times you’ll need more social time. Sometimes you need more “fun” in your life, other times you’ll need more quiet time on the couch with a book. For me, trying to figure out what I need to keep my mental health in check can be frustrating. When you’re being pulled in all directions, between work, holiday shopping, family obligations, etc., it can be hard to even figure out how to keep things balanced. If you decide that you do need more alone time, how do you ensure that you’ll get it? Does that mean neglecting some of your other obligations? If you do that, will it just make things more stressful later? What about the unexpected things that will inevitably pop up? How are you supposed to fit it all in?!

I don’t have a clue.

I do my best to practice self-care every day, but it doesn’t always happen. I try to reserve my lunch breaks for spending time at the bookstore, drinking coffee and reading a book. Even though it’s only 40 minutes or so, it helps keep me sane during my work day. I try to set aside time for blogging/writing, dance, and my crafty projects. I take baths periodically when my muscles are feeling tense and need to unwind a little. But is all of that enough? Am I doing it right? I truly don’t know.

Last night I forced myself to go walk around the bookstore for a little while. After spending the better part of the day laying in bed, sobbing over my cat, I knew I probably needed to get out of the house. Truthfully, it didn’t help as much as I needed it to, but I tried. At one point I found myself sitting on the floor of the dreaded self-help aisle, with tears in my eyes. I don’t even really know what I was looking for. Anything to make me feel better, I guess.

Did I do the right thing by forcing myself to go out and try to be “normal?” Is this what I’m supposed to do in the upcoming weeks, as the holiday stress starts to gnaw at me? Can I just skip all the holiday bullshit or is that just “hiding?” Do I need to put more cucumbers on my face?

Again, I don’t know. It’s all quite frustrating.

(Side Note: I really need to stay away from the self-help aisle at Barnes & Noble.)