The most democratical asset

There’s something we all have. Each and every one of us, no matter where we live, our social status, skin color, or our finances. And that something is time. All of us, no matter how different our lives might be, share the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or, how a good friend once told me, Beyonce’s day has also 24 hours, it’s all in how you use those hours.

And that was the point where I’ve clicked. I’ve never been an organized person, to begin with. My discipline was limited at Don’t miss the deadline. but I’ve never understood the people who got their whole days and weeks scheduled and planned. I mean… Why?

But one day came, and I discovered that behind all this is a simple answer, coming from another woman that’s dear to me: we need to be this organized because our minds are chaotic enough. And there it was, my simple, yet never really thought about it that way answer.

 Turning into an organized person is a whole journey. For me, at least. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to try and do this if I’d feel mentally unstable. Because it might be true that all of us have 24 hours every day, but what are we able to do with those hours is conditioned by a lot of factors.

Being diagnosed with a chronic illness or having mental health issues are two of the factors with the biggest impact on our time management. That’s why trying to become a better manager of your time in difficult times for your mental health will always fail.

And it’s not necessarily something about you. It’s about learning to cope with a condition that will impact everything: your priorities, your way, your pace of doing things, the way you manage your time, resources, and relationships. That’s why our journeys are so, so different, despite having the same amount of time.

It can be just as tough even if you’re not being affected by any medical condition, but you’re suffering because of instability. It might be caused by your job, or maybe your finances, your personal life, or even all at once. The main thing to be understood is that one can’t become an organized person in times dominated by uncertainty. And this has another reason that sounds so stupid that it’s actually true. Becoming an organized individual is a huge energy consumer. Huge. Especially if you’ve been used to roam around chaotically and get everything done, eventually.

This is something hitting me like…every two days. I look to my Excel sheet, I re-read the things I’ve said I’m going to do that day, and I’m just sitting there, like… No, I can’t do this. What on earth was on my mind when I got myself in it?

But then I just go, take a deep breath and do the things. Because I know how it used to be when I’ve lived in a chaotic loop. And maybe I can do better.

Because time is like money, it has to be budgeted. The big difference between the two is that not everyone has the same amount of money, but everyone has the same amount of time. Budgeting that universal amount of time, though, that’s a really personal job.

It’s personal because it takes a lot of discipline and will often force you to do uncomfortable things. Like going to bed earlier than you like to. But learning how to budget your time will also bring you good things. Like getting things done, the satisfaction that comes from getting those things done, and actual progress. Or like avoiding the burn-out. Because it won’t take you more than a week or two to test and see how many things you can put on your plate and keep them together. And knowing how much is too much for you is one of the most important things you need to know.

I know it’s this trend, to talk about self-care all over the Internet. And it is a really, really important thing, to take good care of yourself. But this is rarely all about taking long baths or buying pretty things. It is more about doing those uncomfortable things we keep postponing, even if we know those are the right things to do. Maybe being more careful with our money, or maybe our time. Organizing our wardrobe, or maybe eating cleaner. Going to sleep earlier, or maybe give up on that toxic job/environment we’re spending so much time on. But all these start with a small step, which often is called being honest with yourself. With the understanding of the fact that what we’ll do today will impact the person, we’ll be tomorrow. That you deserve a life with continuously high quality. And this is why, even though it is such a personal path to walk, you’ll never be able to walk it all alone. Getting yourself an accountability partner is the best thing you can do. Just make sure you trust that person and that their intentions on you aren’t evil. Because dealing with all the discomfort this kind of journey will bring isn’t easy. Not when you come from a place where you had to dive into the chaos to resist. But it is worth it, and getting to be in control when it comes to your time is a powerful move. It is self-love and self-care. And it totally is something you deserve to know how it feels like.

Speaking ghosts: the V-word

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about words. More than I usually do. I’ve been thinking about the way they shape our attitudes and views about the world around us. And I got to the conclusion that in every individual’s dictionary are at least a few taboo words. Words that haunt us, that feel unspeakable, words that call out pieces of personal history that we don’t feel ready to claim as our own yet. One of those words, for me, is vulnerability, but I am sure that, reading these lines, your own unspeakable words popped-up in your thoughts.

I have always had a complicated relationship with my vulnerabilities. On one hand, I was totally, deeply aware of their existence. I have always known which are my biggest vulnerabilities, and  I have never denied the fact that they exist. On the other hand, though, I’ve never been open enough to admit them in front of others. Actually, a lot of my social self was built on diminishing those vulnerabilities.

This happened because, in my head, at least, being vulnerable was nothing to be talked about. It was deeply connected with being weak, and that was nothing I would, back then, have admitted being. And, as getting rid of what makes me vulnerable is not an option, the only thing left doing was diminishing my vulnerabilities as much as possible. This is how I’ve managed to build myself up in such a way that, when it comes to discovering my vulnerable to someone, it weighs less than it normally would, as I have never defined myself through it.

But this isn’t an inspirational story. I can’t say that I’ve put in a lot of work to reach this point, as I’ve directed my energy to the domains that seemed interesting to me and which were almost natural. It is, however, the story of a well-disguised fear, my fear of rejection.

It took me years to be able to admit that, in the shadow of this v-word I’ve been constantly avoiding, was comfortably laying a fear. My fear of being rejected, of being dismissed once people found out how much of a vulnerable being I am in fact.

Because I’ve always thought that a group will, eventually, get rid of its liabilities first, and those tend to be the most vulnerable members of the group. This is why I have always done whatever I felt was needed in order to keep myself updated. I got involved in causes and fields which were genuinely mattering to me, I kept reading, writing and planning things. It was my way of resting assured that, if it would ever happen to become a liability for a group, that group would be strong enough and smart enough to see that I’m more than my vulnerable side.

Even when it looked like I wasn’t doing anything, I was, in fact, preparing to do something. Because I was never the one to stay and wait for things to happen. Actually, doing things that mattered for me was the way to hide my vulnerabilities. How could possibly a girl like you, doing so many things, be vulnerable like that? I never answer, but the truth is that those vulnerabilities made me become this girl, to begin with. The girl that seems to never struggle, that never gives up, that never gets tired.

And everything worked out just fine until life showed me that the ways of becoming were way more complicated than I thought they would. The time came when I was left hanging, without the energy needed to keep being the old me. And this brought me to some really surprising things to notice.

One of the first things I’ve observed was that, even with my vulnerable side exposed, there were still people by my side. People who kept on believing in me, supporting me, caring for me. People who tried to befriend me with my vulnerable parts, as it was the only way to avoid reaching that point again.

I’ve also noticed that I do not, in fact, hate my vulnerabilities. Of course, they are uncomfortable, and I would still rather hide them, but I’ve discovered that talking about them helps to forge connections. It helps you to stay humble, to stay human, and to meet other people, with different vulnerabilities, halfway. Talking about sensitive topics makes life better, but only when I felt too tired to hide I could actually understand it.

And, last but not least, I found out that the more I discover about being vulnerable, even if it is from personal or from shared experience, the better I become. That there you can be vulnerable, yet strong, that you can share openly about what makes you vulnerable without being automatically labeled as weak. That there are strength, beauty, and warmth in showing up as yourself, with your strong points and your vulnerable sides. That only when you’ll stop playing hide and seek with the others, your tribe will finally reach out to you.

That no one should be so scared of being labeled the wrong way by the others so it will hide who it really is. Hide and seek was a thing when we were kids, but it is not a lifestyle. And there’s nobody who could make me see it like that.

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.