(Trigger Warning: writer expresses thoughts, feelings, and concerns that mark her as human.)
I have only recently become strong enough to open up about my mental illness. I almost said comfortable, but there are certain aspects of my life that are far from it. There are places in my head, and voices in those places, that follow their own agendas whether social, sexual, or, in one instance, directly suicidal. Sounds melodramatic, huh? Not quite.
I had a rough day on Thursday, not my worst day by far, but dark enough that I spent most of the day hiding in bed and struggling not to hurt myself. I huddled at the bottom of a dark pit. Thin, sharp needles thrust through my body from below, rusty blades tore through my skin from above. People laughed when there was no one in the room.
I had a sense that the day's events would be difficult, but I grossly underestimated how debilitating it would prove to be. Hubby (my best friend, supporter, and rock) worked very hard to keep me safe. He took care of our youngest, managed the house, and even brought pizza home for dinner.
Robot Hugs (one of my favorite comics) has a wonderful piece on self care here. RH, the creator, has this to say about the comic:
"One of the things I’ve gotten better at with respect to being a grown up (apparently) is trying to anticipate things that are going to be hard for me and plan ahead for them. But it doesn’t mean that those things aren’t going to suck. Putting on a coat doesn’t make it any less bitterly cold outside, and getting stitches doesn’t undo the injury. Sometimes it feels like I put a lot of effort into feeling shitty in a slightly less destructive way than I might otherwise. But, like I said, that’s adulting for you."
Self care is a vital part of managing mental illness, and it looks different for different people. Some prefer to keep active, turning to exercise with an amazon pilates ball, sports, or handicrafts. Others read, or write. Some seek company, others need to be alone. Food, drink, a favorite trinket, a new project to distract. An animal companion, talking on the phone, video games, giving someone else potentially dangerous items to hold for a while. Trouble can rear it's ugly head when well-meaning allies try to impose their own versions of self care on a person trying desperately to stay safe. "Let's go for a walk." "We can go get coffee." "Would you like something to eat?" "How about we watch a movie? "You need more time to yourself." "How about...?"
No. Please, no.
By imposing your views of what safety looks like on another person, you not only put that person at risk, you also invalidate their attempts to address what they need at a critical point in time. What is important for others to recognize, both allies and those with mental illness, is that the only "right" way to take care of yourself is the one that works for you. There is no "one size fits all" formula for self care, but you can put a plan into place.
When the moment is right, and the person is willing and able to answer a few questions, sit down and talk about a safety plan. What does safety look like? What do they need from you? Do they have needed medications? Are there items or people they want near or kept away? Do they have any favorite activities they can engage in that won't put themselves at further risk? Even making the plan can help someone with mental illness better understand their own needs. Yes, not everyone will be able, or ready, to address the issue of self care. All you can do is be there when the time comes.
For myself, I've come to recognize that I need to have someone near at hand. I don't want conversation or to interact, but having someone there who can keep an eye on me, particularly when I am non-verbal, helps. Many times I find the repetition of sorting MAGIC cards for hubby's game store to be soothing and meditative. I have routines such as deep breathing and number references to help stay focused. Music, videos, and audio books are always close at hand as is a bit of chocolate, a small toy for those non-verbal times, and a plan to keep problematic items out of reach. Hubby and others know these things, and are willing to help any way they can. Having a plan for self care in place has kept me here. Today, I am safe.
Why is she telling us this?
Maybe I hope you'll think about what it will take to keep you or someone you care about safe when the time comes.