(content note for suicide and emotional abuse)
It’s a mad world out there. So, especially after the insanity of the past few weeks politically, I figured I’d take some time to talk about self-care (and why the hell it’s so hard). Full disclosure: I am terrible at self-care. This is for many reasons–mental illness being one of them–related to fundamentalism and how I was taught to handle my emotions/mental health. Otherwise known as, why I’m so fucked up and bad at eating enough, taking care of my physical and mental health, etc.
I’m going to talk about two concepts that were actually completely foreign to me until about two years ago: Self-Care and Safe Spaces. I heard self-care for the first time and immediately realized it was something I had been missing most of my life. Because I had always been taught to put yourself first was selfish, and you lived to serve others and God…yourself last. (ya know…JOY…Jesus, Others, You. I know. it’s a sneaky Sunday School thing)
I am here to tell you: It. Is. Not. Selfish. It is not selfish to take care of yourself or take time to yourself when you’re overwhelmed or need breaks from the harshness of life. Self-care for me has been about being more self-aware. Aware of how I’m feeling, checking in with my body and emotions and knowing when rest is needed. Because, if you don’t take care of yourself, how are you supposed to resist an oppressive government, or take care of other people in your life. I don’t often believe this, but it’s true. And acknowledging negative emotions or that you’re not doing well isn’t wrong either.
Here’s what happens when you’re taught to ignore your own needs and put others’ needs first. You implode on yourself…or explode when things get to be too much. Story time! I grew up hearing that I couldn’t trust my feelings. which leads to ALL SORTS OF BAD THINGS. But moving on…because of this, I learned simply not to feel anything at all. I numbed myself emotionally to the point of not crying for 2-3 years in high school. Literally, I stopped expressing outwardly any negative emotion, and it was the worst. This is probably where many of my trust issues began honestly.
Not only did I learn not to trust myself and what I was feeling. This taught me not to trust other people in my life either. By the time I got to 20, I really was primed to explode if something didn’t give. I had NO safe spaces. There wasn’t any safe place or safe person to turn to. I was in the midst of my first and most abusive relationship and came the closest to killing myself. Even when I told my boyfriend that night how suicidal I was, he ignored my calls. I got so desperate I called a friend who was 3 hours away. And while she was there in a way that no one else was, she made me feel guilty for feeling the way I was feeling. She did not understand how I got myself to that point or how I could be so selfish to want to end my own life.
I can’t stress enough the importance of community and safe spaces for folks with mental illness and in abusive situations. Safe Space…as in judgment free, compassionate, safe, home. Home for those who have been estranged from their home and family. Safe spaces are again, a new concept for me. It wasn’t until halfway through college that I had a group of friends. And they were truly there for me and had to constantly remind me that they were friends and were safe, because I had a hard time believing people existed in the world who loved me for who I was. I was so used to hiding my emotions and inner demons.
What helps keep you safe is knowing you’re loved. Not for who people want you to be, for what you can do for them, or for who you pretend to be. But for who you really are as a whole person. So whatever the things are that make you YOU, find those people who see you. Find those people who make you feel safe. Find those people who make you feel at home.
I’m thankful to have found a few people and spaces where this is true. Where I am safe. Safe. That word is such a beautiful weighty word for something we all need. Tonight, I hope you’ve found those places and those people. If you haven’t, just know that I am a safe person you can reach out to. No one should feel unsafe or unloved and I will do my best to help undo that in whatever way I can if this is the case for you. Don’t forget: take care of yourself; you are loved and needed in this crazy world.