Self-care can be taking the time to enjoy the light and scent of a beautiful candle
This week I started out wanting to write about how difficult it's been facing the onslaught of traditional and social media commentary on Robin Williams' death, from the point of view of a suicide widow.
I wanted to talk about how it felt to read the ignorant, misinformed and hurtful remarks about suicide being 'selfish' and 'a choice' or 'the cowards way out'.
I wanted to talk about how my battered and bruised heart broke, again, for his family. And the personal triggers that have been set off, taking me right back to that day I lost my love to the demon disease depression.
But I'm exhausted from the relentless onslaught of information. It's like every day there's another new angle the media has found to explore. The thousands of words that I've read about him began to swirl around and around me to the point where it's just become white noise. It started getting hard to breathe.
So instead, I'm choosing to remove myself from that space and talk about 'self-care'. Because when my energy levels start to drop and my anxiety begins to rise, I know it's time for me to wind things back a couple of notches and give myself room to breath again.
Self-care doesn't come easy to me. I'm not great at being assertive and am a 'pleaser' in the sense where I'll put myself out rather risk making someone else uncomfortable. Not with family of course, growing up I had no qualms in hogging the biggest piece of cake or disappearing after dinner when it came time to do the dishes. However when it comes to work or social situations, I seem to be forever worried about disappointing people or being seen as self-seeking or high-maintenance.
Luckily, I’ve had a wonderful counselor who helped me understand the difference between being ‘selfish’ and ‘self-care’ and with her help, I’ve learnt to identify when I need to say no or pull back; and how to let go of the guilt I’d usually associate with this.
I’m now actually really good at it. I’ve developed an internal monologue that goes something like ‘Right, how are we holding up? Have we got this? Can I push on a bit longer or is it time to take a break? Yeah, feeling a bit fragile to be honest. Ok, time to pull back.”
Sometimes it feels like I’m a little character in a video game, running around collecting coins and fighting monsters and bouncing from level to level, and then suddenly I remember I’ve forgotten to collect those nourishing ‘food’ energy tokens. Something red starts flashing in the corner of the screen and ominous tones start beeping at me, letting my know my vitality levels are dramatically low – if I don’t stop fighting the dragons and make ‘self-care’ my priority, it will soon be Game Over and I'll be back at the start.
So for me, self-care can be taking a half-hour break from work to walk through the nearby botanical garden or shouting myself to a 20-minute shoulder massage or pedicure. It might be turning my phone and lap top off for the night to curl up on the lounge with a cup of tea, a packet of chocolate biscuits and some trashy reality tv (hello Real Housewives!). Or it might be running a hot bath, lighting a candle and soaking in the silence.
It's also about knowing when I'm reaching my limits in regards to my triggers. There are days where I can talk openly about what happened to Dan. I can speak up about his experience with depression and help others understand some of the challenges that he faced, doing my bit to raise awareness and fight the persistent stigmas. However some days it can be too much. Too heavy. Too personal and too heartbreaking. So it's also about knowing when I have to put my own wellbeing first, identifying the times when I'm nearing exhaustion and working out how to protect that part of me that is still grieving his loss.
Yoga and meditation has been a wonderful source of self-care for me. This week, when I started feeling dangerously low, I spent 75 minutes laying on a mat, listening to the calming voice of my yoga instructor reminding me not to let the past pull me back or the future pull me forward, but to live in the moment and quieten my mind.
For some of my widow friends, self-care can be cooking, reading, doing craft, going for a run or gardening. Basically anything that helps shut the noise of the world out, even for 15 minutes.
Whatever it may be for you, I hope you too can find your place of peace and learn to check in there regularly. After all, we are unable to grow and blossom without nourishment.