When Self-Care is Self-Destructive

We read and hear a lot about self-care these days, especially as mothers. The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of many women in this country. Our jobs moved home. Our children were now always home. Our list of responsibilities, already long, grew longer. Our mountain of worries and concerns, already huge, became immense.

I believe the society, as a whole, did a decent job of recognizing this burden. I don’t believe they did a good job of helping to relieve it. To be fair, I’m not sure what the solution is and I understand that this entire year has been “unprecedented”.

It’s so exhausting living the “unprecedented” isn’t it?

So because there are no clear solutions we hear all about this great thing called “self-care”. Self-care is a great option to be touted about by our nation’s leaders, our bosses, and anyone who has the attention of the internet because it puts the responsibility of taking care of ourselves right back on us. Thanks, World, for another item on my to do list.

But in all honesty, my friends, has anyone ever taken better care of us except…us?

So we were given workshops at work to teach us about social-emotional health and our bosses told us they would support our efforts to “take care of ourselves”…as long as we also took care of all of our job responsibilities as well, naturally. We read blog post after blog post about the best ways to practice self-care and how it is a necessity not an option. Got it.

But there was another obstacle to hurdle in our quest for self-care. This pesky global pandemic.

Gone were the opportunities to get a long workout in at the gym. They were closed or, later, you would need to wear a mask and be careful not to pass out…oh and that’s right, the kids are home so no childcare. No more nights out for dinner or to see local bands with your spouse and other couples to release some stress. They were closed, or limited capacity meant reservations were tough to find, and, oh right, no childcare. No more “Ladies Nights” with your friends, piled into someone’s home, cozy on couches sharing drinks, snacks, and laughs. Social distancing meant we needed to stay away from each other and zoom “happy hours” lost their appeal after the first one. Getting your hair done, your nails done, massages…all closed or the anxiety of venturing out to one of these places once they cautiously opened made it more stress INDUCING than stress relieving. Retail therapy was the same way. First we could only shop online so no more fun afternoons with a Starbucks and shopping bags combing through outlets or the mall stores, trying on clothes and shoes or smelling candles and lotions. Then the stress of venturing out into these public spaces masked up with no open dressing rooms or restrooms made shopping a miserable experience.

So. What do we do??

I’ll tell you what I did.

First, I increased my alcohol intake at home. I’m not ashamed to admit this. My kids were loud, bored and miserable; my new “virtual” job was horrific and stressful and completely unsatisfying; my husband’s job as a UPS driver meant not only was he not home to give me a break but his hours increased to holiday hours so I was on my own…all…day…long. No where to go. Nothing to do but work and manage miserable kids. So I had a beer or two in the evenings. Most evenings. No big deal.

Except I started to gain some weight and feel bloated all of the time and I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t drinking enough to be drunk so I wasn’t getting the “happiness” factor I needed so I eventually decided this form of self-care was pretty self-destructive.

So enough of that.

Then I decided I needed to find a way to exercise more. I know that exercise is the best way to even out my moods and care for my overall self-image. I love to run but I have some chronic hip issues so I need to mix up my runs with other types of exercise. Before the pandemic I had belonged to a local kickboxing gym. Because of it’s size it took a long time to decide to reopen and then closed permanently in response to the new restrictions. My husband and I decided to set up a heavy bag in our basement along with other gym equipment and this (and following workout videos on the internet) made me happy for the remainder of the winter. However, once the weather warmed up I needed to be OUT OF MY HOUSE and I started to run again whenever I had the chance. I started to run a lot. And I did some serious damage to my hip. As I write this I’m popping some Advil to soothe the ache of my right hip and the sting of the Cortisone shot I received yesterday to find some relief. Once again, my self-care was self-destructive.

Next, I succumbed to Netflix. Any spare minute I had, my family could find me in front of the television. I binged Bridgerton (of course) and started a few others. Then I discovered the rabbit hole that is sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. Each season has twenty-something hour long episodes so this would be seemingly endless entertainment. I watched that first season with pure glee. Despite the shocking lack of masks in this hospital environment, I fell in love, all over again, with this cast and storyline. But then…the medical cases the doctors managed started to hit a little closer to home. This show hit a bit differently to a woman now in her forties with aging parents and teenagers. Cancer, heart attacks, strokes, parents with very sick children, horrific car accidents…I found myself in tears every other episode and having Grey’s induced nightmares. My guilty pleasure was beginning to also be, yep, self-destructive.

So now what?

As a speech-language pathologist in a high school, one of my jobs is to care for the social-emotional health of teenagers. My goals for many of my students are related to improving their social skills. However, you can’t improve social skills without also addressing their overall emotional health, self-image, and self-esteem. Let me tell you, working on social skills during a time of remote learning and social distancing has been….interesting…but I digress. So during one of my lessons I actually started to listen to myself and I realized I wasn’t really taking my own advice (shocker, I know). I was living permanently in the Yellow Zone and forgetting about all of the easy ways I could get back to Green (I’ll write another post about these Zones I speak of soon, I promise). In other words, because my baseline level of functioning was frustrated/anxious/stressed I was unable to get to calm/happy/content without also being self-destructive. I needed to, quite literally, remember the little things.

Listening to music while I cook dinner instead of the newest argument between my teens.

Reading. I’ve missed reading. I didn’t realize how much until I found a lovely easy book and smiled through the entire thing.

Treating myself to a more sugary option at Starbucks. Every now and then. Because I deserve it.

Taking vitamins. I’ve started to take Magnesium and Evening Primrose Oil to even out my moods (those of you in your forties may know what I’m talking about). I take Zinc to boost my immune system and combat the mask acne I may see now that I’m back to teaching in person full-time. I take a multi-vitamin for everything else and I boost it with additional Vitamin D. Until I can spend more time in the sun, Vitamin D is my savior.

And I’m writing again. I started this blog. I submitted some pieces to other sites with hopes I’ll be published elsewhere. I started a new Instagram account to showcase the millions of photos I love to take. I’ve set no expectations other than to be creative at least once a week through my writing or my photography. I’m sharing because maybe my words or photos will make someone else smile. Maybe I’ll say something that helps someone else push through this “unprecedented” time. I’m writing because I need to be productive. No more destruction.

What are you doing to take care of yourselves? I’d love some more ideas.

Getting in some natural Vitamin D.
Photo Property of S. Orris

4 thoughts on “When Self-Care is Self-Destructive

  1. I know the zones you are talking about. Constantly feeling in the red or blue. I am sick of people saying self care at work. Maybe stop putting more on my plate .
    I also set up a kickboxing gym in my basement. I cant work out every day but when i do i make sure I am not interrupted. 30 minutes to myself is a start to self care.


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