Someone I love very much is going through a mental health crisis. I won’t name him, or tell you her gender, or in any way identify this person, because it’s not my place to tell that story. As she starts moving out of the center of chaos and toward stability, I’ve been thinking a lot about the task of making one’s self healthy, and about the many choices we have in front of us for putting together a life that works for us.
Since moving here, Tim and I have made a lot of changes to how we live. In addition to the major change from living in the Midwest, we’ve added things to our routines that help us maintain day-to-day stability, and removed some things that were dragging on our tenuous balance. Some of the things we have selected fall into the category of “self care”, healthy rituals or activities we do to nurture our bodies and minds.
We’d never even *heard* of self care until we moved out here, and now it’s one of our guiding principles. In addition to regulating our bedtimes and diets and our regular snuggle time (“Monkey Love“), we each have an assortment of things we do to take care of ourselves.
Tim took a six week course on meditating last winter, and now he meditates regularly, every day if he can manage it. Playing the guitar is another choice he’s made for himself, an activity that helps him focus his mind for an allotted time, and something that soothes his heart. It makes him lighter, gives him some minutes of peace.
I find that being outside soothes me, and exercise. I discovered yoga this summer, and have found a regular class that gives me those same minutes of peace that Tim has in playing guitar. Writing is another self-care activity for me, both in these blogs and in the fiction I write.
Our visit to the Cougar Hot Springs last weekend was another joint effort at self care. For the time it took us to drive into the mountains, pay our five bucks to the forest ranger, and slip into the heated pools on the side of the mountain, we were out of our lives and into another world. Being surrounded by icy trees, submerged in water coming from deep in the ground was a profoundly quieting experience for both of us. Even Tim, a former hockey player who has long preferred his water frozen, found the same peaceful reverence that I did. We will definitely be doing this again.
My mother called these things “re-creating”, or putting yourself back together after the world has taken you apart.
It didn’t occur to me, though, until I started pondering the life of the person who is in crisis, that the biggest decision I made for my own mental health was moving out of the Chicago suburbs and into Oregon. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to live somewhere beautiful, to see something beautiful in nature every day. I didn’t know at the time how much the environment I was living in had corroded me, but I’ve been working to repair a lot of damage; from dealing with extreme weather conditions, and being surrounded by concrete every moment, from keeping my adventurous, free-thinking identity hidden in the conformity of suburbia, and from being in close proximity to family that was the source of so much rejection and heartache.
Being in Oregon has been healthy for Tim and me. Having distance from the combined ugliness of our families has bonded us in a completely new way. Living in this place that is dominated by nature has opened something in me, something untainted by painful history or societal expectations. I have found a place where I can simply be.
While my loved one weighs out his options for her future, I will support and encourage him to seek out the things she will put on her self-care list. What is it that makes you calm? What fills you with moments of happiness? What soothes you when you’re sad?
So many people I know post their workout stats, both as a way to stay accountable to their own well being and as an encouragement to others to keep or start making healthy choices for our bodies. I’ve decided that I’m going to post my mental health self-care “workouts” here. It will, I hope, have the same effect; it will keep me accountable for my own well being, and, I hope, encourage other people to consider starting their own self-care routines. Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked, but only physical workouts are applauded publicly, while mental-health workouts are still considered unnecessary unless you’re in crisis.
But just like you can prevent heart attacks with regular exercise, you can prevent a mental health crisis with regular self care.
So tell me: what are you doing to take care of yourself today?
Well, getting a divorce was a huge self care move. On a daily basis I am moving more to being and less doing. As in reminding myself that I don’t have to cross things off a to do list in order to have value. I like to take solo road trips. That is a wonderful freeing and rejuvanating thing for me. I also have meaningful letter correspondence with a few people. Yes, in this age of Facebook, texting, etc, my primary way of communicating with them is through snail mail. And usually when I get a piece of snail mail, I sit outside to read it. And sleep. I love that my empty nest allows me to adjust my amount of sleep as needed.