Knowing What You Need
This week, a friend posted about someone criticizing her for being on anti-depressants (I recently wrote a post about this happening to comedian Hannah Gadsby, too, and her response nailed it). For some reason I can't fathom, this is a thing that people do, feel that it's their place to tell someone else what they need to take care of themselves, not knowing the full picture. As I told her, anyone with an opinion on what you need to take care of yourself can take that opinion and fuck right off. For most (all) of us, figuring out what we need to take care of ourselves is a process and often not an easy one. Only you can understand what you need. Even well-meaning professionals can sometimes get it wrong.
A few years ago, when I was in the throes of a hypomanic episode, my psychiatrist wanted me to go to the ER. I begged her to understand that that was the absolute worst place I could imagine in that moment, that I knew the bright lights and people and chaos would make things worse. I knew I'd sit there for hours, anxiety taking over, waiting to be seen (After all, that happened when I had a life-threatening condition, and of course would happen when I didn't appear in immediate danger). Also, hospitals are triggering and very anxiety-inducing for me. The hospital I would go to is where I spent two weeks when my mother fell down the stairs and got a traumatic brain injury. It's also the hospital where I had to have emergency surgery to remove my fallopian tube. I knew that place would set me off and make things even worse and that there was nothing they could do for me. I convinced my psychiatrist to just let me go home with the new meds she'd prescribed, home in our quiet rural town, where I could cuddle my dogs, have some herbal tea, and try to calm down, turn the lights down low and watch a childhood movie, get my first real sleep in two weeks. She relented, and said I knew what I needed best.
During that same manic episode, I tried to go to work at the small nonprofit where I work and my boss suggested I go home and get some rest. I was like a Tasmanian Devil of anxiety, spinning out of control, in hyperspeed, talking to myself, couldn't stop moving. I could tell my presence was stressing everybody else out, which made me feel worse, but I couldn't control it. When I came back to work after a few days, my boss and I sat down together (he's super supportive and understanding) and he asked me what I needed. It was uncomfortable at first, talking about my mental illness at work, where I'd always tried to hide it. But for the first time, I had a supportive group of co-workers who were understanding and encouraged me to do what I needed to get "better." He let me work remotely some days while I adjusted to my new meds and things began to normalize. He told me if I ever needed to stay home that I should do it without feeling like I had to lie or make an excuse. This was transformational for me, knowing I had the support to take care of myself in the ways that I needed.
I have carefully curated my cozy space at home, calming music, dim lights, dogs and a cat to snuggle when I need some love, people I can reach out to. I have created the space I need to take care of myself in the ways that only I can. It's not easy to figure out the best methods of self-care for you and your specific needs. It takes some trial and error and a lot of support. So, figure out what you need for you and how to get it. And I'm here if what you need is someone to listen.