On Strategies of Self Care

Content Warning for depression, suicidal ideation.

There are times when I feel like I’ve learned the most about self care from the internet, and from Tumblr.

A relatively general definition of self care comprises any actions that you perform yourself that enhance your physical, mental, and social well-being. There are more formal and more specific definitions of self care, but what I find really interesting are the different ways in which people approach self care.

I started thinking about this after seeing this screen capture, which I was directed to by my friend A. (Initials are used to protect people’s privacy.)

I think there’s a lot of validity to the perspective above. There’s a lot of unrealistic crap out there about mental illness, and some portrayals of mental illness definitely present it as cute. But I found myself feeling really defensive after reading the above, and I feel the need to explain why.

The Benefits of Cute

It’s true that there’s a lot of cuteness on Tumblr. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I like it so much. But I don’t think that the pursuit of cute as self-care is only for “cute” mental illness.

I have found that I have a problem with rumination–the habit of obsessively turning over a negative idea in my head. TED Talk below provides a pretty good intro to what I mean.

Rumination isn’t just unpleasant; it wrecks my ability to function. I can’t sleep because of the thoughts racing around my brain, which makes it harder to get anything done—assuming my negative thoughts themselves aren’t distracting me even further.

For me, the best way to distract myself from the negative loop of soundbites in my head is frequently to pursue cute.

Then there’s petting a cute furry animal. Honestly, getting a cat was one of the best things for me. She’s a reminder that at least *someone* needs me alive and cares about me, albeit in a somewhat self-centered way. (Depression lies, remember?) Having a cat keeps me functional because I have to put a roof over the cat’s head and buy kibble. It gives me a purpose.

So does that mean that my mental illness* is “cute”?

On the one hand, I’m lucky. I’ve always managed to maintain a high degree of academic and professional functionality. On the other hand, when I’m at my worst, I am really pretty bad. The people around me definitely don’t find it cute. At my worst, I’ve made a lot of good people miserable, and driven a lot of people away.

Responsibility as Self Care

I think the perspective above is true in another respect: Responsibility is empowering. But it’s also overwhelming. That said, I do think there are a lot of self care strategies that don’t necessarily feel good while you’re doing them, but you feel better afterwards.

Dorothy Parker is credited with having said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” I think self care strategies like exercising, cleaning, and even paying bills are like that, too. None of those activities—to me, at least—are fun. But I usually feel better after doing them in much the same way that I feel better after having written: because I accomplished something.

One of my favorite Tumblrs is called Unfuck Your Habitat, or UFYH. The blog primarily deals with cleaning, but it does so in a way that is compassionate and understands that cleaning can be overwhelming. I’m still trying to internalize some of the principles behind the site, but in general, I’m glad I found it. It’s definitely changed the way I think about many aspects of self care.

In the end, I think that both cute and responsibility are valid strategies of self care that work best when they’re used together. But sometimes, you need to try one before you can get to a place where you can try the other.

*This is something I struggle with. Depression is frequently regarded as the common cold of mental illness, and if I manage to be fairly functional most of the time, do I get to say that I have a mental illness? Or does that just mean that my meds and therapy are working?

There’s a lot of debate about who first expressed this sentiment, but a lot of writers share it.

The opposite of depression

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

That line is from a TEDx Talk by Andrew Solomon about depression, and it addresses how people often confuse depression, grief, and sadness. It’s one of the many parts of Solomon’s talk that resonated with me and described aspects of my personal experience with depression.

I strongly encourage you to watch the video, which is about a half-hour long. Below the video, I’ve pointed out several of the points in video that I particularly liked or thought were important.

Depression can make doing ordinary things so difficult. Solomon talks about this early on in his talk, and I like how he makes it clear how debilitating it can be.

Depression is often cyclical. There are periods where you can be depressed and then (sometimes long) periods when you are aren’t. I’ve certainly experienced that, and like Solomon, I’ve found that I probably will always need treatment for it.

Depression sometimes comes with anxiety. It’s like a really terrible two for one deal, and like Solomon, I found that sometimes the anxiety is the worst part.

Taking medication doesn’t change who you are. The so called “happy pills” don’t really make you happy. They don’t change your underlying personality. I, for example, remain snarky regardless of how many medications or chemicals are in my system. Of course, how we treat depression is tied to our underlying cultural assumptions. I think that’s something that I need to take to heart more. And I should perhaps make more little things out of yarn (though maybe not the specific things he seems to be referring to in the video).

