We have posted some awesome guides to self care and self love in the past, from a post all the way back in our early days called Selfies are Self Love, to a more recent post on realistic ways to show yourself love. We are huge advocates for being your own biggest fan, and ready to offer you solutions on those days where you feel like you are just not your best self. The problem with this, though, is that it can be exclusionary to those who are less able to take these steps – be that through physical or mental illness or disability – and can even introduce an element of guilt to those whose ‘bad’ days far outweigh the ‘good’. So here are the ways that I personally give myself self care and self love, while living with long-term physical and mental health conditions.
Particularly in the early stages of your illness, it can be really easy to expect yourself to achieve the same things you did before. A huge hurdle is actually stepping back and saying ‘Okay, I used to be able to do this, but now I can’t – and that does not mean I have failed‘. If you have certain expectations of yourself of course you are going to feel let down, so you need to move those goal posts. Or remove them completely if you need to.
Around ten years or so ago my Doctor offered me medication for my mental illness and I was very reluctant to even consider it. The idea of something altering the way that my brain works really made me feel anxious, and like I was going to lose part of who I was. I was always somebody who didn’t even like to take paracetamol because I suppose it just didn’t feel ‘natural’ and I wanted my body to be able to fight things off by itself? I don’t even understand my own logic. But since discussing medication openly with my Doctor and understanding the need for regularity I have taken steps to make sure that I actually take the medication I need – and at the right times. If I need Sumatriptan tablets for migraines, I need them – I am not looking after my health when I deny myself available help. If I need an extra beta blocker because my anxiety is particularly bad, I just need to take it and allow myself to function as my best self. I have also taken to leaving my tablets next to my bed because I need to take them immediately when I wake up and right before I go to sleep, and I carry an entire blister pack in my handbag so that I have some spare when I need it, and because moving on to that final blister pack reminds me it is time to order more so I never need to go without.
When it comes to having to break plans with friends who have no experience with what I’m going through, I can feel really awkward and start to punish myself. I think about how much they must hate me and how everybody must be rolling their eyes about me – or worse, I force myself to go ahead and do things my body isn’t happy to do. I can’t explain the relief I feel now that I am able to say “I can’t do this because I am having a bad day today, and that often makes me feel [tired, anxious, sore – fill in the blank!]” because I feel like I am being really honest and upfront about the situation as a whole, I make it clear I am not making any excuses or trying to be flaky and knowing that other people aren’t judging you or making assumptions does wonders for my anxiety. As an additional bonus, this tip really helps you weed out the fake friends so you are left with a really supportive group who are able to fully understand your health.
Whether it be via spreadsheets, a paper journal or an app – however you decide to do it, it can be really important to start logging your symptoms. This will make you more aware of your body and its natural patterns (if your illness or disability is such that it has patterns, such as the ‘boom and bust’ pattern of fatigue) and can help you identify things that you weren’t aware of so you can offer them up to your Doctor and together you can decide if they are worth exploring together. Keeping track can also give you a physical representation of how your body feels when you forget to take your medication, or choose not to, so that it might prompt you to remember. I also keep a spreadsheet for all relevant results from the variety of tests that I have had, so that I can track progress or decline and just because I feel a bit better when I feel like I am in control of my body and not the other way around.
I find looking up hashtags for new follows and joining Facebook groups can be a really low maintenance way of building up your social media into the kind of space you need. Find out what hashtags are relevant to your health condition or disability and have a look who is talking about it – they might have tips for you, or they might just be a friendly shoulder to cry on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions relating to your illness if you are newly diagnosed, using the hashtag so that the right people see it. This can be a great way to make a whole new circle of friends which includes people who not only know exactly what you’re going through, but who are usually already fighting your corner without you even knowing they exist.
Self worth should never be linked to health. Regardless of how our bodies look or operate, they are all wonderful and deserve nothing less than absolute self love. The only way you can truly show yourself self care is to reflect on what your body or mind needs on a day to day basis and trust your own instincts. This list is what generally works for me – I’d love to hear what works for you!