As the words "self-care" took hold in our national dialogue, they spoke to me. A lifetime of crippling perfectionism and the accompanying anxiety, countless projects abandoned before fruition, personal relationships my hang ups had sabotaged, all the days depression left me unable to get out of bed, they were absolved by this new exhortation to be gentle with myself.
As the conversation about self-care became louder and more pervasive, I found friends who faced the same struggles. Memes shared and responded to with a simple "it me" or "same" brought us closer, and pulled back the curtain of shame that had been isolating us all. I started writing about what was going on with me, and the messages came flooding in, letting me know others felt the same way and faced the same struggles.
With the support of this unofficial support group, I learned to let go of the guilt that came with being gentle with myself. I learned to assess what I could actually handle, and only say yes to those things. I set very attainable goals each week, and my brain started to learn what success felt like and seek it out. Then a new kind of crash came.
I had gotten a handle on day to day functioning, but it didn't feel as good as it did at first. I felt an overwhelming desire for help, but I wasn't sure why or with what. I told my husband, who also lives with ADHD, about the strange worsening of my depression symptoms. "Hmmm, I'm not sure what you should do; what works for me doesn't seem like what works for you." What works for Scott, is exercise.
While I've tried workout regimens before, they've never stuck for more than a day or two. I usually ended up out of breath or struggling with coordination less than ten minutes in, and sitting down, having proven yet again that exercise was not for me. The killer combination of ADHD, a high metabolism, depression, hyper-mobile joints, and serious gross motor challenges has kept me from ever feeling like an exercise person, and those same factors have given me and excellent excuse to be fine with that.
My husband's reminder of the link between physical activity and his mental health made me think of the words of a pharmaceutical executive on The Simpsons when they put Bart on ADHD meds; "It's about helping kids concentrate. This pill reduces class clownism 44%. . With 60%. less sass mouth. - The only thing more effective is regular exercise." The only thing more effective is regular exercise. I want to pause here just for one second; this is not about medication bashing. Meds help many people function, and I would never in 800 million years suggest people with ADHD only need exercise, not pharmaceuticals. I went back on medication for ADHD and depression last year, but the impact it had on my anxiety was not worth it to me, and due to a ridiculous shortage of primary care doctors in our area with whom to work out other options, I've been off all medications for about 9 months.
As I tried to figure out what I needed, I felt I was ready to push myself to get into a better daily routine with Mo, our 2.5 year old, who is at home with me. Between being displaced at my parent's house for 6 weeks for unexpected house repairs, and then coming back to a house still very much in need of repair, followed by a week away from home while we tagged along on a business trip with Scott, everything about our day to day life was off, and we'd gotten back into a habit of more screen time than agrees with him. Sleep disturbances are the first sign we've crept into too much screen time; he can really only manage less than one hour a day before we start seeing behavioral and sleep issues crop up. I gave myself the deadline of the first week of July to start our new routine, whatever it was.
The Thursday before my deadline, Mo got a tiny trampoline, and the answer stared me right in the face.
We would exercise together.
I set up the trampoline in the office, along with our long-unused elliptical machine. I kept repeating to myself the words my husband and I wrote together on our honeymoon, outlining our family values, years before our son arrived; "We live a fun and active life." The opportunity to get both of us moving, to relegate screen time to a specific, active time, and to start our day on a positive and engaged foot seemed worth trying. We lead a fun and active life.
At the start of this year, I made a new kind of resolution. I made a promise to myself to focus on nurturing and honoring the work I had already started. My word for 2018 was going to be BUILDING. Circling back to this, I decided my new routine would need to encompass honoring my commitment to this site, and to my writing. I decided I would publish an article each and every weekday for the month of July. The help I so desperately needed would come from me.
The plan was to flip a switch and go from cobbling my house back together while my child survived on Moana, to starting everyday with cardio and publishing five articles a week. That's a bit of a leap, especially for someone who tends to jump ship when things get tough. Those self-care messages I'd internalized over the last few years came yelling at me as I bought yet another planner and penciled in my first week of articles.
"Be gentle with yourself!"
"You're doing the best that you can already!"
"Don't push yourself too hard, you'll set yourself up for failure!"
That last one, that last one gave it away. My inner critic had learned the language of self-care, and it was weaponizing it against me. Being gentle and forgiving myself had gotten me to where I was, but it was obvious if my inner critic was seizing those words, it was time for a new kind of self-care. Under "To-Dos" in my new planner, I wrote in purple felt tip pen "I love myself enough to push myself." Just like I had learned this winter to ask myself "Can I really not do it?" this new motto of self-care motivates me without shaming. I set these goals, and by pushing myself to keep up with them I affirm my capability and self-worth.
Since starting this new routine we've had a holiday, a record breaking heatwave, and my laptop was out of commission for 48 mid-week hours. I'm 10 articles in to my 22 article commitment, and I haven't missed a day. I've kept up with my workouts, even on weekends, which wasn't the original plan, but it's easier for me to keep going if I don't start and stop. We only have had any extra screen time on one day when it was so hot my kiddo puked, and I needed him to just sit still and recuperate.
The language and culture of gentle self-care brought me out of a bad place, but I needed to untangle that gentleness from self-doubt in order to keep moving. I know there will be moments for gentleness, but for right now, I really just need to keep loving myself enough to push myself.
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