As I’ve alluded in previous posts (So it starts”), my mental health took a steep downward turn after a life threatening illness that lasted a year, taking care of my dying mother, enduring bitter family strife and a date rape type occurrence that was was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. It was as if all the strength I was summoning to get through it all had caved in and after 28 years of pushing aside acceptance of my dissociation disorder, it came back full force, more visible and intractable than ever. I stopped being functional and was in constant crisis. I have spent the last two years getting treatment and am grateful to have put together a specialized team of professionals. I’ve spent close to a year in an intensive trauma group therapy and have had several trips to the hospital for physical problems related to my previous physical illness. I am now emerging from this acute crisis period and while I am thrilled to be returning to a more “normalized” life, I am slightly anxious about the possibility of a slide back to where I was two years ago.
As I am transitioning from intensive treatment, I am prioritizing daily self care practices to bolster my recovery but also to serve as a sort of barometer for how well I am doing. If I find I cannot sustain these practices, that will be my first warning that I am headed down a troublesome path. Because mental, physical and emotional collapse happens insidiously, often from cumulative stressors that are endured over time without notice. So I place a high premium on my daily self care practices. I resonate with this list blogged by my friend Jardana Peacock and I eagerly adopted the ‘love notes’, since I enjoy writing and making cards. I won’t go into the items she lists as they are also mine. Although the eating well could be it’s own post as I have huge issues with food and self care, but that , is for another day. Here are some of mine, maybe you will find them helpful and interesting for you as well.
1. Abstinence from from drugs
I have a history of self harming behaviors, some were more overt than others. But they all took a toll on my body. A couple years ago, I had severe intestinal problems: diverticulitis with perforated bowels (4) and chronic intestinal malaise. In a a year I spent over a month and a half in the hospital and found myself going home with a PIC line in my arm for IV antibiotic use. I ended up with an intestinal resection. The perforations, inflammation and acute flare ups were very painful and I was on powerful pain medication. Over time, I ended up loving the pain pills and came to rely on their emotionally numbing effects as well as the pain management. But mind altering substances promote easier and more frequent dissociation, as well as general escapism from life. While I did not have a dramatic “bottom” (as addicts say), I believe that abstinence from opiates and by extension, also alcohol, since that lowers my resistance to cravings for the former, is crucial to my general wellness. So, I am clean and sober.
I try to do something daily that gets me in my body with intention. Most trauma survivors have disowned parts of their bodies and that leaves us susceptible to bodily injuries. Also, just being a middle aged thick female, I move my body and breathe into it to help erase the sexist indoctrination of lookism, sizism, agism of our culture that tells me my worth is all about being a pretty, sexy object to be looked at. I enjoy restorative and basic Hatha yoga. The breathing I have learned through yoga is something I have taken off the mat and now do spontaneously when needed. I also enjoy swimming, biking and light weight training. Whenever I go to the gym, I end with a hot tub and steam as a reward. Love that! A variety of activities and experiences to nurture my physical self keep it interesting. I also try to get alternative body healing modalities such as massage,acupuncture whenever possible. I also make my own potions and treats from essential oils to pamper my body and stimulate my senses.
The breathing goes hand in hand with sitting still (meditation), usually done in the morning. Stilling my mind is difficult but I find I am calmer just from trying. I am an empathic person that often takes on peoples energies , so all this physical moving around and calming my mind is INVALUABLE for my stress management. It is something to cultivate, not easy at first, but it becomes a gift you’ll went to revisit all the time.
3. Limiting exposure to the negative
Of course, exposure to harmful, violent, exploitative people, places or things is a no-brainer. But beyond that, I am learning that my thoughts play a big role in manifesting the life I want. Since finding my wounded child (children) within, I have dedicated myself to redressing their hurts, so I can’t afford to take in any thoughtless negativity. On the surface, this is easy. But if I am honest, I often find myself upset from unseeming sources. Sometimes I need to take a step back and look at the latest articles I am reading, my Facebook news feeds, and my mutterings under my breath to gauge what I am bringing into my mind. I find that often it is heavy with traumatic images, fear inducing scenarios; or I find that I can be feeding a fire of unproductive anger, trauma and guilt. And this lessens my joy. Usually the overload first shows up with sleep disturbances and free floating anxiety.
This issue is hard for me as I am an activist and often when advocating for social justice issues, it feels necessary to do so from an “anti” this or that platform. The urgency I feel about issues of violence to girls, women, men, children, the world, is so huge that I start bringing in despairing and traumatic stories or images of terrible thing after terrible thing with the intention of raising awareness of the issue to others (hoping to motivate them to action). And that is necessary. But I am learning that it is not the only way to combat injustices. I can also advocate for the positive, rather than against the bad. This waters the soil of hopes and dreams.
I have not figured this one out yet. I do not have clear guidelines on how to walk the path of an activist and advocate without taking into myself the traumatic injustices I am fighting. I try to balance my self protective shielding with practical organizing strategies. I do not want to become a side liner that is well and happy but does little to help the world of suffering around me, and that means rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. Because I cannot lose sight that I am them and they are me, that is the root motivation behind my activism. So, I’m struggling with this balance. I welcome your thoughts on this.
I use visualizations all the time and for me they work! Yoga Nidra sessions taught me how to explore and clear out my chakra energy centers. If you do not have a yoga studio near you, again; I recommend Jardana Peacock’s; she works with people all over the globe. I find it important to get instruction you can experience, with a person guiding you rather than just reading about it, as that keeps you in your mind, not your body. I also have a strong relationship with the divine and choose to work with angels as agents/symbols of God’s love and divine energy. I visualize Archangel Michael sucking out all the toxic debris accumulated in my body from taking on others people negative energy from a type of divine vacuum. Yes! Such a mundane image, but it gets the job done and my angels are practical spirits. I then fill the spaces left behind with blue light that protects from future toxic energy. I have noticed less physical aches and pains when I regularly do these visualizations.
Can’t say enough about this wonderful refuge. Sleep , sleep, sleep. I try to never go under 8 hours. I feel so crappy if I do. Plus I have the added perk of receiving interesting and sometimes psychic dreams to look forward to, so , I love my slumber!
Now , I can almost hear the grumblings of people reading this post, I don’t have time for all this self care. . . . For me it is a question of quality of life and I choose to build a life worth celebrating. I found by cutting mindless TV watching, I opened up my schedule for all of these and more. It also helps also curb much of the unhelpful cultural brainwashing that goes along with most television programming. The key to sticking to a routine of self care is to pick a routine that is meaningful to you, specific in it’s guidance, and can take the place of an unhelpful activity you’ve probably been wanting been wanting to curb anyway. What’s on your list?