I’m not going to sugar coat it: life has been poopy lately. But I’m not going to sit here and write a full blog post of complaints. No one would want to read that. And frankly, writing such a post would do me no favours. However, in the interest of getting to the topic of self-compassion I will reveal one of the things that’s been difficult for me lately. My dad is very ill.
Due to his current health, I’m doing all I can to make sure he’s comfortable. Juggling various doctor appointments, medication, and helping however else I can has been mentally taxing. My depression has reared its ugly head again because of the seriousness of his condition. And now, anxiety has come to join the party, which is new for me. I never really had to deal with it before.
My mood plummeted, and according to my Moodscope graph, my mood hasn’t gone much above 20% for the past six weeks. And most days, I’ve been stuck in the realm of single digits.
But to be honest, helping him felt like the only thing I could do for a while. Even though I still feel unable to take care of myself, caring for my dad has allowed me to get out of bed most days and interact with people. And on the days where he doesn’t need my assistance, I literally just lay in bed staring out the window. I have no motivation to live life for my own sake.
For whatever reason, it’s so much easier to have compassion for someone else than it is to have compassion for myself. And that sense of compassion for other people has helped me many times in finding the strength to get through another day. But existing solely to help someone else with no regard for my own well-being isn’t healthy either.
While I’ve been caring for my dad, I’ve been severely lacking in self-compassion. When my mood is in a better place, self-compassion comes to me fairly easily. I can intercept my negative thoughts and gently remind myself that those thoughts serve no purpose.
When I’m low like I have been, I need to retrain my brain so I can remember how to be kind to myself again. And today, I would like to share a few tips with you that I find helpful. The following are five ways that I practice self-compassion.
Journaling has been so incredibly useful for me in seeing myself more clearly. I started journaling by hand more frequently when I was working through The Artist’s Way and I haven’t looked back. It’s a daily ritual for me now.
When I go back and read entries, I’m removed from the emotions that I experienced when I wrote the entry. It’s almost like I’m reading about someone else’s thoughts and feelings. By separating myself from the me who wrote those words, I can treat that person with more compassion and think about her the same way I would with a friend.
The other thing about writing out my thoughts by hand is that it activates the problem-solving part of my brain. Problems I’ve thought about in circles for hours can sometimes be solved in 20 minutes just by writing my thoughts down.
My thoughts tend to fly from idea to idea faster than I can keep up. My brain seems to work like Wikipedia – you start by looking up something like a band you like and next thing you know you’re reading about some scientist you never even heard of before. This is why getting my thoughts in order is so effective for me, it forces my brain to slow down for two damn seconds.
Now, I don’t mean you need to act like a child. In fact, it’s the opposite – you need to act like you’re your own parent.
I try to separate myself from the moment, and much like with journaling, I view myself as another person. If I can stop my thoughts, then I’m able to pause for a moment and think about what this person would need if I were taking care of them. The answer is usually pretty obvious.
This “parent view” also allows me to reframe thoughts or situations. I can look at myself and my behaviour through a kinder lens. It’s this mindset that eases my guilt or quiets my inner critic.
I’ve been trying to live by a mantra lately, which is “take care of your body to take care of your mind.”
When I start neglecting my body, whether that means not eating all day, not getting enough water, or not exercising, it only leads to my mental state worsening.
I have to consciously remind myself to not eat like crap, regardless of how convenient it might be. I try to force myself to take a walk in the morning regardless of how much I want to stay in bed. No matter how down I may be, I make sure I always have a glass of water near me. I keep up with my medication even on the days when those pills don’t seem to help at all.
If I want to give my mind its best fighting chance, I need to take care of my body. The more I take care of my body, the clearer I can think. And I think that clarity is necessary to accessing self-compassion.
If you’re in the middle of a depressive episode or feel one starting, and need some help keeping yourself on track, you can check out my self-care checklist.
This is something that I’ve had work on for a few years. I’m not perfect at it, and I will never be perfect at it, but that’s okay.
The ability to laugh at myself is something that has decreased the amount of trash that pollutes my brain. My mind is already adept at making my feel awful about myself, so to be able to take away some of its ammunition is liberating.
If I do something silly or embarrassing, I think about how insignificant the moment is in the grand scheme of things. I also remind myself that people bumble and flounder all the time. We’re humans. We’re clumsy, we don’t think things through, we don’t convey things the way we mean them. But that’s okay. These little moments aren’t the end of the world.
When you work at accepting your mistakes, you can brush off the inconsequential ones. It’s cliché, but it helps to think of mistakes as lessons. Sometimes I try to view life as if it were all an experiment. “So if I do that, that happens. I wonder what happens if I do this?” or “Okay, that didn’t work. What can I try next?”
With bigger mistakes, it’s better to own up to them and fix them, if there is something that can be fixed. It’s not fun, and it’s certainly not easy, but it’s better than just ignoring it. And in the end, you’ll feel better about the whole thing too.
Okay. This one is weird, I’ll admit it and it might not help everybody. That said, this one helps me SO MUCH. I guess there were some perks to being the lonely kid who never grew out of the imaginary friends stage.
As a storyteller, I have all kinds of characters living rent-free in my mind. Because storytelling is so ingrained in my way of thinking, I think about my characters and other characters frequently. I need to so I can determine where my stories are going or create new stories altogether. And sometimes I need to let my brain rest from my distressing thoughts by letting myself daydream.
Some of these characters have existed in my imagination for years. I might as well put them to work beyond plaguing me with plot bunnies. There are a few of them that my mind has designated as the voices of reason, hope, and encouragement.
No matter how dark my thoughts, those voices remain unchanging. I guess even when I’m the lowest I can be, my brain’s still like, “They can’t be out of character! That’s ridiculous!”
They’re still my thoughts, but it’s like attributing them to someone else seems to unlock the self-compassion that is otherwise unreachable. There are some days that those imaginary friends are the only thing that save me and that’s why I included this bizarre tip on this list.
I hope one of these tips help you if you need help in the self-love department. Loving yourself and caring for yourself when you live with mental illness can sometimes feels nigh impossible. But you deserve to think kindly of yourself. You deserve to give yourself all your love.
Do you have any tips on how to practice self-compassion? Feel free to comment below with suggestions or share this post on social media. You never know who might benefit from these tips.
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