Last week, for the first time in my life, my skin erupted with red, swollen hives. Every inch of my skin felt like it was on fire. At first, I thought I was experiencing an extreme allergic reaction to something new, although I’ve never before been this allergic to anything. But then I learned I was experiencing an anxiety attack.
Rattled by this experience, I wept from sheer emotional breakage. I cried body-wracking, shoulder-shuddering, fist-curling tears. Even though I should have known better, I had always separated the emotional and physical realms of experience. Now I knew for certain that the emotional can manifest tangibly and palpably in a physical form.
These past three months have been the most stressful, anxiety-ridden time of my entire life. I uprooted my life and moved abroad: a new job, a new home, a new life. It has been amazing in so many aspects, but there are still many challenges.
I’ve been feeling worthless, undeserving, inadequate, incompetent, hopeless, and helpless. At first, these thoughts crept in slowly. But soon, they began to swell in my brain like a reckless tidal wave, sweeping everything good out to sea — far away, unreachable. They surge stronger than me. I think, I am not good enough. I’ve taken on too much. I don’t have the skills or experience or charisma necessary for the job. I don’t have time.
Because so much has been going on, I’ve been focusing on all the sources of tension in my life. My mind and heart have been consumed by fears, apprehensions, and trepidations.
Self-care has seemed literally impossible.
Yet we all know: It is at these moments when it is the most necessary. When turning inward to fight for yourself seems like the last thing you can do, it is the most essential thing.
We cannot neglect our emotional well-being. Ever. Taking care of your body encompasses taking care of your psyche as well. Feelings are not something trivial. It is easy to think of them as fleeting — insubstantial and inconsequential. It is easy to consider sadness or stress as expressions of weakness.
They are not. None of us are weak for feeling these things. We all deserve to take care of ourselves. It is okay to admit that you can’t handle everything, that there is too much going on, that there are too many burdens.
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I am writing this as a reminder to all of you — and as a reminder to myself as well. I have forgotten recently, and I know that I will continue to struggle in remembering.
The vital foundation of self-care is knowing yourself. Know where you draw energy from — whether it’s people in general, certain people, aloneness, and so on. Know what stills your soul and what stirs your soul. Know the nuances of how you react to outside forces. Know what you can rely on. Know what triggers you. And above all, know that knowing yourself is a journey and that it often will not be easy.
Know that you needn’t need the same thing in every circumstance. Sometimes, I want to be surrounded by a roomful of people I love just talking about anything and everything. Sometimes, I want to commiserate with only one person — usually my partner — and share my heart one-on-one.
Most of the time, however, I know that I need to be alone. I run with earbuds in. I re-read my favorite poems. I scribble in my notebook. I watch a television show that allows me to turn my mind off. Take the time to do these things for yourself! Whatever it may be for you, dance, sing, read, write, exercise, have sex, watch a movie, take a nap, play a game, solve a puzzle, eat your comfort foods, or indulge in any luxury.
In the past few months, I have neglected all the things that usually make me happy. I thought that the consequence would only be superficial. My personal happiness did not seem like a grand priority. However, now I know that emotional well-being is fundamental to health and stability in general.
Also know that even when the circumstances make meeting your needs impossible, there are still ways. I am living in a community where “alone time” is not common. Because I have been trying to respect the norms of my hosts, I have not been communicating with them about my own desires. Instead of letting them know that every once in a while, I need a few moments to myself, I have been pushing myself beyond my threshold.
I truly believe that leaving one’s comfort zone and accommodating others is crucial; however, it is also essential to keep yourself in mind! I kept thinking that if I did what I usually did, I would be selfish and inconsiderate. Yet, when a physical malady finally pushed me to admit what was going on, my amazing hosts took the energy to understand.
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Know when and where your limits are. I am a very independent person, and I balk at the idea of reaching out to anyone for help. Yet, when you reach a breaking point, it is vital to know that it is acceptable to ask for assistance. When I started having a severe physical reaction, my first instinct was to hide it. Although I was surrounded by people who could have helped in some way, and although I was only a phone call away from a caring medical professional, I still hesitated to tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to worry or to think of me as lesser. Although these are irrational thoughts, they are also comprehensible.
It is difficult to break that barrier. It wasn’t until those red, swollen hives began creeping up my neck and down my hands that I confided in someone about the problem. By that point, people were noticing, even if I didn’t want them to. If I had admitted my limit earlier, and had reached out to anyone, the situation might not have reached such a dire peak.
It is not fruitful to dwell on what I could have done differently. Instead, I am using this as a lesson for my future self.
I am asking myself, gently, to remember to take care of myself.
And I am asking all of you — Unapologetic Posse — to take care of your radical selves as well.
[Headline image: An individual stands outside in the sun amongst pink floral trees as they look up to the sky smiling. They are wearing a grey sweater and have a medium-length bob haircut. Flickr.com/Takasuii]