3: Self Care is not following a script…

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMThis one is really simple. There is very much a formula around the space of implementing self care; knowing when to self care, what works for us personally, and sometimes even needing to methodically implement it. Paradoxically however, the worse shape I am in the more I need self care, but also the less my brain is helping me to do the right thing. A formulaic approach to self care really helps me in that I have taught myself to know what helps in theory and to just do it. To trust the process and go with it. And it nearly always works.

But sadly there isn’t a script on working out what our self care needs are. There isn’t list of things that work for everyone and nor is there a list of trick questions to tick, which will then spit out the answers at the other end. Self care is extremely personal and trial and error with a deliberate mind appeared to be what worked for me. I painstakingly “stumbled” upon the things that worked for me, ….slowly over many years. They seem so simple now, but my brain had never searched my soul for answers to what I needed before, so it didn’t know where to look and my soul did not know how to tell me or my brain what it’s needs were.

So if someone you love is struggling and can’t find how they need to self care, or is forgetting to self care, maybe ask them if they need help for sure, but don’t be too hard on them if they are struggling to fit a list of self care options, or work out what their needs are.

2: Self care is not what everyone else says it is

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMSelf care is not simply what everyone else says it is. After I got it through my thick skull that self was not going to force me into a beauty salon, we started looking for other things.

One of my psychologists kept telling me to join a bookclub. Again, it did nothing but make me upset with him, and I after about the fourth time he suggested it I decided that if he did it again, I would tell him where to stick his suggestion (thankfully that was not necessary). I didn’t need more people in my life, I had lot of friends and colleagues and as an adult have always been a sociable person. But I had lived behind a mask of happiness all my life for no other reason that I did not have the words to express what was underneath to myself, never mind anyone else. And I desperately needed to get out from behind it.

I didn’t know how to do anything that was just for me, and when pushed to think of something the idea of meeting more people was exhausting, and I knew that I couldn’t walk into a room and say “Hi, I’m Jennifer and I am broken and scared and damaged goods, can I please be real with you?”. I’m pretty sure that I would not have been invited back again after that! I didn’t need more people I needed more ME.

So I decided to to confide my problem with a few trusted friends and the outcome (through no fault of theres) was the same as the psychologists. Everyone suggested what they find calming and soothing and they were all activity based.

  • spend time in the kitchen
  • go for a run
  • phone a friend
  • go away for the weekend
  • have your hair done
  • have your nails done

The lists were endless, but again they caused me anxiety, and made me feel more and more different, weird and strange compared to everyone else. I didn’t need a good girls night out, I cook for a large family every meal and I hated it, and my body couldn’t keep up with being on my feet in the kitchen never mind going for a run or a big night out. I have no doubt that they are great things for most other people to do, but for me I was spending too much time and energy trying to do what others do, instead of finding my own safe place and activities, but the problem was that I didn’t know where in my soul to look for it, as it had never been planted there in the first place.

1: Self Care is not the same as Pampering.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMSelf care can include pampering, but many people (like me) who did not grow up with any kind of care, (self or any other kind), it is easy to confuse the words “self care” with “pampering”. Well into my painful and confusing journey towards self care I confused these two things almost all the time, and it caused a great deal of anxiety and frustration for both my psychologists and myself.

I kept thinking that self care meant having one’s hair or nails done, with spending time on “over and above” grooming and so on… all things that are are scary and frightening for me, even though I didn’t know why or how they were so scary I just knew that for me they were.

Therefore when my psychologists talked about self care, instead of me calmly thanking them for their advice and heading off to have a facial with my best buddy, my anxiety soured even more, I felt even less understood than ever, and I became even more confused and felt even more different and isolated.

 

I needed to be safe and free and to find my voice, not to add more and more things in my life that scared me. Pampering for many people I am sure is a great way to self care. It combines time out, silence, massage, smells, luxury, and often a whole lot of rest. For me on the other hand (and maybe others?) it is touch that scares us, intimacy that comes too close, tense bodies that are put into the care and control of others, soothing words that are often “put on” rather than real, and an atmosphere that is foreign.

It didn’t help that because of my as yet undiagnosed EDS (Mah Eeds), the few times that I have been to any kind of beauty place, waxing burnt my skin, manicures left my fingers bleeding and ultimately infected, and the only massage I’ve ever subjected myself to, left me sore and a bone dislocated. Pampering for me simply isn’t the same thing as Self Care, even though I am sure that for many it can very much be a part of it.

