[Content warning: This article talks in-depth about symptoms of General Anxiety, Depression, and Health Anxiety.]
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with mental health troubles. I was officially diagnosed with Depression and General Anxiety about ten years ago. Since then, I’ve had some therapy and been on and off various antidepressants. I have been on my current antidepressants for three years. That was when I suddenly developed Health Anxiety — which I like to think of as being like General Anxiety, but with more purpose, fortitude, and debilitating impact.
As I write this, I am past my submission deadline. I have had trouble making deadlines in the past, but this is the first time it has happened for The Body is Not An Apology. After a reasonably long stint of being in pretty good shape (with stressful days, but nothing beyond what I am normally able to handle), I was triggered quite severely. I immediately felt the familiar panic rising from my core and spreading rapidly to the very tips of my fingers and toes. My Health Anxiety had returned. This bad spell has not yet gone away.
Even when I am not having a bad spell, there are always lingering symptoms and issues that may never go completely away. I am a very restless person. I am always thinking, normally about some inconsequential incident or possibility; during a bad spell, these incidents and possibilities are infinitely more terrifying. Some part of my body is almost always moving rapidly back and forth in some way; either my leg will be shaking, or my toes will be curling, or my fingers will be tapping something. I get stressed out easily, particularly at work. This restlessness and never-ending thinking and moving means that I tire quickly and don’t have the energy to go out often. I have no doubt that I would be much worse if I did not take the time to engage in self-care.
Self-care is important for everybody. As human beings with lives, worries, thoughts, and feelings, we need to allow ourselves time to stop thinking about things that need doing, thoughts that need thinking, places that need getting to, or people who need to be met. We need to take time out sometimes and just let ourselves be.
While self-care is important for everybody, I will make the (possibly controversial) argument that it is particularly important for the anxious and the otherwise mentally unwell. All too often, I come across anxious people who are struggling. They are panicking and crying, their heads just will not shut up and leave them alone, and they are in pain. But they do not know what to do to help themselves. Alternatively, I will come across people who are feeling the pressures of their lives and are well aware of the fact that they need some sort of break, but they do not seem to be able to make time for themselves. In both types of scenarios, the people in question do not know how to engage in self-care.
So I would like to talk about what I affectionately call my Self-Care Kit. In layman’s terms, my Self-Care Kit is a collection of resources and tools I have gathered over the years to help me deal when I am having a bad spell or when I feel the pressing need for a timeout. While these resources have helped me immeasurably, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will help you. Self-Care Kits are like us: unique. In sharing the contents of my Self-Care Kit with you, I am providing an example.
Gillian’s Self-Care Kit
My Safe Space – I have written about my safe space in the past. Pretty much all of my self-care happens here. Since anxiety is the main problem I struggle with, I need to believe that the place I engage in self-care is not going to cause me panic or stress. My bedroom and my living room do this job admirably.
My Tea Collection – I really like tea, and last Christmas, my mother bought me a beautiful tea set, complete with a teapot, milk jug, cups, and saucers. To use it, I have to carefully take it down from the top shelf, add tea, find my strainer, clear a space on the table, pour, repeat until all the tea is gone, carefully wash everything, leave it to dry, and then carefully put it back in the cupboard. Using my tea set is a time-consuming and meticulous task, making it perfect for my self-care. I feel calmer when my hands are moving with purpose, and I feel like I am in complete control. (This is also why I prefer driving manual cars over automatics.) The fact that this set needs to be looked after and used carefully is what makes it an important component in my Self-Care Kit. Also, the tea is quite tasty.
Nostalgia Critic Reviews – Does anybody reading know about the Nostalgia Critic? He’s a guy who lives in Chicago and makes film reviews of not-great movies from yesteryear. There are certain reviews of his I have enjoyed so much that I’ve watched them many times over, giving them a comforting sort of familiarity that I often need when I am engaging in self-care.
Harry Potter Fanfiction – I’ve always been a keen reader, but for a very long time, I thought I wasn’t because I wasn’t reading many books. But I have always devoured fanfiction. The Harry Potter books are favourites of mine, but more than the books themselves, it is the world J.K. Rowling created that I find utterly fascinating. Reading fanfiction takes me into that world that I know is fantasy (obviously), but I am so familiar with it now that it’s kind of like heading into an often-visited retreat. I can leave my troubles behind with whichever genre takes my fancy, knowing that it is all happening in that same Potterverse I have come to love. Plus, fanfiction tends to come with appropriate content warnings, which I find extremely helpful.
Important People’s Phone Numbers – I am usually a pretty independent person and enjoy my own company. But sometimes, particularly when I am having a bad spell, I need to talk to people. Enter some of the important people in my life. My father, my mother, and my best friend have all made it clear to me that they are always available to talk to if I need them. This is my lifeline, and when the chips are down, knowing that I am not alone in my struggles is invaluable to me and my self-care.
My Housemate’s Company – One of my housemates was already a pretty good friend before we decided to live together. He is pretty laid back and similar to me in his ability to putter around, playing games or read or whatever else, without the burning need to talk or otherwise fill up silence. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk when I’m engaging in self-care, but I do not want to be by myself either. For that, my housemate’s presence in the room is pretty much exactly what I need. Thank you, housemate.
Colouring – This is one that I have only recently discovered. I’ve found that colouring in a complicated shape with lots of lines (the sort you get in a lot of adult colouring books) requires so much concentration that it is really hard to think about anything else. For my always-thinking mind, which will often take a scary thought and roll it around, over and over and over again in my head, tackling a massive page of black lines on white paper with my ridiculously expensive Derwent pencils pulls me away from that scary thought very effectively.
So there you have it. As you can see, the different parts of my Self-Care Kit provide different sorts of help. The tea collection keeps my hands busy. Nostalgia Critic reviews fill up scary silence with comforting familiarity. Fanfiction takes me to a different-yet-familiar world. And colouring wholly occupies my mind.
My Self-Care Kit is an example of the different ways in which certain tools and resources can help with self-care. Whether they would be of any help to you is not up to anybody but yourself to determine. Whether you have a Self-Care Kit already or you are just starting to build one, I hope that it helps you to recuperate as effectively as mine does.
Love and Twisties,
[Headline image: The photograph features a person in a field with arms outstretched, holding a heart-shaped balloon. The person has long brown hair and is wearing a white top and red pants.]