My goal for self care today was to get some face-to-face time with a friend. Sometimes, self care means being flexible with plans, though. My daughter is sick. Poor little girl has had a cough, on-and-off low grade fever, and a very upset stomach for the past three days. This morning, I woke up feeling the same symptoms. As such, seeing a friend was off the table. So, I had to be flexible.
Flexibility is something with which I sometimes struggle. At baseline, I despise the unknown. It creates anxiety. When I’m in a manic swing, of course, I become the adventurer – I’m ready to charge head first into any situation, the more interesting and “off-limits” the better. But today is not a manic day. In fact, I’m on the downswing having been fairly hypomanic for the past week. So, I spent the majority of my day resting, both due to sickness and due to the exhaustion that hits when you’ve had a grand total of 24 hours of sleep in the last 7 days. Still, through the resting, I also felt pretty anxious about what I would post tonight. Because I am dedicated to this challenge and to giving you consistent content.
Sometimes, though, flexibility is self care. Even if you hate it. Self care is being gentle with yourself even when you don’t accomplish what you hoped. Self care is cutting yourself some slack when you’re sick and wiped out. Self care is acknowledging that you feel disappointed for not reaching your goal, but also realizing that it’s not the end of the world.
In DBT, there’s an emphasis on different types of thinking that can get you into trouble. One is “All or Nothing” thought. I’ve seen this in practice in both my personal and professional life. I worked with a client once who really struggled with money. He would spend every dollar he got within two days of getting it and, on more than one occasion, he got himself into some pretty serious debt. He refused to follow a savings plan, because, when he did decide to save, he would say, “I’m not going to spend any money! I’m putting all of it into savings!” and then, when he would inevitably see the balance in his account and spend over half of it on food or electronics or whatever, that was “proof” that he was incapable of saving, “so why even try?” he’d say. And then he’d blow through money again for a few months, then try to save every cent again. It was a vicious cycle, and as staff, I was incapable of getting through to him on this particular issues. Realistically, if he put $25 out of each paycheck into savings and spent the rest on whatever he wanted without guilt, not only would he not be perpetuating the self-defeat and shame he felt each time he binged on spending, he also would likely succeeded in actually saving money.
I struggle with all or nothing a lot, too. In many different areas of my life. Either I’m working 60+ hours a week, or I’m not working at all. Either I’m in a great mood, or I’m pissy and irritable. Either I’m doing everything perfectly or I suck at life. Either I’m hitting my self care goals or I’ve failed the whole challenge and need to walk away. Obviously, this is not true. But I spent the majority of the day needing to convince myself that it wasn’t true. Even as I started typing this, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be writing. And a big part of me felt like missing the self care goal for today meant I couldn’t post about anything. And that thought quickly grew – if I don’t post about the challenge today, how can I post about it tomorrow? How can I post about anything? I should just stop blogging. I’m too inconsistent. And I can’t write well anyway. I never should have started this challenge. I never should have started this blog! I’m such a failure!
See how quickly the primordial slime of All or Nothing thinking grows the legs of negative self talk and crawls through your mind until it’s a full-blown T-Rex trying to eat any ounce of self confidence you have? All of the negative thought patterns are interconnected, and once one creeps in, you know it’s going to bring it’s friends and grow into something that feels threatening and impossible to fight. So, sometimes self care is “Acting the Opposite” of what your backwards and unhelpful thoughts growl in your ear, snarl through your being. It’s writing the damn post even when you didn’t meet your goal for the day, just to prove to that T-Rex in your brain that you’ve got tools and strength and bravery and you’re able to take it down.
Like it? I drew it myself… Ok, maybe I’ll stick to writing.