Sometimes you need a week off, and that’s exactly what I needed last week. Life can get a bit crazy sometimes and the world gets busy and before you know it- bam. You’re trapped in a whirlwind forgetting how to breathe. Rather than trying to keep up with every curve ball life throws at you, it’s okay to step back. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to breathe. Now, if you know me, you know that me saying this might sound like a joke. Historically, I’m not known for my abundance of self-care skills or my overuse of them. I’m usually the person who will run myself into the ground, prioritize others and end up overtired and burnt-out before I end up taking care of myself again.
Self- care is something I’ve had to consistently work on because unfortunately, I often don’t recognize my own red flags when I’m at the beginning of a downward spiral. Although I have gotten much better at it, sometimes I still need a bit of help and need to be called out by people who know me and can see things a bit more objectively. I can get into a bit of a habit of thinking that I can handle everything on my own when, in reality, that is the farthest thing from the truth. That is not to say that I’m not capable enough or intelligent enough to manage things, but just that I shouldn’t have to. It is okay to need help; recovery doesn’t happen in isolation.
Over the past few weeks, things have gotten a bit stressful, and that’s okay. Everyone goes through stressful times in their lives. Has this been the most stressed I’ve been in the history of everything? Definitely not, far from it, compared to the things I used to have to deal with, these are definitely ‘first world problems’. I’ve just finished my fall semester, but for several weeks I had a lot of overlapping deadlines that I was afraid I wasn’t going to meet. I had a lot of research to do and not enough time to do it. Struggling with mental health never makes meeting those deadlines easier. It’s funny, I actually took a class on stress and coping this semester and the interesting thing is, our bodies react the same to stress no matter what the stressor is. The same chemical reaction occurs within our bodies as long as we believe there is some kind of threat, whether real or perceived. Even though my biggest threat in school may be that I fail a class (which I hopefully won’t), my stress response is still the same as when I felt threatened on the street.
Now, that stress response is what got me through a lot of really difficult situations and if you’d told me before that my biggest stress was one day going to be just some minor stuff and schoolwork, I would’ve laughed in your face. That ‘fight or flight’ response isn’t called a survival mechanism for nothing; however, stress can take quite a toll on the body. Normally, as a young and healthy person, I can fend off the effects of stress and keep plowing through it pretty well, but I’ve been having a couple of health challenges lately. Nothing too serious or anything, but I’ve had a few tests and have some more coming up just to make sure everything’s okay. It can be a bit harder to fend things off when you’re feeling a bit run down or under the weather, and I’ve been having some pretty bad headaches lately, but that just means I need to pay better attention to my body and what it needs.
I don’t do anyone any favours by running myself into the ground or pretending that I’m superwoman. It’s important for me to get enough sleep, eat right (both things that I’m working on) and take time for myself. Sometimes I need to just take time and watch a bunch of Netflix and melt my brain by watching hours of Greys Anatomy. Other times I need to take some space for myself and walk and just listen to music. Other times it’s important that I talk it out. Usually, I’m a pretty rational and well-grounded person, but I have my moments where I need to just spew craziness and vent. These moments are few and far between, and only with select people, but sometimes I just need to pop off and let everything out.
I just turned 24 this past Friday and one of the biggest things I’ve learned in all my years is that I have to take care of myself. Yes, I am so blessed to have so much (essential) support now guiding me along the right path, and I would likely be dead without some key people in my life, but there are certain things they are unable to do for me. Self-care is one of those things. I have to be aware of my own limits and I have to know when to ask for help. I have to know what activities help me when I’m stressed and how to ground myself, otherwise, I can end up in some pretty hot water. I always talk about how independent I am and how I’ve taken care of myself for so many years, but neither of those things matter if I’m not doing a good job at it.
My job in recovery is to learn the most I can. About everything. Taking care of myself physically, emotionally, spiritually and within all my relationships. My other job in recovery is to always try to become a better person than I was the day before. The third job that comes with being in recovery is to try to help others. To make a difference. To pass on the message that healing can happen. How it is possible to change your life. None of that is feasible if I don’t put myself first though. It’s like the airplane analogy, you have to put on your mask before you help the person beside you. Self-care is a lot like that.