The forgotten recipe

It’s again that time of the year when the days become shorter, the nights become longer, and the weather becomes colder. It is, once again, the time to sit and look backward, to the good, the great and the terrible things that happened. To be grateful for the lessons, for the good times, and to note down our questions that are still looking for an answer.

So I’m gonna do what I feel like would be my share of gratitude and understanding, and will say a story. This is not meant to be a diary page. It is just a story about which I know it’s relatable for a lot of people, as 2020 came with such an emotional struggle to manage.

I remember a talk I’ve had with a guy in a moment when I was feeling really tired. I knew it’s about the burnout, yet only when he told me You’re being way too hard on yourself, you need a day to do literally nothing. Just to be lazy and stop thinking about all the things you are thinking about daily. And you’ll see how many things you’re actually doing.

That was a revelatory moment for me, the moment when I’ve understood, in the end, that my exhaustion was rooted in my incapacity to relax. It was a hard pill to swallow, the idea that I forgot how to relax. Yet, it’s true. I got all caught up in the craze of showing that I am willing to do things as good as possible even if the possibilities are rather low and…I forgot. I forgot to put myself first, above the Social Media numbers, views, shares, aesthetic or content ideas. And this got right back at me.

I’ve started, in a short time, to feel tired. Really, really tired, and the never-ending to-do-list of the day. I was enjoying less and less what I was doing, and I was always finding flaws in what was already done. That talk was what I needed to hear at the moment, that I’m doing enough things at once, and I gotta loosen up a little. To slow down the rhythm.

And… I tried. I started to post less, to stop worrying that I don’t know what to post that day, or that there is X thing that could’ve been done better. I tried to do things at my own pace, one day at a time. But there is a secret to all these. The mix between a brain so overwhelmed that it refused to cooperate anymore, and my willingness to actually talk about this, to go to people I look up to and tell them I’m tired, I forgot how to take a break from all this, and I need to relearn it, otherwise, I’ll be over and done.

Having external support is a huge deal because no one can do it alone. No one can escape the ropes of their own mind. You can’t shut up that voice telling you day after day that you didn’t do enough by yourself. You can’t escape the guilt trips by yourself. You can’t get rid of the productivity rush by yourself. No one can, no matter how strong their mental is.

The tough part is the journey before that breaking point. The exhaustion, the work, the feeling of not being enough. The internalized voices of all your critics. That ugly carousel you get a free ride into.

Because there is more to toxic cultures than diet culture. The hustle and productivity culture is just as toxic for individuals, as it reinforces the mindset that one has to be 24/7 busy and productive, to stay relevant. You don’t. An individual is not a business. An individual is not a brand either. An individual is a human being, with human needs.

And human beings need breaks. They need periods to stop thinking about what’s done already and what should be done afterward. Denying yourself the time to rest will only harm you. That’s the thing felt by all those promoting hustle culture. Felt, but never gone public about them, only talked in small circles.

I can’t say that now I’m doing things in a totally different way. Or that I am done with the burnout, even if, to some extent, I’ve overcome a lot of struggles. I’ve understood that looking at myself like I’m some kind of content-creating machine is not the way. That my value isn’t the quantity of the things I am doing daily, but their quality. That I am owing to myself to be alright in the long run. But most importantly, I’ve learned that the moment when something I enjoy doing becomes a source of worry, more than a source of joy, it’s time to let loose.

There is still a lot to be thought about and done, but the most important part is becoming aware that whatever you do, you have to find balance, as the smallest things impact your mental health.

Flipping the coin: life between self-care and self-sabotage

As the conversation about mental health gets more personal and spreads wider, another topic makes room into our lives and talks. Self-care. Understood as a set of practices and rituals that help enhancing one’s well-being, self-care is praised, talked about, and made look like something pretty, pink, comfy and glowy.

And, even if, at times, it really is comfy, pretty, glowy and pink, it rather isn’t. Because the first thing about self-care routines that should be understood is that any routine of this kind responds to a state of need. There is no self-care if there is no need for it. And it can be anytime. Self-care ain’t as pretty as social media makes it appear, because there’s more about that particular routine than the cozy surface. There are issues that one tries to manage behind every self-care routine shared. 

And self-care is not always about bubbly baths, cozy sweaters, or hot chocolate and cheesy movies. It also is about anxiety, emotional pain, about hanging on and diminishing the damages. It  is also about uncomfortable but necessary life choices, like learning how to properly manage one’s money, taking that medical exam you keep avoiding, or getting into therapy.

