It’s unfortunate that the mainstream narrative around self-care has become synonymous with this capitalistic idea that we can put a price on things like balance and wellness.
Welcome to Crazy Talk: a mental health advice column written by yours truly, a mentally ill and queer writer reclaiming his “crazy” to educate and empower. In a world that tries to push us to the margins, I’m all about getting loud and kicking the stigma where it hurts. In this column, we explore what it’s like to live with mental illness without shame or apologies. Expect frank advice, a little self-deprecation and a good dose of humor.
One question that I’ve been getting a lot lately is how a practice of self-care can be truly effective for folks with severe mental illness. And I get it — sometimes bath bombs and manicures aren’t an appropriate — or even feasible — response when you’ve hit rock-bottom and you haven’t even showered for a week.
Been there, done that.
I think it’s unfortunate that the mainstream narrative around self-care has become synonymous with this capitalistic idea that we can put a price on things like balance and wellness. Like, if I had more candles or twinkle lights, I’d actually be just fine. #selfcare
Don’t get me wrong: Almost every Sunday, you’ll find me chilling with a clay mask on my face and ginger beer in hand while watching Bob’s Burgers on an endless loop. But your self-care doesn’t have to look like that, and you don’t have to stage it for Instagram for it to be valid or worth doing.
For folks with psychiatric disabilities especially, self-care as survival — not just for fun, but as a holistic practice — can be one of the most important things that we do for ourselves.
Self-care, to me, is about nurturing ourselves. It’s committing to ourselves in a way that is beneficial to our psychological well-being, and doing this consistently, with the hopes of making it a habit rather than a luxury. It’s about choosing to do what’s effective for our mental health, rather than what’s convenient or even maladaptive.
Sometimes, self-care really is as simple as lighting a candle and painting your nails. But self-care can also be calling your therapist, drinking a glass of water, getting out of bed, taking your medication or eating a handful of almonds when you’re running on fumes.
When I’m in crisis, self-care is buying nutritional shakes ahead of time to keep myself nourished, knowing I can’t always cook meals for myself when I’m depressed. It’s self-care because it’s an act of self-compassion that helps ensure my survival and safety, and it’s also mindful of my struggles and limitations — a context that “consumerist” self-care can completely miss.
Contrary to mainstream appearances, self-care isn’t about what you’re doing, per se — it’s about the commitment you’re making to yourself behind every nurturing act. If you’re choosing to do something because it’s an effective and (relatively) safe way of taking care of yourself, that’s self-care. Believe it or not, it doesn’t need glitter and it doesn’t have to come from Pinterest.
In fact, caring for oneself has a pretty political history, going back to the civil rights and women’s lib movements (particularly with Black women leading the way). Self-care was fundamentally about survival and holistic health in systems that didn’t allow marginalized folks to prosper — and I think psychiatrically disabled folks could benefit from going back to those radical roots.
Self-care not as recreational, but as revolutionary. You know?
But back to the original question at hand: What does self-care look like if you’re on the struggle bus? What does it look like when you’re in crisis?
This interactive guide is one that I keep bookmarked, and is designed for folks who struggle with self-care, executive dysfunction and self-awareness. It’s loosely based in the HALT principle (hungry, angry, lonely, tired — read more about it here!).
This framework tends to be a lot more pragmatic than the “treat yourself” model which, while it has its place, doesn’t always resonate for folks in crisis.
And luckily for you, last week I shared three of my favorite mental health apps, all of which are free and helpful ways to make self-care part of your routine. I also like to link this video by Melissa Fabello, which aims to cultivate self-awareness around what is and isn’t effective for you, and I have an article about simple self-care hacks to give you some ideas as well.
If your regimen doesn’t dazzle anyone under an Instagram filter, that’s okay! It doesn’t have to. And whether it’s scented lotions in a wicker basket, taking a few deep breaths or just scheduling a few minutes to pay your damn bills, the only person it needs to work for is you.