If there’s one thing I really, truly love in this world, it’s words. I am obsessed with words, with expanding my vocabulary, with using the right words to tell a story, to describe a situation, to ascertain a feeling. Words have been my solace for most of my life. They are my safe place, my shelter in the storm. So of course, I watch with interest when a particular word or turn of phrase ingratiates itself into the mainstream and becomes a widely used “buzzword”. Words like “privilege”, “intersectionality”, “humblebrag” and so many more seem to take up a position in the zeitgeist and represent a huge part of what life at a certain time was focused on. One of these buzzwords, or actually, a buzzphrase, if you will, which has occupied a lot of my brainspace over the last year or so is “self care”.
Because here’s the thing. The idea of self care, while pure in its original intentions, has become somewhat of a cliche. These days, it’s become very much bubble baths and scented candles (thanks in part, some critics argue, to Gwyneth Paltrow’s often criticised website Goop) but allegedly takes it’s origins from the Ancient Greeks. Allegedly Pythagoras was a big believer in taking some time each morning (a whole hour) to ground himself before engaging with other people, claiming it is essential for getting your soul in order, while Plato’s self care was rooted in taking the time to find wonder in the world.
For those who live with depression, many of the self care suggestions we see online are a million miles away from firstly, what we need, and secondly, what we could ever feasibly warrant ourselves. I’d love to roll running a luxurious bath and filling it with Lush bath bombs into my routine, but more often than not, if I’m in The Dark Place™, self care is significantly more about brushing my teeth, hauling my monochrome-visioned ass out of bed, forcing myself into the shower and taking care not to listen to the negative thoughts using my brain as a trampoline.
One of my big self care rules is that I will eat breakfast every day, regardless of how I’m feeling. If I’m teetering on the edge of The Dark Place™ or I’m right there in the trenches, breakfast and lunch are one of the first things to go. I’m pretty sure this harks back to the days when I didn’t eat enough or look after myself very well. It’s not an easy habit to shake. But breakfast has become a key part in the battle with my brain and all of the drama that the aftermath of cancer treatment has brought my way.
The revolution begins at breakfast
Most days I just settle down at my desk with a warming bowl of porridge or my signature Breakfast Paste (an apple, sultanas, oats and a tablespoon of yoghurt – more delicious than it sounds, I promise) but other days – usually when there’s no milk in the house – I head out to my favourite cafe in South East London, Brown & Green’s in Crystal Palace for my favourite London breakfast, their Bircher muesli with cacao and sea salt. Breakfast has become a bit of a revolutionary act of self care for me. It’s so simple but it’s effects are widely felt – I’m less lethargic, my fatigue is less pervasive and I know that I’ve done a good thing for myself which can be momentous if I don’t feel like I deserve any of the good things.
Sometimes though, these things slip. Even with the best will in the world, there are days where I sleep in too long or I just “don’t get around” to making myself breakfast and boy can I feel it when I don’t.
But the thing about this breakfast routine for me is that it’s an easy one to stick to. I know that yoga can do wonders for me when I’m not feeling great. I know that exercise, while not a cure-all gives me time and space away from whatever negative self talk is burrowing its way through my skull and into my awareness. I’m aware that I should meditate and I know that I should make a gratitude list. Getting out of the house, or hell, even out of my pyjamas, is something that has the potential to make me feel better – but sometimes, they’re just not accessible.
Depression takes all of the things that you think you should be doing and uses them as a reason for religion free self-flagellation. When my blues are so pervasive I can’t see past the end of my nose, it benefits me to have a singular thing to focus on. A simple objective that helps me get up and start my day, even if it means I crawl straight back into bed afterwards.
This is the nitty gritty of self care – not the “Goopified” (there’s another zeitgeisty buzzword for ya) version we see on websites that aim to make a buck or two from those who are struggling. For me, it is based around self compassion. Self compassion comes from the idea that we should give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. Food is my first go-to when it comes to taking care of a person, whether a friend or a loved one, and thus it has become my first port of call when looking after myself too.
All this said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a self care ritual that involves a monthly massage, a hike in the woods or de-cluttering your room. These are all incredible tools – but I think there’s a risk that these suggestions aren’t inclusive of the people who need them most. Self care doesn’t have to be Jo Malone candles that cost a tonne and facemasks that purify, refresh and hydrate your skin (though they’re good too). It can be something as simple as putting a delicious, nutritious and heartwarming meal into your belly.
For me, the revolution against my brain and it’s negative tendencies starts at breakfast time.
What’s the nitty-gritty act of self care you turn to in times of need?