I haven’t been writing much at all lately. I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I don’t like how disordered my mind feels when I loosen my discipline with writing. I have let it slide because there are only 24 hours in a day and I needed to work on setting up my business. Now my labels are done, I have added a few new products to my apothecary line and have started working on my website. I’ve also been cooking more and doing some preserving. My garden is in disrepair because I need to do some major soil amendments and then mulch and actually get my drip line set up because keeping a garden thriving during drought conditions and with giant privet trees dumping an inch of leaves and pollen on it every year is brutal. Plus, there’s only 24 hours in a day and my back is pretty weak.
The lack of time is a fact, not an excuse. There are so many things I always want to be doing. I feel lousy when I miss out on food preserving opportunities. I feel lousy when I don’t write. I feel lousy when my garden flounders. I also really need some new clothes and can’t afford to go buy all new clothes even if I could find ones that fit me okay. So I need to sew. Then there’s the every day things. Hanging with my family. Giving them some energy. Making doctor’s appointments for Max. We need eye exams. He needs to have his teeth cleaned. On and on and on and on.
On top of all that is my need for hours and hours of mind numbing so that I can handle my anxiety and depression and other mental and emotional discomforts. Plus the large quantities of alcohol I drink to keep myself calm and mellow.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about self care. About what constitutes self care and how much of it I’m actually doing. About what undermines it. I’ve been thinking a lot about a period of time when I was first learning about it when I was 19 years old until I was 20 and living in my own apartment all by myself. I didn’t drink much alcohol (being under age) and I stopped smoking. I began to learn to cook and bake bread and that was the first time I ever got interested in herbology on my own. And I wrote a lot. I wrote a lot of nonsense bullshit crap that’s awful to read now, but I wrote all the time when I wasn’t reading. OR talking to the cockroaches. Or leaving the cockroaches notes to read while I was at work. I drank a lot of coffee. Too much coffee if I’m being honest.
One of the things I developed during that time that I’d never done before on my own was to be on a weekly apartment cleaning schedule. Naturally I always had a schedule for that when I lived with both my parents. But before I was 19 I took no pride in my personal space. I took no care with its upkeep. I was, basically, a slob. But I missed the order of routine. So for the first time in my life I started cleaning once a week, every week. It became a pleasurable routine. I got dressed up to do it. I always put on lipstick and played jaunty housecleaning music like Carmen Miranda or Fats Waller. Then I’d go do my weekly shopping. Also a newly discovered pleasure. Grocery shopping. Though on a tight budget it was the first time I even truly had a budget for groceries like a grown up. I began planning meals for leftovers because I couldn’t afford to eat out at work every day. I loved (and still do) grocery shopping. That was the first time in my life that I started to understand what making a life is all about. Making rhythms and finding ways to take care of myself. Some of those things seem really basic, I know. But these activities are the foundation of self care.
You can meditate, get great exercise, see a therapist, take psychiatric medications, take St. John’s Wort, do great philanthropic works, be a mentor – but if you aren’t caring for your living space, however modest or meager it is, your mental, emotional, and spiritual foundation is not strong enough to support you during the worst of times. Think of depressive episodes as earthquakes and your living space and your daily routines are the foundation of your house. If you don’t reinforce your foundation, if it’s full of cracks then it can’t weather even mild earthquakes (let alone big ones) and your whole house can topple down around you.
I’ll tell you why it’s important to keep your life foundation strong through routines of self care: the first thing to suffer (for most of us) during a depressive (or other mentally disruptive episode) is our daily routines like cleaning. How can you tell a disorderly mind and spirit? It’s reflected, often, in the environment of the body. You let the laundry slide. You start getting irregular about cleaning. Your exercise routines go by the wayside. And it isn’t our fault. But when these things start to slide our environment can start exacerbating our mental disorderliness. The stronger your foundation of self care routines are, the longer it takes for them to deteriorate and the longer it takes for our environments to become as chaotic and dark as our anxiety or manic swing or depression. Some of us may be lucky and clean our houses even more during these times but in my experience this is not often the case. Few of us are lucky enough to eat better during mental episodes than when we’re at our most balanced.
The last ten years have been a tremendous challenge to me and I’ve struggled this whole time to regain my footing, to re-establish my daily routines of self care, to strengthen a crumbling foundation beneath my feet. My health has suffered. I’ve undermined myself in so many ways. I find myself middle aged and at a crossroads. I’ve actually been at this same crossroads for a couple of years. Moving back to Santa Rosa saved my life. I’ve become healthier mentally and have slowly been reclaiming my space and cleaning more regularly. But I’m so far from having the kind of strong foundation I need to support myself during bouts of bad anxiety and depression.