Maybe there’s something to it after all.
Interesting that I’m feeling like writing through things again. Two straight days for the first time in what, five years?
I was writing in this “Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You” book and the topic of choosing the harder path came up. Now, for context, I’m currently sick with what I suspect is the flu, but despite this being the third day of it, I’ve managed to accomplish a surprising amount of stuff around the house. I’m doing what I can to dig myself and Diana out of what I would consider a mildly serious state of neglect of the house brought on by parallel depressive episodes. It was in this context that I thought about what the harder road would look like today, and I felt like that was letting go of that momentum and listening to my body and how tired it is.
Of course, I can’t sleep. That would be too convenient. So I’m here instead, reflecting on the concept of self-care.
Diana’s talked a lot about the need to “self-soothe”, which is a slightly more socially acceptable way of saying “give yourself permission to do whatever the hell.” But I don’t think self-care is the same as self-soothing. The latter is basically providing sensory pleasure and relaxation, and the former may well manifest as tough love. Right now, feeling under the weather but unable to sleep, I’m left wondering what actual self-care looks like in these circumstances.
I gave myself permission to turn off Slack, not wear my watch for any notifications, and leave my phone upside down so I can’t see it. I feel a little anxious there, but if we’re being completely honest, there’s nothing so critical that a day is going to fuck the timeline up. So, overall I think it’s a good move, one that allows for some mental recharge. I ate nutritious, nourishing things instead of comforting ones. I did what I said I would do, and skipped any drinks last night, and intend to keep that up for the next week. I feel like all of these things slot firmly in the category of self-care instead of self-soothing. I made a commitment yesterday to improve my surroundings today, and I’ve done that. I made a commitment to myself yesterday to make a little time today to make some music, and I’ve done that.
It sounds suspiciously like I have my shit together, which is laughable.
But now I think I’m a little too tired for more cleaning, and I think Diana would be at least a little irritated at my insistence to keep on after being so clearly tired. I shaved and took a shower, I ate, I’ve kept up with fluids, I’m on time with my medications, I’ve made some time for writing, I put on some cologne (Palisander, to be precise.) All those little things that make one feel put-together and that things are going well.
I think this is a weird place to be in, but I feel like I’ve painted myself into a corner. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do, after all. This would be a logical time to, I don’t know, turn it down a bit and relax? But that thought bothers me too.
I think I’m afraid of self-soothing.
It represents a temptation, a gateway to being comfortably apathetic and disinterested in doing the stuff that should be done. Lately that’s been the real struggle, I haven’t wanted to end up in that place and so I sit at this desk after work, looking around, trying to find something fun to do and not really coming up with it because I don’t think actually doing it is a good idea. As I write this, I realize how ridiculous it really sounds.
The fact is, I don’t think it’s healthy to be scared of recreation and downtime in this way. I feel like that is actually more likely to lead to burnout and one of those depressive relapses than just fucking off for a little while. Maybe part of it is the difficulty of setting boundaries, and another part of it is the outward appearance of it. It looks lazy. Hell, it feels lazy. And I don’t know if I have the answer for how to reconcile that.
You can look at a Google Image Search for self-care and quickly see all sorts of ideas. Some are a bit silly, but many of them are reasonable. If I’m being honest, most of the time when I’m talking recreation, or self-soothing beyond food and booze, I’m talking about video games. It is probably worth re-contextualizing this as a hobby, not a simple waste of time. It’s something I’m passionate about, and it’s evocative in ways that other media could never be. Having an engaging hobby doesn’t seem like a bad thing. It doesn’t have to be this hard association with depression and escapism, an unfortunate reality of the last 18 months or so. It’s worth changing that story.
In fact, the psychological concept of story editing is probably highly relevant here. A particular pastime doesn’t have to be performed solely in the context of coping, or escapism. In fact, hundreds of millions of people don’t have that cross their minds when they play a game. It might be a method of escapism, and even if it is, wouldn’t that be one of the healthiest ways you could handle it? If it comes down to choices between games, drugs, or booze, one of those is pretty clearly the healthiest one long-term. If I were editing this story, I think it would go from
He plays video games when he’s depressed and can’t find it in him to face the world.
He plays video games because he finds them fun and meaningful to him. Sometimes they even help him through hard times.
Maybe I do have a good idea of what self-care is, after all. Perhaps it’s taking the time to write this all out and come to this conclusion. Journaling is one of the big things you see a lot of people call out as being in the wheelhouse of self-care.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pick up The Sims 3.
…No, X3: Albion Prelude.
…No, Final Fantasy IX.
Well, I’ll figure it out eventually.