Self care is so often promoted as indulgence, as treating ourselves. We put under the category of self care anything that feels good and takes us away from the stresses of our lives. Chocolates, long baths, massages, this is often what come to mind when someone brings up self care. But in the end, self care is really whatever helps us be healthy and happy. And that’s not always doing what feels good or what is easy.
Where do you think self accountability and self growth fits in to this? Can we really say we are taking care of ourselves if we don’t address the areas where we need to improve? Improving can often be an uncomfortable process; no one likes to admit where they fall short. It is, however, necessary to progress, to a healthy state of mind and, when it comes to mental illness, to recovery.
Sometimes self care is being kind or giving to ourselves. Recharging and recouping are important to maintaining our mental health. Nonetheless, it is important to remain self aware and realize when difficult work has to be done.
Mental illnesses are characterized by symptoms; some are things we experience and others are behaviours. The things we experience are things like anxiety, panic attacks, compulsions, delusions. These things are mostly experienced inwardly. Though they affect the way we interact with the world, they are things that affect how we think and feel. Through therapy, medication or a combination of both, we can manage these symptoms, mitigate how they affect us and rationalize the thoughts and feelings that bring them on. Behaviours, however, are directly related to the way we interact with the world because they ARE the way we interact with the world. These require a great deal of self awareness because they are habits to break, ineffective ways of communicating to unlearn and to replace with healthier ways to express ourselves.
This is where the hard work comes in. Does self care not suggest a practice that leads to taking better care of ourselves, to being healthier and being happier? A large part of this is taking care of our mental health, and the path to being mentally healthier includes remission of symptoms. The interpersonal symptoms we experience, as mentioned above, need to be actively worked on. This is where keeping ourselves accountable comes in. We need to be aware of the problematic behaviours we engage in, take responsibility for them and be proactive in changing them.
Mental illness is not a flaw, it is not a lack of character nor is it a shortcoming. No one should be blamed for being mentally ill but in many cases they should be held accountable to being the main agent in their recovery. If we expect to have healthy and effective relationships, we need to be accountable for the way that we treat people, that we communicate with them and that we act around them. It is not helpful to anyone to blame our illness for every behaviour we have that causes harm or pain.
Self care is key to recovery in mental illness and it does not always involve being gentle with ourselves. We have to hold ourselves accountable and work on the behaviours that are problematic or ineffective. Most often with the help of a therapist or psychologist, we can devise techniques to change our behaviours. These behaviours arise most often because we are trying to have a need met. It is a matter of asking for that need to be met in an effective way that promotes connection and respect.
Some things to ask ourselves when we act or react based on our symptoms are the following:
· What emotions am I feeling right now that are causing this reaction?
· What is the purpose of these emotions; what need are they communicating?
· How can I ask for this need to be met in a more effective manner?
· What emotions is the way I am currently communicating my need bringing up in the other person?
Once we take stock of the situation and realize what outcome we are looking for, we can use strategies to achieve that outcome that advance and build on relationships instead of causing disconnection and misunderstanding. Learning and using these strategies is our responsibility. The people in our lives should be compassionate about the illness we struggle with, but in the end the responsibility to do the work and manage that illness is our own.