Self-Care and Filling Your Own Cup

... and breathe. Step off that hamster wheel you constantly run around, sit down and breathe. Think of the last time you encouraged a friend to "take a break", or did a good deed for someone else. Now ask the same question, but imagine you are that person. What advice would you give to a friend, a relative or a small child? Would you tell them to stay on that wheel, despite how tired their legs were? Would you judge them, or admonish them, simply for being human? 
"You can't pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first."
Oh, Pinterest. You truly are a golden one, apart from the fact I couldn't trace the author of this quote 0 if anyone knows, please enlighten me! For it couldn't ring more true. I instinctively pour care onto others, whether it be making gifts to 'bring a smile', or reaching out in their time of need; nevertheless, the concept of giving myself is altogether more foreign.

Moreover, I've realised that this is quite a common trait for those with mental health struggles. I've talked before about the incredible girls I met through treatment, but it is a case-in-point. From the little notes posted under my door, to the "toast for toast" poem that greeted me at breakfast, they would shower care in abundance. Until the last petal fell on their own stem, they would water every flower in the field before themselves. 

A few months ago, I taked about my self-care conundrum in Are we out of the Shoulds yet? At the start of CBT treatment, we explored the imbalance between my self-perception and how I see those around me. After so long convincing myself that I am less worthy than others, we questioned the logic of this belief. Fun fact 1: very little logic exists. Fun fact 2: Facts are your friend!

When my therapist asked "why are you less deserving of self-care?" I responded with diabetes and anorexia. My reason? They have placed me in a "care deficit" that must be resolved. Her response? "You didn't cause your physical or mental illness and they cause you the most pain." You can't argue with that cup of liquid logic; even a Wonderland Tea Party would be covered! So now we've talked the talk, there's just one thing left to do... actually, you know... ACT.

In the short-term, it will involve going against our instincts. Joey Tribbiani may have said "there's no such thing as a selfless good deed", but for the "empty cup" crew I think the opposite is true! Can we find a a selfish good deed? An act of self-care that is entirely our own, with no obvious benefit to the outside world. In the past few weeks I decided to put this theory to the test. and can confirm (despite a few stray trolls in the dungeon) I lived to tell the tale! Here are four ways I've filled my own cup....  

     READING A BOOK     

I adore books, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. What may come as a surprise, is the fact that I've not done much reading at all in recent years. I have no problem with "productive reading", aka course texts, newspapers and Coding for Dummies blog posts. When it comes to reading for pleasure, however, I hit a brick wall.

Growing up, I loved nothing more than burying my head in a story. It is a natural form of self-care for me, which is probably why my head has such a big issue with it! In the last month, however, I've started a new chapter. Inspired by the return of GOT, I've finally started the books and am completely hooked! I was a bit worried that it would change my response to the show, but in my opinion it only adds to the story. I absolutely adore this world and my guilt is far less than I imagined. 

If my mind ever does try to give me grief, I try to imagine Miss Honey telling Matilda not to read. In short, I can't imagine it! Depriving someone of books is what Geoffrey or Ramsey Snow would do, not anyone with half a heart or brain. I'd far rather listen to Tyrion: "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone." Read on...

     TUNING INTO PODCASTS & YOUTUBE     

If you saw my last post, you will be no stranger to the magic of MuggleCast! If you didn't, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! Since tuning in for the first time last week, I've trawled through the archives like a rampaging Hippogriff and am definitely converted. The same goes for Vlogger Emma Blackberry, who made my week with her A Day in the Life of a Sim vlog! Throwback to the noughties and my most valuable life lesson: never attempt Lobster Thermidor on a Grilled Cheese cooking skill...

When you think of "self-care", Podcasts and Youtube are probably not your first thought! For most people, they're just a natural part of their life and routine. So why did my head kick up such a fuss? I think it's because, like books, there's no obvious benefit beyond my own entertainment (with the exception of those Coding for Dummies tutorials!) Writing this out now, I realise it makes NO SENSE and I was half-temped to delete it...

... but I won't, because that would contradict a key part of self-care; self-compassion! Just because I think my guilt is "silly", doesn't mean it is silly. Would I tell a five-year-old that their fear of goblins was irrational? No, I would crochet a "Goblin-fighting Fox" to protect them at night, while encouraging them to return to their bed. I would never invalidate their feelings, but I would also encourage them to challenge it. Only by changing our actions, can we hope to change our feeling. So if you feel guilty for self-care, practice self-care! No goblins allowed.

