When You Have Mental Illness, Sometimes Self-Care IS A Shower

Because everything else feels impossible.

I’m no stranger to mental illness. I come by it honestly in my DNA, and I’ve also been privy to debilitating depression and anxiety that are situational.

My official diagnosis includes Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with a touch of Depression to keep me honest, I suppose.

A few years ago, I was in the throes of a depression like I had never experienced before. Anxiety I knew how to manage, and my OCD was under control most days, but depression? It was mysterious to me. I didn’t even know I had it for probably a good solid year.

But, one day I realized that I had absolutely no drive left to do even the smallest little thing.

Gone was the joy for my work that I loved, and I took to spending most of my time in bed while my kids were at school.

Yet, somehow, it still didn’t click for me that I was depressed. Because anxiety was my familiar enemy. With depression, I just felt — tired and unmotivated.

I was a busy mom to three kids at the time, working a demanding job that required a lot of time, but also just a lot of mental energy. It had fueled me before, but daily it felt like a burden.

I was used to being the type to go and do, always running an errand or cleaning up around the house, sending an email while planning a church activity.

Yet, during my depression, it was all I could do to stay OUT of my bed. That’s when I realized I might have something more serious going on.

It was in that year that I realized that depression is often the companion to anxiety, and my medication that had worked so great for my anxiety for three years couldn’t touch what was going on with my depression.

Once I finally realized I was depressed, I made an appointment with my doctor, and it felt like the biggest hurdle just to pick up my phone and make the effort to call.

Simple daily tasks felt like a mountain to climb. They would leave me exhausted at the end of the day when before I felt rejuvenated by checking things off my list.

I wrote a post a few days ago about self-care and how important it was to not count basic human needs as self-care. And it was a comment in the comments section that struck me — that’s all fine and good if you’re not depressed. Because when you’re depressed, then sometimes a shower is self-care.

I couldn’t agree more.

Self-care most certainly looks different to everyone.

I think of the single mom that is doing it all alone — work, school, raising kids, and has no one to hand them off to at the end of the day. To that mom, self-care might absolutely look like a hot bath at the end of the day with a good book. Would she like something more than that? Of course, but she chooses to relish in what she has and what is available to her.

I think of the lower income family, who struggles putting food on the table. A night out with girlfriends, or a staycation in a hotel is not going to be realistic. For her, maybe her self-care is sitting on her apartment patio for 15 minutes to catch her breath before diving back into the responsibilities she can’t escape.

The point is this — self-care has to bring us joy, and make us feel renewed.

If a bath at the end of the day does that for you, then it can absolutely be your self-care. But, women often tend to call something self-care that doesn’t actually do that for them.

I’m a firm believer that self-care can be simple and doesn’t have to be some grandiose, expensive gesture like a vacation. In fact, my self-care often looks like going into my room, shutting (and locking) the damn door, and putting on my favorite crime drama.

After a couple of hours of alone-time I can usually emerge from my woman cave happier, and more wiling to engage with my kids and spouse with a cheery disposition.

When you suffer from mental illness like I do, there will definitely be seasons of your life when your measuring stick for self-care gets adjusted.

Perhaps a shower not only feels like self-care, but it feels downright luxurious. And, the joy and happy part might come from the simple satisfaction that you climbed that mountain when you really, really didn’t want to.

Simply putting yourself first to take care of basic human needs like hygiene can absolutely be self-care when you are in the throes of depression or other mental illness.

Self-care is not the same for everyone, but it should be prescriptive in whatever your life’s circumstances are.

Prescriptive meaning self-care should help treat whatever ails you in the moment. Maybe it’s ice cream straight from the carton after a bad break-up or maybe it’s a girls’ trip to Hawaii. And, frankly, it can be anything in between.

The key to figuring out whether or not self-care is working for you comes from within and not from what anyone is telling you it should be.

Do you feel better? Happier? More relaxed? More able to conquer what’s coming your way? Then, you’re probably doing self-care right.

But, I stand by my thoughts that many women are passing off things that don’t do that for them and calling it self-care. Why we do this to ourselves I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s to make others around us more comfortable, to not inconvenience another person with our needs, or simply because we are not self-aware.

But, I’m here to tell you it’s OK to make the time, pay attention, and grab whatever form of self-care works for you. Even if your self-care for the day is as simple as putting on real pants.

Meredith Ethington, Author - Mom Life: Perfection Pending, Blogger at Perfectionpending.net and Editor in Chief of Filterfreeparents.com

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