What Self-care is NOT..

It is not pampering…

It is not what everyone else says it is…

It is not following a script…

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMIt took me a VERY long time to learn this. When I completely fell apart my psychologists would try and help me to regroup and find some safe space. But I had never know safety and so even in my head, there was no “happy place”, there was no “go-to” thing that I could do to unwind and slow down and work on anything constructive. I lived in fear and anxiety about life, people, my health and so many other things.

After weeks and weeks of questions and my completely stumped non answers, I think that eventually he believed me that I actually had no idea what self care was, and especially not for me. After numerous suggestions of joining another book club, going to a Spa, or a whole list of what “other” people think pampering was, I was become more instead of less anxious about what on earth I was supposed to do to self care.

And so instead of just going to happy places and trying out formulas, we had to start basic; … super basic. We started off by creating a safe corner in the spare room. I told my husband that it was going to be my safe space, and made sure that the blankets that I liked best were on the bed, there was a phone charger and extension to the home phone. A handful of odds and ends that I had gathered over the years that I really liked and were more about “me” rather than “us” were placed on the shelves, and anything that didn’t fit the bill was moved out.

It wasn’t an overnight process, it took weeks and even months, but we moved the bed so that the sunlight came in if it was a sunny afternoon, and I placed my baskets of knitting and books that I was reading around the room. I had no idea what to do with it, or where we were gong with this. It is was a process, …but just creating a safe space was good for me in ways that I couldn’t yet articulate or even work out, and a couple of times I actually used it out of choice rather than because I knew it was good for me. It was the beginning…

The other day I wrote on some of the major early blockages to self caring for survivors of traumatic childhoods, and as I slowly learnt over many years what I do need to self care, I first found myself coming to the conclusion that there are many things that self care is not. I’ll expand on each of those point next week.

3 Blockages to Self-Care if you were abused…

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PMSelf care sounds like the most simple thing on earth. And if you were raised in a way that encouraged that (usually without the words “self-care”) then it probably is easy. But for many of us it is the hardest thing in the world. Chidhood abuse of any kind robs us of many basic skills, and one of those vital skills it robs us of is the ability to self care.

Self care is not the ability to dress ourselvs, feed ourselves, or basic hygiene. This is beyond that, it is the ability to healthily nourish and self soothe ourselves in ways that enrich us, recharge our batteries, and keep us safe. For the most part, it is about keeping us from falling down the rabbit hole. It is time out, head space, nurturing… the things that keeps us functioning well. Matt from “Surviving my Past” does a great job of explaining what self care means for a survivor here.

1: Abuse has a powerful emotional element of entrapment. When you grow up in abuse, you know nothing different, and this creates a disconnect between our lives and the lives of the rest of the people around us. Our basic need is to be free of the abuse, and that is all we want. To me growing up I assumed that I was the only miserable broken one, and everyone else out there looks the same; …happy, normal, thriving. … I didn’t get the luxury of learning about other kinds of needs. I didn’t see differences between other people. All I wanted is to be like “them” and I missed a lot of subtleties about discernment, differences and preferences that I would otherwise have learnt if my basic need for safety had been met.

2: All abusers blame their victims, whether overtly or covertly (in my case extremely openly), and it can leave us feeling unworthy and with a false sense of shame. Unworthy of anything good in life, shameful of enjoyment. It can feel subconsciously as though we don’t have the good things because we don’t deserve them, so we don’t try to get them. We don’t deserve breaks, or time out, or to spoil ourselves. I found that I felt so much guilt when doing anything for myself that wasn’t enjoyable or worth it. So I never got to find out what self care even meant for me.

3: As the entrapper, abuser and the blamer, then the last thing that a parent would also be teaching the child, either purposefully or by example, is any self caring skills of ANY kind. I wasn’t taught how to self care, have an opinion or a voice, or even had it modelled to me. It was a completely foreign concept until therapy and even then it took over three years before I could find the smallest thing that would be considered “self care”.

For many years I could not even understand the term. I couldn’t understand the difference between self care and pampering and none of my psychologists explained that because they assumed that I knew what they meant. Discussions on self care caused me huge anxiety and left me feeling as though there was even more wrong with me, and that I was in trouble for not knowing the right answers. If this is you or someone you love, how did you overcome these huge issues that arose way before I could even unpack what Self-Care was for me?