I also really like the section of Solomon’s talk about the effect depression has on your perceptions. There is this odd mix of accuracy and delusion that happens when you are depressed. I think it’s true that Depression Lies. Most of the horrible things that depression makes you think about yourself are lies. But there is also an odd truthfulness to it sometimes, and all in all, that makes it hard to navigate.

I think, however, that the most important point Solomon makes in his talk, is that we have to talk about depression. The secrecy around depression is frequently counterproductive and even downright harmful. As he says, “While you hide from it, it grows.”

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so I’d like to post a list of help hotlines. The list starts with US numbers, then UK numbers, and finally international numbers. The source of the list is Tumblr, and I haven’t tested these, so please let me know if any corrections are needed.

This is also going to be the first of a series of posts—mostly linking to things other people have written or said—about depression.

US Helplines:

  • Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
  • Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
  • LifeLine: 1-800-273-8255
  • Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
  • Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
  • Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
  • Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
  • Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
  • Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
  • Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253
  • Child Abuse: 1-800-422-4453

UK Helplines:

  • Samaritans (for any problem): 08457909090 e-mail jo@samaritans.org
  • Childline (for anyone under 18 with any problem): 08001111
  • Mind infoline (mental health information): 0300 123 3393 e-mail: info@mind.org.uk
  • Mind legal advice (for people who need mental-health related legal advice): 0300 466 6463 legal@mind.org.uk
  • b-eat eating disorder support: 0845 634 14 14 (only open Mon-Fri 10.30am-8.30pm and Saturday 1pm-4.30pm) e-mail: help@b-eat.co.uk
  • b-eat youthline (for under 25’s with eating disorders): 08456347650 (open Mon-Fri 4.30pm – 8.30pm, Saturday 1pm-4.30pm)
  • Cruse Bereavement Care: 08444779400 e-mail: helpline@cruse.org.uk
  • Frank (information and advice on drugs): 0800776600
  • Drinkline: 0800 9178282
  • Rape Crisis England and Wales: 0808 802 9999 1(open 2 – 2.30pm 7 – 9.30pm) e-mail info@rapecrisis.org.uk
  • Rape Crisis Scotland: 08088 01 03 02 every day, 6pm to midnight

Helplines for other countries:

  • India Self Harm Hotline: 00 08001006614
  • India Suicide Helpline: 022-27546669
  • Kids Help Phone (Canada): 1-800-668-6868, Free and available 24/7

Suicide hotlines for other countries:

  • Argentina: 54-0223-493-0430
  • Australia: 13-11-14
  • Austria: 01-713-3374
  • Barbados: 429-9999
  • Belgium: 106
  • Botswana: 391-1270
  • Brazil: 21-233-9191
  • China: 852-2382-0000
  • (Hong Kong: 2389-2222)
  • Costa Rica: 606-253-5439
  • Croatia: 01-4833-888
  • Cyprus: 357-77-77-72-67
  • Czech Republic: 222-580-697, 476-701-908
  • Denmark: 70-201-201
  • Egypt: 762-1602
  • Estonia: 6-558-088
  • Finland: 040-5032199
  • France: 01-45-39-4000
  • Germany: 0800-181-0721
  • Greece: 1018
  • Guatemala: 502-234-1239
  • Holland: 0900-0767
  • Honduras: 504-237-3623
  • Hungary: 06-80-820-111
  • Iceland: 44-0-8457-90-90-90
  • Ireland: 1850-60-90-90 (Samaritans); 1800-247-247 or text HELP to 51444 (Console)
  • Israel: 09-8892333
  • Italy: 06-705-4444
  • Japan: 3-5286-9090
  • Latvia: 6722-2922, 2772-2292
  • Malaysia: 03-756-8144
  • (Singapore: 1-800-221-4444)
  • Mexico: 525-510-2550
  • Netherlands: 0900-0767
  • New Zealand: 4-473-9739
  • New Guinea: 675-326-0011
  • Nicaragua: 505-268-6171
  • Norway: 47-815-33-300
  • Philippines: 02-896-9191
  • Poland: 52-70-000
  • Portugal: 239-72-10-10
  • Russia: 8-20-222-82-10
  • Spain: 91-459-00-50
  • South Africa: 0861-322-322
  • South Korea: 2-715-8600
  • Sweden: 031-711-2400
  • Switzerland: 143
  • Taiwan: 0800-788-995
  • Thailand: 02-249-9977
  • Trinidad and Tobago: 868-645-2800
  • Ukraine: 0487-327715