One of the biggest hurdles I have had to overcome in my struggle with anxiety and depression is choosing to focus on self-care. While growing up, I was taught in Sunday School that the key to joy was to prioritize J-esus, O-thers then Y-ou. (Being raised in a Christian household, I can only speak from my own experience. I’m sure there are parallels in others faiths or lessons learned in school you can reflect upon.) Admittedly it was a catchy way to implant a seed to avoid raising a generation of little narcissists, and instead have young hearts focusing on doing the right thing and being charitable. I’ve learned, however, as an adult that it can be taken too far. I continued to operate under this method some forty years after learning it, only to come to the realization that there are far more “others” out there and only one me. I continually gave well past when my cup was empty and wondered why the joy, if I experienced it at all, was fleeting.
I don’t have statistics and data to back this next part up, but from my conversations with friends across the globe on social media, many of my fellow sufferers are also “giver” types. Always willing to lend an ear, offer encouragement, or help others in some way. But we all share one negative in common. We lack prioritizing self-care. Whether it’s because it seems selfish to us, we lack the time, or have no knowledge of what it even means may vary, but the results are still the same. When you are constantly giving without refilling your own cup, emptiness is the result.
My personal struggle was that I was being selfish. If a friend or loved one had taken the time to include me in some event or activity, saying “no” was outwardly displaying that I didn’t care about their needs or desires. So invariably I would say “yes” even if my mind and body were virtually begging me for rest and/or solitude. And the spiral downward would predictably continue. Another by-product that came along with it was resentment. Can they not see the toll it’s taking? Do they not realize the state I’m in as a result? More often than not, the answer to that was a resounding “NO,” because I never took the time to tell them. Our friends and family aren’t psychics. They aren’t inside our heads knowing and feeling our struggles. How could they possibly know if we aren’t giving a voice to our issues?
In my own small real-life circle, I’m well known for my bluntness. As I’ve aged I’ve learned to take an emery board to the rougher edges in attempt to make my thoughts more palatable and less painful, but it was and is still an expectation that I would speak my mind. I did so in every arena except for with my depression and anxiety. The reasons varied, be they not wanting pity, a lack of desire to try to put into words thoughts and emotions I barely understood myself, or the fear of appearing selfish. But it was that lack of communication that continued the cycle of depleting myself to a point of barely being able to function in real life.
Self-care is different things to different people. There’s no “one size fits all” scenario that rejuvenates every sufferer. For some (including myself) it’s solitude. For others it’s self-pampering activities like spa days or weekend trips. For many it’s time with a trusted friend or therapist to talk through the issues you’re going through. Whatever your outlet is, employ it. And if you don’t yet know what works for you, try a variety of things until you find your perfect fit.
Also be sure to clue your close friends and family in on what you are going through. You’ve chosen this circle for a reason and more often than not you’ll not only be met with understanding, but also support and encouragement. That can be invaluable in helping you continue your pursuit of wellness. If the occasion arises where you’re met with resistance and a lack of understanding, you may need to re-evaluate where that person or persons ranks on your own priority list. Not everyone who hasn’t experienced depression and anxiety will necessarily fully get it, but if there is zero support, or worse yet…negativity in response to your needs, you might have outgrown that relationship.
I’m finding in these early stages that building relationships and a community with other sufferers has been a blessing in my own journey. Many have been on this path much longer than I have and provide me with lessons and tools to cope. They are also a safe place to fall because they can speak from experience and often have had almost the exact same thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. So, please, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and know that you aren’t alone. As the stigma lifts you’ll be able to find more and more people to add to your circle of support. And always consider me to one among the many. Journeying together eases our individual burdens.
Lastly, remember that self-interest and self-care aren’t selfish. They actually contribute to bringing us back to our most full and capable selves. Replenishment is necessary in order to be able to keep giving and helping. There is no shame in it. It’s key to survival.
Much love to all of you. Keep fighting and caring for yourselves.