“Self-care is how you take your power back.”Lalah Delia
“Think positively!’, “Don’t think like that!”, “Snap out of it!”, and “Just go and do something and you’ll feel better!”, are all shit pieces of advice that are offered on a regular basis to depressed people, often without malicious intent but instead a lack of understanding. Though well meant, these attempts at helping do more harm than good; they invalidate the thoughts and feelings we have, and place pressure on us to hurry our recovery and just simply feel better. So why do we tell ourselves the same things when we’re feeling down?
In my last blog I talked about accepting the feelings we have and the situations we are in. Once we do this we can begin to help ourselves, and a key part of helping ourselves is practicing self-care. The NHS beautifully describes self-care as follows:
“Self-care is about keeping fit and healthy, understanding when you can look after yourself, when a pharmacist can help, and when to get advice from your GP or another health professional. If you have a long-term condition, self-care is about understanding that condition and how to live with it.” https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/what-does-self-care-mean-and-how-can-it-help/
In the context of mental health, self-care is something we do deliberately and consiously to take care of our emotional and mental health. It should be nourrishing rather than draining and not forced upon us – although taking the first step towards helping ourselves can seem impossible, futile, or unwanted. If we think we’re worthless, why would we deserve self-care? What’s the point anyway if I’m just going to feel shit again later?
God is an advocate of self-care. In 1 Kings 19 we learn about how Elijah flees from Queen Jezabel, fearing for his life. He’s deeply unhappy and completely fed up – so much so that “he asked that he may die” (1 Kings 19:4 NRSV), or as the Common English Bible translates it, “he longed for his own death.”
What would people’s advice for Elijah be? Perhaps they’d tell him to snap out of it, to think positively, to just pray harder, to focus on the positives. But God doesn’t say any of this. God tells Elijah to get up and eat and drink something, because he has a difficult road ahead of him (1 Kings 19:7 CEB).
When we’re depressed, self-care is vital, because the road to recovery is long and difficult. And this is something that we have to aknowledge, just as Elijah did. If we don’t look after ourselves, we won’t have the energy to start getting better, to engage with those trying to help us, and we won’t see that we deserve to feel better. Depression does not care that we feel shit, and sadly neither does a lot of society. Therefore we have to be the ones who care about ourselves the most, who show ourselves the most love, who aknowledge that we deserve to treat ourselves kindly.
“Acknowledge, accept, and honor that you deserve your own deepest compassion and love.”Nanette Matthews
Self-care looks different for every person, and it took me a long time to workout what it mean for me. It’s a phrase that gets bandied about far too easily and can become a meaningless thing that we don’t know how to apply, so it’s important to spend some time thinking about the things that make us feel better – however marginally – to a baseline point from which we can start to work on our recovery. For me, this means making sure I take care of my personal hygeine, that I eat regularly and healthily, that I exercise, and that I talk to my friends. It also means that I allow myself time to do nothing and rest, to indulge in some chocolate, and to take away the feeling that I have to be productive and succesful 24/7. Because God didn’t tell Elijah to feed himself so that he can get back to work. God told Elijah to take care of himself so he could face the journey ahead of him, so that he could face the world from a baseline. God wants the same for us.
When life gets tough, working out what we need to do in order to look after ourselves is vital. Spend some time praying and thinking about what self-care looks like for you, and try to incorporate some of these practices into your daily life. You deserve to be happy and well, and you owe it to yourself to treat yourself nicely. You are made in God’s image and because of this you are worth all the care and love in the world. So take a bold step, and offer some love to yourself.