If you have been formally diagnosed with a mental illness, I am sure you have heard about the importance of self-care. Most of us can repeat them of the top of our mind like the Pledge of Allegiance. It is these set of “rules” to live by to keep your disorder from spiraling completely out of control. And trust me this isn’t some kind of smoke your therapist is blowing up your ass to constrict your lifestyle. When you actually follow them, they do make a difference. However at one point or another we have been horrible at self-care, including myself. Some of us are still very bad at it. We are all about making sure the newly diagnosed are informed on the importance of self-care. We speak about the things we say we do to help prevent episodes of some kind. But the words we spew forth are all bullshit. It is an illusion that we want the general public to believe or we ourselves believe.
So an example of self-care is establishing a healthy sleeping pattern. This means turning off all the electronics and social media notifications at the same time every evening and then going to sleep. This in theory should be really simple. I mean millions of people do it every day. My children go to bed the same time every night and get up at the same time. However for someone like me it takes actual effort on my behalf to accomplish this small aspect of self-care. It was easy for me to lie in bed for hours with thoughts running through my head at a million miles an hour and keeping me awake. So I would just pop on Facebook from my phone as a distraction and then next thing I know it was 4am. Yet by the same token I would tell someone like me that they need to establish a proper sleeping pattern to prevent insomnia and set off a manic episode. How I can tell someone how to help myself without practicing it myself? It happens all the time.
I have come to find out that the mental illness community is a tight knit one. We are always jumping at the opportunity to help each other out. We have all been there before so we know how to help each other out. However we run on the “Do as I say, not as I do” concept. Kinda like when you tell your child he needs to eat his peas and you quietly scrape yours into the trash. By the way, I hate peas. I see this happening all over the community and it is not really helping anyone at all. Why should I take advice from someone who doesn’t follow their own? The problem is we fill our minds with this illusion of self-care. I think it is a coping mechanism. We get into the thought process of as long as we are helping someone it is ok to let ourselves go. It’s not! Let me repeat this: IT’S NOT!
I remembered hating the way my mother would baby me about stuff. It’s time to go to bed. Did you take your meds? I used to get so frustrated at her because I felt like she didn’t think I could take of myself. But she was right. I couldn’t. I would just let my disorder run just wild. But I had this image that I had my shit together. I convinced everyone that I was the girl that had her life together. I was so swept up in this illusion that I even believed it myself. Even though I hadn’t slept in days and I had blown my paycheck on everything but bills. I even had the nerve to preach self-care to people. I would come down on those who did not take their disorder seriously and take the necessary steps to treat it.
Then one day I realized that I was only feeding the stigma against mental illness. I was everything that the general public thought I was. How many have lost a job or a relationship because you just let yourself just spiral out of control? People tend to focus on the negative side of things. So for every twenty people who actually have their illness in check, the world only sees that one who doesn’t. It is like watching the news or reading the newspaper, the headlining story is not often a feel good story. It is just how the mind works. By not actually practicing self-care ourselves, we are making it ok for others not to do so. We are only perpetuating the stigma. We are showing the world that we can’t be responsible for our own care.
We can easily blame the media for the image the public has of us. And yes they do bear some of the blame, yet they have to get this idea from somewhere. We need to start fighting the stigma by leading by example. We need to the poster children of self-care. Yes, it is going to be a struggle. Being a mother myself, it is hard to my needs before my children’s needs. However to be the best mom I can be I have to do it. I need to set the example so they know what they need to do if they are diagnosed. Self-care is not being selfish. It is showing our critics that we can manage ourselves. It is showing them that they are wrong about what they say about us. We can do this. We can beat the beast of stigma but we have to start with ourselves.