This isn’t the first time this happened. Years ago, weeks ago, you issued the same pleas in the form of an aching back. First it started with a pinch, a whisper. This week it was an all-out roar.
The act of bending down was dicey. Walking fully upright didn’t feel very good. Rolling over in bed took effort (and produced pain). Walking too quickly triggered spasms (and a shout of “ouch!” inside my brain).
You know that I love a challenging workout. I love how empowered I feel after doing many push-ups. It is a reminder that I am strong. Every push-up shatters the stories my brain has spun for years of not being an athlete, of being awkward, of being weak.
This week my friend and favorite blogger Therese Borchard wrote a powerful piece about self-compassion and setting boundaries. The whole piece is a must-read. But it’s these words that struck me, because they’re all too familiar:
All of our emotions, whether negative or positive, are welcome. We get into dicey territory when we try to avoid them or stuff them down or judge ourselves for having them (why are you upset about the world’s smallest thing?!).
The best thing we can do with our emotions is to process them. The best thing we can do is to name the feeling we’re feeling and then explore it.
We can get curious. And once we identify and explore, then we can attend to our needs (soothe ourselves, set a boundary, confront the conflict).
But this is hard. I know. It’s especially hard if we’re more accustomed to pretending emotions don’t exist — if we’ve had years and years of practice. It’s especially hard if we just don’t take the time to tune into ourselves.
This morning I was reading Mara’s newsletter (I highly recommend subscribing, which you can do here). In it, she mentions the simple question we can ask ourselves when practicing self-care: What do I need?
It’s a question we ask every day, several times a day.
I love this because sometimes we complicate self-care. We get caught up in shoulds and checking off tasks. We equate self-care with specific activities — pedicures, bubble baths, exercise, eating certain foods.
Years ago, I used to believe my cruel thoughts wholeheartedly. One reason was because I assumed they were true blue facts. Another reason was because I worried that I was cheating if I didn’t agree with these negative thoughts.
I was somehow doing something wrong if I let them slip by without fully consuming them. I would be letting myself off the hook. I would be taking the easy way out. I wouldn’t be holding myself accountable or responsible. And this wasn’t the right thing to do, I assumed.
Today, is World Mental Health Day. In honor of this day, I’m talking about stigma and seeking professional support. Learn more about this day, and read other pieces here.
When psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD, was diagnosed with depression, her initial relief turned into shame. As she writes in her book Living with Depression:
…I felt inadequate and embarrassed by my diagnosis. I knew that society feared anything that strayed from the norm, and the idea of being seen as different, disabled, or dysfunctional really frightened me. I didn’t tell anyone about my depression, kept my medication hidden in a bedside dresser, and kept secret my feelings of failure. I even went so far as to believe that I should hang up my shingle as a practicing psychologist because, clearly, I was incapable of taking care of myself as a person. How could I take care of others as a professional? Despite the fact that I was a psychologist educated in the mind, brain and body, the misconceptions about mental illness shoehorned themselves into my life.
Many people with mental illness internalize society’s negative attitudes and start feeling shame. Many don’t seek help. Because there isn’t just a stigma against mental illness in our society; there’s also a stigma against seeking help.
Author Tina Welling had no idea that she had an underactive thyroid. She was experiencing all the symptoms, such as weakness and frequent infections. She was canceling meetings and outings with friends. Her work schedule was getting tougher and tougher to keep up with.
But she hadn’t noticed any of this — until a blood test showed her levels were off the charts. She’d become numb to her own body.
Lately, my mind has felt very crowded. There are so many thoughts bumping up against each other in my brain.
You have sooooo much to do. Did you call this person? Pay that bill? Run that errand? You have to revise your book! And think of topics for this month’s articles. You have sooooo much to do. Is it time for grocery shopping? Did you bring that coupon? Nope! Forgot it like you always do. You need to budget better. You have to revise your book! Did you take out the laundry? You need to sweep and wash the floors. The bathroom is not looking good. Why aren’t you writing on your personal blog? You’re soooo behind on email. Did you call that person? Pay that bill? Run that errand? You have to revise your book!
In her piece on the power of story and the quest for our true selves, Justine Musk includes this poem by David Whyte (the last few lines are my favorite):
This is not
the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time
People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
This weekend I took out my journal and wrote a kind of letter to myself. I started with these words: I forgive myself…
I wrote down the things I am ready to forgive myself for (and a few things I am not). Maybe you, too, want to focus on forgiveness, and write about what you’re ready to let go.