It is  also about long, sleepless nights when you just sit with yourself, and revisit milestones of your life, trying to figure out what went wrong. What could’ve been done better. About admitting that, no matter how dear, some people around us are toxic, and we need to distance ourselves from them.

But, above all of these, self-care starts on the very moment when someone understands that self-sabotage will lead nowhere. Because a lot of the problems which require self-care routines for minimizing their effects, are the consequences of past self-sabotaging acts. And from compulsive shopping, to hanging on the wrong people repeatedly and for too long, everything can, at some point, turn into a self-sabotaging act.

No one thinks about little kind gestures done for themselves in the good days as self-care. But, whenever the bad times hit, the little coffee dates we’re taking ourselves to, the long baths, or any other thing that used to bring us a good vibe and we keep doing even if we feel like drowning, suddenly gets labeled as self-care. Actually, it is just about being persistent, and not giving up on who you are. 

Because self-care and self-sabotage are the faces of the same coin. As mental health is not constant, is something fluctuating, depending on a lot of factors, and not as much that can be under our control as we’d like to be, same is this continuum. 

There is a personal dynamic in every story of self-sabotage, as well as in every routine of self-care. Even if social media tries to say so, not every kind of self-care routine works in every situation, for every individual. As the journey unfolds, the needs to be met change, and there are all kind of needs and days.

There are days when cleaning the house while listening to my favorite gangsta rap tracks is as close as seeing a therapist as one could get. There are days when all I have to do is to cook something both tasty and healthy, while chatting with mom. There are days when I need a long bath, some blues and getting my nails done in order to calm down my anxiety and feel better about myself. There are days when I cry myself to sleep, in order to let the grief and the hurt release themselves. Days when I’d do all of  this at once, or not at all, none of it. 

But there are also days when all I need is sitting with the cats and listening to some blues. Or when all it takes is a good chat with my favorite people and a memes exchange. Or maybe a short shopping session. As well as the days that require me  to make big decisions for what will come next. 

These are all forms of self-care. As well as procrastinating, hanging out with the wrong people, eating your feelings or letting yourself get devoured by anxiety are forms of self-sabotage. Basically any action taken, aware or unaware of it, that has the potential of endangering our well-being, even if we talk about immediate, mid-term or even long-term well-being, counts as self-sabotage.

Of course, life will always be a mix between these two, and this should not scare us. I know, it seems to be easier said than done, but fictional expectations will never lead to real progress. And there’s nothing that did more harm than the idea that the journey to recovery should be smooth, linear and predictable. Neither the recovery journey, our mental health needs, or the self-care routines are. And this is absolutely great, as it was never supposed to, in the first place.

Because they’re so intimately linked to someone’s life history and personality that you’ll never see two of them to be the same. Might seem alike, but that’s only a superficial feeling about a façade. Self-care is, somehow, the bright side of the story, the one that brings us joy as we practice our ritual, and as we tell the others about. The side that tells the others we know in the same kind of situation that good days can still happen, despite of all struggle. 

But there are the self-sabotaging moments the ones who really get to shape us into different persons. The moments that make us take deep breaths, while asking the eternal question: How on earth did this happen, why I’ve got to this point?. Those moments when we feel like quitting. Like taking a nap for the next…few years, until every problem we have will be solved. The moments when, even if we feel like giving up, we keep going. And, especially, the moments of enlightment, when we finally understand what are we doing wrong.

Of course, it ain’t easy to talk about these moments, that would mean the healing is easy. And everyone knows it ain’t at all. Healing is a beautifully dramatic story, with ups, downs, and even stops. How one approaches this, though, is a whole different thing, a thing shaped by their personality and values, while changing the person’s personality, values and beliefs. Getting the courage to actually sit, even with a single other person, and tell the stories of those moments, is a great thing. It is the main sign of the pain starting to fade away. 

At the end of the day, the only thing that should be let to sink in is the fact that self-care is not just a label we mindlessly attach on random practices. 

Self-care is a whole category of small gestures of kindness directed to one’s person, that allow us to function during the tough times. This is why it matters to openly talk about self-care, even to share our favorite self-care routines, and perhaps even their stories, or what they’re good for, and this is also why, when somebody tells us about a thing that it functions as a self-care routine for them, we don’t get to tell them that they don’t. 

Because the only person entitled to label a thing or other as a self-care act, is the person practicing it, with the good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly sides of their journey.