NB: I will be mainly discussing these topics from experiences with GAD and clinical depression. Where the term ‘disability’ is used by me, I am not speaking for and trying to encompass the experiences of those with any other disabilities.
Firstly, I want to pose the question: how often do you choose to do activities that make you feel good? Whether it’s a marathon of your favourite show, ordering a takeaway or perhaps a boozy night at the pub, many of us have least one feel-good activity that we opt for now and again.
My second question is: how many times have you been told- either by your friends, your family or maybe even a professional – that your feel-good activity is unhealthy? Did it discourage you from doing it again?
Other people can often be very quick to pass judgement on our behaviours, particularly without understanding the reasons behind we might have made these choices. I’m not going to waffle some pseudo-scientific rubbish about endorphins or ‘the surprisingly healthy ingredient you didn’t know about’ – we are all aware that feel-good choices aren’t always biologically beneficial. However whilst it is important to recognise this, it is equally important not to get fixated on discouraging or guilt yourself for making the choice. Something in your mind is telling you that you’re in need of some self care, and it’s worth listening to.
The NHS Choices websites defines self care as:
“… looking after yourself in a healthy way… If you have a long-term condition, there are extra things you may need to consider, such as making changes to your diet, different types of exercise or different types of medication you may need to take.”
Self care does therefore include some healthier choices, but they are not the only element to it. The website describes how self care can also mean:
”…staying active by doing things that are important to you, such as gardening, seeing friends and family, going on holiday, or continuing to work, if possible. It involves looking at what you can do and want to do, rather than what you can’t do.” (NHS Choices, 2014)
My personal definition of self care would also include doing things that make you feel good, under which I would include anything from pain management to a pizza and an evening on Netflix. I see self care as an essential part of life. While I feel confident to state that anyone can benefit from a period of self care, it is particularly important to recognise self care as an essential part of life for some people living with disability.
As I often become agoraphobic as a result of my disability, I have found myself having to cancel plans or delay tasks that could worsen my ‘symptoms’. If I have had a particularly taxing day or week due to my difficulties, I will opt for episodes of Parks and Rec in bed. In social situations, I will choose alcohol as a conversational lubricant, which doesn’t always work. All of these activities are perceived as ‘unhealthy’ and I am often berated for choosing them, yet they have had huge benefits on my mental health, my recovery and my ability to cope with my disability.
In my personal experience, it can extremely unhelpful to be told that my self care is unhealthy or ‘won’t get me anywhere’. The responsibility of assessing what will improve or impact my day-to-day life, what will worsen the ‘symptoms’ of my disability and what tasks I feel I can take on are mine and mine alone. Having lived for nearly seven years with diagnosed difficulties, and sampled different methods of management including various medications and therapies, I know what works for me and what doesn’t and I will not be made to feel guilty for it.