Today’s self-care post is a very special one, and one that I have had some difficulties writing. I’m honestly not sure how people are going to feel about it. That is one of the reasons that the post is a day late. However, after some more pondering, I’ve realised that this is a subject that I know many people will be able to relate to and that made me conquer my reservations in the end.
Before I begin, I’d like to offer a disclaimer that I am not a medical professional and any discussions made on BiblioNyan are in no way whatsoever constituted as medical advice. These are simply my own personal experiences—struggles, success, and in-betweens—with mental health, and I share them openly in the effort to help others to cope day-to-day with their own mental health difficulties. Please note that discussion of severe depression, eating disorder, apathy, grief, and suicidal thoughts will be present in this post today from varying degrees of detail.
A few days ago, I provided a life update where I went into some details about my on-set battle with apathy. To be perfectly frank, I have never before been faced with apathy, at least not on a level to where I would even refer to those respective feelings as apathy. So, this was my first encounter with serious and unyielding bouts of it. It has been one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had.
Sitting here in my computer chair, with a ginger cat draped across the back as a neck pillow, and another feline friend snoring very loudly behind me, I can’t help but focus on the small details. I can lean my head back and rest it gently on Kiki and listen to her purr. I can close my eyes and chuckle at the sounds of Kheb snoring yet sounding like he’s attacking some trespasser. These seemingly irrelevant things are actually quite profound because they help me understand what I care deeply about. They help me feel things and this is a part of life that I don’t ever want to take for granted again.
Some weeks ago—it’d even be apt to say a month or so ago—I started to undergo some symptoms of Depression that I had not experienced for the better part of one year. The most prominent of those symptoms was the strongest desire to sleep for extended periods of time. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), so my body naturally goes through periods where it’s extremely exhausted, preventing me from getting out of bed. Depression, naturally, heightens my CFS further. When these oddly demanding sleep cycles began, I blamed it on the CFS and didn’t put much thought into them aside from that. However, I then started to notice the constant layer of sadness that filled my day-to-day activities. This was not a part of my CFS.
“Okay,” I told my brain (or maybe my brain told me), “looks like the Depression is coming back. Nothing to panic about. I’ll just try some self-care techniques and take it from there.”
I tried everything. Everything that I’ve chatted about here on BiblioNyan, and even things that I haven’t had an opportunity to talk about. Nothing fucked worked. At the time, while all of my methods failed me one after another, I stopped thinking about it. I figured if I think too hard and too much, then my brain won’t get a chance to really take the break it’s probably craving. I just gave up on the act of self-care and decided to ignore it, really. That was a big mistake for me.
It was as if I had flicked a switch, mentally, that allowed me to not feel any fucking thing at all. Fans of The Vampire Diaries can probably equate my experience to being similar to Damon’s when he’s like, “Fuck it. I’m turning it off and drinking and killing ‘til the sun comes up.” Minus the drinking and killing bit, that’s pretty much what I ended up doing without fully understanding what was happening to me. The affects that followed were gradual until they inevitably blew up in my fucking face.
At first, it felt really great not to feel anything. I could watch sad shows and not cry. I could listen to my friends talk about their unwise decisions with dating and not get angry. I could do all sorts of things and not feel an ounce of anything. To justify this absence of emotion, I assumed I had reached a level of calm and serenity with myself that just meant I had finally outgrown my feelings. Let me tell you now that a person never outgrows their feelings. Feelings are the things that drive us, good or bad, to live. They also change and evolve with the different things we experience, thus they aren’t always constant either. So basically… it was bullshit.
My apathy took its toll on my life in significantly impactful ways. I dropped out of school, after only a handful of weeks, convincing myself that it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. That I was doing this for someone else not me, and I was tired of living for other people. There may be some truth to that, however, the method of which I went about making this decision was a fucking foolhardy one.
I stopped doing anything and everything that brought me joy—the essence of self-care. I would lay in bed and read, without physically comprehending the stories, or I’d sleep. I would sleep and sleep and sleep. My body would be screaming at me to get out of bed with its aches and pains and sore muscles, but I would keep on sleeping. My cats would clamber onto the bed and try to meow at me or nudge me to get out of bed because they could sense something was drastically wrong. I’d pet them, turn around and keep on laying there. I didn’t eat unless Sir Betrothed forced me to share a meal with them. I barely drank water, just enough to keep away the clinical dehydration. It’s been a week or so since I finally pulled my arse out of bed and I’m still suffering physical side effects from that period.
February 10th was my brother’s birthday. Somewhere, back in December, I knew this date was arriving and I had tried my best to be self-aware of it. But instead of staying consciously aware to prevent harm, I subconsciously began to self-destruct. This is a terrible time of year for me. His birthday is on February 10th and his day of passing is March 30th. On his birthday, I didn’t feel too bad. I didn’t feel anything, and I had naively believed that this meant I was finally handling his death with grace. Two days later, I completely broke down in the parking lot of our local library and sobbed my heart out to Sir Betrothed as I confessed that I felt I was apathetic. It was astonishing because for the first time in a long time, I fucking felt something, and it was fear.
My eyes were so swollen. There was snot everywhere (great image, I know) and all I could think while I sat there prattling on and on about not feeling anything was, “How could I not feel anything on my brother’s birthday? How could I not have done anything this year? How the fuck did I allow myself to get to this point?” It was such an earth-shattering realisation for me.
Everything that I do in my life, from my love of oatmeal to my passion for writing, is never done without remembrance of him. His birthday is a day I would light incense and I would hold his favourite book or something he had given me and spend hours talking to him about life for the past year. Yet… this time… I did fucking nothing.
My apathy had robbed me of the most important day of the year. And I was fucking terrified.
