Self-care props up a multi-billion dollar industry peddling anything under the sun.
But when you have zero money, it’s easy to feel excluded from what is far from a habit or even a practice for many of us. Try and convince a chronic depressive like me that they need to take care of themselves and I’m likely to reply I see no point in doing so. Because — to turn a well-known worldwide advertising tagline on its head — I’m not worth it.
For anyone with depression, self-care can be an impenetrable concept.
As the ongoing obliteration of the self, the illness tends to corrode anything you might have ever felt proud of. Like your appearance, your level of fitness, your education, your skills, your job if you’re lucky enough to be able to hang on to it.
Major depressive disorder stole my writing voice and annihilated my livelihood for five years. While looking after myself made intellectual sense, I didn’t understand why I should even try and maintain the amorphous blob of epic fail I had become.
Not that I could afford to anyway, or so I thought.
In a capitalist culture, there isn’t a problem in the world you can’t throw money at.
In America, this even applies to health. As I discovered, coverage doesn’t equal access and although I’ve always had insurance, I yet have to be able to afford therapy co-pays and the deductibles before that.
As a result, I was left to hold my own hand through depression although the physician who diagnosed me was intent on forcing medication down my throat.
Self-care, he told me, was swallowing a little magic pill every day and it was what I had to do if I wanted to get better. An insistent bully who caused hypertensive spikes every time I saw him, he made me walk away from medicine altogether for two years.
And from an entire medical group I will never have anything to do with ever again.
Because coercion isn’t responsible medicine.
Instead of his dubious ministrations, I had to figure out how to best take care of myself on a limited and often non-existent budget. I had started teaching myself yoga in 2014 with the help of an app, and I somehow kept going through sheer force of will. But only because it’s the only way for me to tap into a rare sense of calm nothing else comes close to.
Sex might, or would if my marriage weren’t a dead bedroom. Lust left, libido vanished. On the rare occasions I felt a frisky frisson, sex became a self-inflicted affair. And it invariably helped me sleep, which is no mean feat when you go through life as a zombie as a result of insomnia.
Masturbation, it turns out, counts as self-care because it floods the body and brain with stress-relieving endorphins. Best of all, it’s free but quite the challenge for a chronic depressive, especially when you lack motivation, or imagination, or both.
But it does work.
For self-care to be effective, you need to get to know yourself.
With depression, it starts with identifying the parameters and limitations you’re dealing with. Only then can you take appropriate action.
But you can’t look after yourself until you do the work of figuring out what works for you and it’s different for everyone. For example, I derive irrepressible joy from Portuguese, a language that makes my brain tingle and sparkle, but this may well be a personal quirk.
And then you’ll have to override depressive propaganda until you accept you need tender loving care even though you may not feel like it.
But if you’re alive despite depression, you’re already practicing an extreme form of self-care.
Keeping yourself alive in the midst of adversity is no mean feat and it’s worthy of praise and even outright celebration. You’ve allowed life to continue so you already care for yourself a little bit, albeit subconsciously.
We humans are hardwired for survival and you’re no exception.
Despite what depression tells you.
Reason can guide you the rest of the way.
Stop and think is practical advice when caught in a mental detritus tornado.
Pick one issue, analyze it, find a solution, and apply it. Then pick another until you’ve gone through them all or postponed those you can’t address right away.
None of this requires money, only the willingness to be honest with yourself.
Those strategies aren’t intended to cure anything but they’re how I’m moving forward.
After stagnating for five years, I had to do something and learn to cope the hard way. It isn’t pleasant but it tends to stick, and as long as you’re breathing, there’s life within. And where there’s life, there’s hope.
Self-care isn’t a product, it is something you do.
What’s more, once you know yourself, knowing others becomes a whole lot easier and society is all the better for it. Whether or not we feel we deserve it, we all need to take care of ourselves first so we can look after one another.
So if you don’t embrace self-care for yourself, do it so you can help others.
When it comes to motivation, sometimes you just have to outsmart the depressive brain.
And the more often you do it, the easier it gets.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.