     NOURISHING BODY AND SOUL      

When you are in recovery for an eating disorder, you could follow your meal plan to-the-letter and still miss the most important word. YOU! Perhaps we should call it RecovYOUry? Or perhaps we'll stick with something a little more abstract... quite simply, you. Meal plans are great for nourishing your body, but you have to nourish yourself too. I'll be the first to admit I struggle with this, finding it easier to eat 'by prescription', rather than for pleasure Yet is this approach healthy for my mind? Not in the long-term, if I truly want to be free of anorexia.

So I set myself some self-care challenges goals, namely choosing more foods I enjoy and cooking for myself. Two months ago, I fell in love with the Cacao and Almond Energy Balls by Deliciously Ella and didn't have another one for a few weeks. My avoidance had nothing to do with numbers; it was the simple fact that I really really enjoyed them! In the name of operation "nourish soul", August has been the month of enjoying them some more.

I've also been branching out from the world of rice packets, ravioli and Quorn sausages, with a little more help from Ella. Most recently, I made the Cannelloni Bean and Kale Stew and it was the perfect comfort meal. As the only veggie in our house, I tend to avoid big-batch cooking as it feels excessive to do "just for me." Yet after a little motivation from the end of Ella's book - which I've turned into a little postcard for my wall - I popped on the stove and ended the night full of beans. Literally.

*For the critics who group Ella with the clean-eating brigade, please read her book first! More than the recipes, I love her philosophy around food and the language she uses - there's no mention of numbers or restriction, which is helping me work on my relationship with food. So if by some miracle Ella is reading this - thank-you! 

      BUYING THINGS FOR MYSELF     

I know for a fact I am not alone with this one! I get so anxious about spending money, unless it's buying things for other people - anxiety seems to take a holiday come Christmas. When it comes to myself, that's an altogether different matter! So for my CBT homework the other week, I visited the Holy Grail of cruelty-free, otherwise known as my local Lush Store. I initially went to buy some of the Happy Happy Joy Joy conditioner for my sister; I started using it a few months ago and wanted to share the joy.

Twenty minutes later, I left the shop with not one, not two, but four Lush goodies in my bag... and three were for me. Admittedly, one of them was a 'staple' buy - my foundation - but two were spontaneous purchases! My skin has become more dry in recent weeks, so I bought the Full of Grace serum bar for some TLC. Then, in an frantic till-shelf-till dash (we've all done one - and have all lost lost our space at least once), I picked up the Toothy Tabs I've been eying for months. I have no idea what to expect, so will be sure to update you!
I wanted to end with the act of self-care I'm most proud of. While it wasn't the most obvious, it was important to me because of the context: it was self-care when my self-worth was most vulnerableIn the past few weeks, my dad has been in-and-out of hospital and is currently waiting for surgery. My anxiety has really put its foot on the accelerator, as I just want him to be okay and feel powerless to help. 

Consequently, I have never been more thankful for therapy; however, thanks to an AWOL bus last week, I ended up missing half my appointment, while also enjoying an extra 30 minutes of bus-stop ruminating - why oh why did I forget my headphones?! By the time  I finally arrived for CBT,  I was responsible for every wrong in the world, including truant bus drivers and hospital waiting lists. Thankfully, my therapist was there to help with the fact-checking: Evan the bus driver has no clue I exist and the NHS is in crisis - a crisis that wasn't caused my own use of the service!

Yet even she can't work miracles in half an hour, so I was still a bit of a muddle by the end of the session. I managed to get myself into town and track down a veggie sandwich (good old M&S), before heading to the Sophie-friendly magazines in WHSmiths (crafts and wellbeing). I was instantly drawn to the Breathe Creative Journal, which has a range of mindful and creative exercises to "calm your mind". 
Any other person in my situation: you might as well stick a prescription label on this.

Me in my situation: I can't possibly leave this on the shelf, but I can't possibly buy it 'just for me'.

In a textbook case of "empty cup filler", I resolved to buy it for a friend... In that moment, I forgot the quote I love so much; I ignored the words that I would so readily say to another. In that moment, they didn't apply to me. So thank goodness for the gift of time. Later that day, I opened the journal and drank in the contents. Only then, as I felt a moment of calm, did I appreciate how drained I was. Two weeks on, the journal has found a home on my bedside table! I am hesitant to actually start, so I hope that this post will give me the final push. 

I may still buy one for a friend, as I know one in particular who would love it, but this one is staying with me. I need to fill my own cup too. 

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