On mental health and the importance of self care

Recently, I’ve been feeling stressed and somewhat overwhelmed by life. I moved into a new job back in May – I work full-time at a large London university – and always knew that this time of year would be the busiest in this role, but nothing could have prepared me for how it would feel. I’m working on a helpdesk and naively thought that it would be fulfilling because, well, I’d be helping. But what about the issues you can’t help with because they are beyond your control? What about the feeling of doom that comes with only seeing the things that are going wrong, all day every day?

I’ve always been like the team mascot at work. Whenever things have got tough, I’m the one who helps pull everyone together and bring back the smiles. I cheer folk up, remind them that they can do it when they think they can’t, and am good for listening to a long rant or simply providing a distraction by talking about something else for five minutes. Hell, if all else fails, I’ll simply make you smile by pointing out that I’m wearing glittery Star Wars shoes. However, this also takes its toll. Pile all this emotional labour on top of everything else and, sooner or later, something’s got to give.

Don't steal the spoonsI tried to lighten the load by filling my spare time with fun things that would bring back the cheer that was slowly ebbing away. Meeting up with friends, going to shows, evening and weekend plans with lovely people. But I forgot how much energy that takes too. I was ‘on’ at work and then ‘on’ in my spare time, and last week it got to the point where I just had nothing left to give. As Stephanie Yeboah said in a blog post about self care last year:

When life gets busy it can feel as if things are outside of your control. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed – some people can ride the feeling out and let it pass, but some people like myself just need to take a break and just… stop.

That’s what I needed to do. Stop. It’s easy to think that self care is all about buying scented candles, having a long bath and then booking a spa day, because that’s what gets dressed up as ‘self care’ these days. But in reality it’s different for everyone. You know what you need, but sometimes you don’t have the ability to see what that is until you take time out and just… stop. So I cancelled plans and, once the work week was over, headed home for a weekend alone.

I thought about things I’d like to do over the weekend, if I felt up to it, and made a low-pressure list. I was worried that depression would grab hold and make it impossible to get out of bed for two days, but instead I woke up feeling refreshed on Saturday morning. I vowed that, whatever I did with my weekend, it wouldn’t be ‘wasted’ because sometimes working through a couple of tv show recommendations, a short walk, and attempting to go through a stack of unfinished books and magazines is exactly what you needed to do with your day to feel better. I may not be feeling good about it being Monday tomorrow, but I’m certainly feeling better than I was.

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Image via Lis Bokt's Flickr photostream