Since then, Sir Betrothed and I have been working on keeping a decent rein on my apathy and trying different things to help squash it all together. I’d be lying if I said that I was one-hundred-percent back to normal and not feeling it licking around the corners of my mind or my heart. That would be the biggest, fattest lie, actually. They did trick me in a conversation to help me realise that my feelings do exist and that I hadn’t completely turned everything off. It was a dirty trick, but it worked and that’s all that matters.
As I’ve been processing and working on diluting my apathetic mindset, I began to construct a self-care post in my mind that I wanted to share so I could help other people who may have been victim to apathy. My focus would be on what the hell are you supposed to do when self-care doesn’t work? Because, in hindsight, when self-care wasn’t working for me, the last thing I should’ve done was give up. That led to my downfall and ripped me wide open for apathy to move in, and I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. Ever.
So… what do you do when self-care isn’t working?
Here are some of the things that have worked for me in the past. If I had forced myself to keep trying harder, I’m sure that one of these things would have eventually made the difference between light and dark. Now, I understand that everyone is different. Our experiences and feelings and conditions are all quite unique to who we are as individuals. These suggestions helped me and have helped other people, but I can’t guarantee it will help you with one-hundred-percent certainty. All I can say is that it’s worth trying when you find yourself in need of some help.
Don’t be alone. I’m super introverted and mostly anti-social. Sir Betrothed and I spend a lot of time together, but I also like to be entirely by myself more often than not. Hell, I barely leave the house unless it’s for a hike, which I also usually do alone. However, if you find that you are feeling incredibly depressed, or apathetic, and nothing is helping you cope with it, contact someone with whom you are comfortable around. Be with that person. You don’t have to be doing anything either. When I need to have a physical presence around me, Sir Betrothed will read or play video games, and I will do my own thing. We’re in the same room, but still being introverted and anti-social. It works for us. We are secure and comfortable enough around one another that that’s all we need—presence. They’ll do stuff while I sleep even. If you feel awkward about it, I say try it anyway. The best way to keep from feeling weird, as I’ve mentioned, is to find someone you trust completely.
Add comfortable sounds to your surroundings. This suggestion is mostly for people who don’t have anyone whom they trust enough to call upon during times of great despair, but really works for all people. Prior to meeting Sir Betrothed, approximately four years ago, this technique was all that I had to help keep me sane. My comfortable sounds were films or TV serials that I had seen so many times, always something that wasn’t sad or a tragedy, and I’d let it run in the background. Whether I was cleaning, reading, or even just trying to sleep at night. It’s a very small and unusual suggestion, but it saved my life, man. Saved my mind and helped me get through the shittiest of shittiest situations. My favourite show to run in the background? I have two, technically three: Stargate SG-1/Atlantis and FRIENDS. Favourite film would have to be The Mummy (1999).
Get out of your environment. When nothing works for me and my bed is beckoning, I get out of the house. Recently, because it’s been raining so much, I have just been sitting in my car during the daytime. My car has always been a sanctuary of sorts and getting far away from my bed (I know that my driveway isn’t that far, but when you’re bloody exhausted and depressed, it sure can feel like it) really helps. I don’t have to be doing anything else. Most times, I’ll sit and listen to the rain. The different sounds it makes as it lands on metal, or glass, or rocks. It’s very melodious and calming. I’ll go to a bookstore, grab a random book off the shelf, find a corner and allow myself to escape. I’ll even go to a park and sit at a bench. When my CFS is too much, I’ll rest my head on my arm and I end up taking small naps surrounded by nature. When my brother was alive, I would sneak into his room while he was at work, lay in the middle of his ridiculously large bed and enjoy the silence swirling in the atmosphere of familiar scents.
Let yourself feel the pain. I would like to start by stating upfront: I am NOT referring to self-harm of ANY KIND whatsoever. I would NEVER condone self-harm in any shape, form, etc. No, when I say to let yourself feel pain, I mean to let yourself be sad. Self-care didn’t work for me because I was grieving. I was missing my brother again and in the worst fucking ways. I didn’t want to do that. For some reason this year, my subconscious didn’t want anything to do with grief. Maybe because it had a stomach full of it during the holidays. Rather than running away, if I had allowed the grief to hit me, if I had curled up and cried and cried and cried, I think I would have felt so much better in the end. Pain is a necessary part of living. I’m not talking about constant pain and agony that stems from depression or a very fucked-up environment. I’m talking about those bouts of pain that come along with not getting a job you wanted, going through a bad break-up, or losing someone you love dearly to death (amongst others). These variations of pain help us grow stronger. They help feed our fortitude and shape us into individuals that will be better equipped to deal with whatever future catastrophe that will hit us next. It’s an inherent part of being human. There’s a reason that AIs don’t truly understand the essence of humanity until they’ve suffered a realm of tragedy (at least in nearly all AI narratives I’ve seen/read). If nothing is working for you in terms of self-care, allow yourself to wallow for a while and let that pain wash over you and through you (thanks Dune for that line). It can be extraordinarily cathartic. If you find that once you are in the smack dab middle of pain but unable to get out on your own, please call a friend or a hotline. Don’t let yourself fall so deep that you can’t find the light again. It’s a tricky sort of business, so if you do this one, do it with great care.
Twenty-five hundred words later, I think I have said all that I really can on this topic. Self-care is a wonderful way of dealing with all of the shite that life will bring your way. That shite isn’t always a bad thing and when it’s too intense, self-care won’t be enough. But it’s not the end of the world if you believe and if you are willing to keep fighting, no matter how irresistible the alternative may seem. I’m looking at you, Apathy. Fuck you.
Please know that my DMs and lines of communication are always open to anyone out there, whether we talk frequently or if we’ve never exchanged a single word before. I won’t ever give up on you and you shouldn’t give up on you either. It’s not worth it. Trust me.