It was recently explained to me this way: I have a deck of cards – my priorities – and when I get stressed I rearrange those cards putting everything higher than myself. Self-care gets placed lower and lower in the stack until I become desperate and cannot reach that bottom rung on the ladder of health and homeostasis.
It is a slippery slope and I don’t notice that I’ve sunk into a desperate place until it’s too late.
I think most of us thrive on routine but for me it is a matter of survival. Mental illness has a nasty way of making “mountains out of molehills”. The smallest thing truly becomes an insurmountable mountain. I have systems that I rely on so that I don’t have to spend as much precious energy on basic things. Things like bags packed for kids the night before, medication sorted ahead of time so that when my reminder alarms sound I can take it immediately, not having another cup of coffee until I’ve eaten breakfast, eating not only breakfast but lunch and dinner as well . . . .
I park in the same place at the grocery store. At a store I don’t normally go to I find a lamppost to park by so that I can find my car more easily. I’m so afraid that I’m going to be spacing out and forget where I parked. I’m obsessive about where my things are in my purse and backpack. The effort it takes to search for something is just too much sometimes and puts me over the edge.
People who perhaps don’t struggle as much functioning day-to-day would perhaps not understand how others need systems, habits, automation – just to stay more sane. I don’t know why I have to think so much and try so hard to eat, take my medication, be prepared ahead of time so that I’m not frantic trying to get out the door in the morning with two small children. Clutter builds up in the house and the kitchen gets so gross that my toddler is eating old food off of the counter and I’m freaking out – berating myself that my kid may get food poisoning from my neglect.
You can perhaps see where this is going. It starts so small: a little less sleep, skipping breakfast, missing a dose here and there. Then what feels like all of a sudden I am buried in stress: everything around me and the tasks I must do are triggers for a panic attack.
My systems are part of my self-care: they are my “helpers”. They make things easier for me. So systems fail when my deck of cards gets shuffled to my disadvantage and . . . sh*t falls apart. I fall apart. Things fall apart.
All I can say is that I need to be kinder, gentler, and more patient with myself. Easier said than done but I must try. I suspect that no matter what a person’s trials and daily struggles are that we could always use more self-care and self-kindness.
Be well, Friends. I know you are trying. I am too.