Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Realistic Self-Care

woman in white long sleeved shirt holding white ceramic mug

Photo by bruce mars on

I hate articles about self-care for mental illness such as the one I saw recently that said:

…[W]ays I practice self-care include swimming and Pilates, getting regular massages, spending time with friends and family, since staying connected is an essential part of emotional health at every age, watching TV, and seeing movies. I also love going for walks, especially near Santa Monica beach, and reading or listening to books.

If I could do all those things, I wouldn’t need self-care! When I’m depressed or anxious, I cannot make myself swim or exercise, or even get out of bed and shower at times, which lets out going to the movies and spending time with friends, too. I can maybe read a book or listen to a podcast if I’m not too twitchy and if my attention span and concentration will cooperate. And I can sit on the sofa and watch TV, but that feels like uselessness, not self-care.

Plus, guess what? A lot of those activities cost money.  Massages, movies, exercise classes (for which you need exercise clothes), and swimming (for which you need a swimsuit) would all require “shopping therapy,” which I loathe IRL and can’t afford online.

I personally would love a massage, but that’s not self-care for everyone. As Emily Roberts points out in “Self-Care for Mental Health: Find Ways That Work for You”:

The myth of a massage as an essential self-care activity – or anything that makes you more anxious – isn’t helpful for your mental health. I didn’t listen to my body the first time I booked a massage and guess what? It was so triggering to my body I couldn’t even finish it….I started to cry and couldn’t compose myself 10 minutes into the appointment. I was embarrassed and confused. I thought, “This stuff works for all the people in the magazines. What is wrong with me?”

I decided that booking an extra appointment with my therapist and having a date with my best friend was more helpful as self-care for my mental health than pushing myself to practice self-care in the way the media was telling me to.

One person’s mani-pedi can be another’s nightmare. I much prefer small ideas for self-care rather than big expeditions or splurges. For me, comfort food is one form of self-care. It has to be something I can make easily, though, like frozen mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese, or French bread pizzas. (The microwave is my friend.)

Of course, these comforts require a little planning when I’m not overwhelmed to the point that I need self-care to restore me. I must think ahead, during those times when I’m able to go to the store, to bring home the foods that are easy to make yet soothing.

Another self-care technique I came across is definitely more my speed. Caiti Gearsbeck, in “Make Your Own Mental Health Self Care Kit” offers a simple, DIY alternative. She recommends filling a shoebox or other box with soothing things that appeal to all five senses, plus a few activities. Here are a few of her examples:

Sight: photos, cards, and letters

Smell: essential oils or candles

Taste: chocolate or tea

Sound: meditation CD or an mp3 player with a playlist

Touch: soft cloth or stuffed animal, stress ball or fidget cube

Activities: coloring books and pencils, a journal, a favorite movie

She adds: Whatever works for you!

For me, that box would contain photos, Irish Spring soap, oolong tea, an mp3 player, a stuffed animal (I have lots to choose from), and a CD of The Mikado. I’d need a cat in the box, too. But given the nature of cats, there would probably be one in there anyway, whether I wanted it or not. All of that is stuff I have around the house, unless I’m out of Irish Spring or oolong. Add a quiet room like the bedroom or my study and I’m all set. At least until I can afford a massage.



Comments on: "Realistic Self-Care" (15)

  1. Thank you. These “suggestions” can be extremely frustrating. I try to remind myself that the person offering suggestions means well, yet has no understanding of what it’s like living with mental illness. It’s not easy to do, though, especially when you see the frustration in their face that you’re not “willing” to follow their advice.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’d say a cat a) walking on you, or b) sitting on you and purring is a pretty darn good at-home massage.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Self-care helps me when I’m doing well, but goes out the window if I’m depressed. I splurge on manicures though I don’t enjoy them, I just enjoy my nails being done, not the process. So many people find a mani-pedi relaxing. I don’t get it. I skip the pedi as that would be torture and more money. An exercise class would also be torture. I like that you pointed out what is self-care to one person is stressful to another.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do love massages when I can afford them, but a mani-pedi would be right out. I bite my nails (and tear at my toenails) so I would be severely embarassed.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I over tip my nail tech because my hands are often sweaty, lol


      • Yow, that reminds me of the time that I’d bitten down my fingernails so far that my only remaining option was to bite my toenails. I did that until … until when, I can’t recall, which I’m sure is better for everyone!


  4. “Taste: chocolate”

    The chocolate would not last long in the box.

    Okay, it would be nibbled at while trying to figure out what else goes well with chocolate. And then it would need to be replaced.


  5. My self-care when I am in the midst of anxiety and deeply stressed includes rereading a favorite book, walking outside, eating comfort food (Doritos!!) and snuggling with my sweetie. When I was having a very difficult time when I was preggy with my first (so much anxiety) I did a TON of coloring, helped a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I learned once that, although Memory is the best of Lois Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, it is not the right book to re-read when the meds are messing with my memory. Now my go-to Lois comfort book is A Civil Campaign.


  6. lavendertherapy said:

    I love this box idea, since it would be simpler than trying to remember where so many items are during a time that calls for them.


  7. I haven’t got as far as putting that box together yet. I have every intention of writing things I like on post-its around the house as a reminder to do them. Sometimes I even forget what it is that I like to do. Thank you for this post,


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