Saturday, February 4, 2017

What Nourishes Us

My therapist dumped me a couple of years ago.

It sucked and I mention it only because it's important to realize that when getting help with our mental health, sometimes people aren't a good fit. For a long time, I felt like it was "my fault" that she stopped treating me, but looking back I realize that she wasn't capable of helping me. I needed a different kind of help, more support to help with my chronic forgetfulness, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. She couldn't do that for me.

However, she did give me one piece of advice that stuck with me. We were discussing how regular exercise and healthy eating habits could positively affect my mental health. I balked, getting defensive, saying that I've never been good at taking care of myself that way, and that I'd never be good at it.

She paused and said to me, "Laura, it's like you don't believe you deserve to take in what nourishes you."

The poetry of this sentiment floored me. My mind began sifting through the layers of meaning as the tears began building. I felt seen and vulnerable and scared. What did it mean that I didn't believe I deserved to be nourished? Why did I run myself down without refueling? Why did I take in the crap of the world and expect to keep going?

Since then I've found a new therapist who has really helped me dig into some of these issues. For me the reasons I didn't want to nourish myself stemmed trauma caused by a sexual assault, my experiences with religion, realizing I'm queer, and some other things. I still struggle with these issues along with perfectionism and negative self-talk. Not only did I not believe I deserved to eat healthily, I also didn't believe I deserved kindness, forgiveness, and even love. But I do. We all do. I learned/am still learning that.

During the election, I found myself feeling how I did before: strung out, fearful, completely drained of energy and motivation. When Trump was elected, I feared I would fall into an even deeper depression. Being pregnant forced me to confront these feelings right away; I couldn't risk falling back into the deep depression I felt before. It wasn't just me on the line now. I wasn't just nourishing myself. I'm so grateful that my experience of motherhood has helped me realize I need to take care of myself too. I feel like the opposite is often true for many parents, especially mothers.

Spending time with these guys feeds my spirit!
When I scroll through my Facebook feed or talk to friends or to Sal, I recognize this look of burnout, of fear, of building depression and near-constant anxiety. It started me thinking about nourishment again.

Then I read an article on Medium entitled "How to #StayOutraged" Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for The Resistance" by lawyer and feminist Mirah Curzer. In this piece, Cruzer discusses how important self-care is as an activist. Getting good sleep, eating well, exercising, seeing a therapist, being in nature, and spending time with people we love are all incredibly important acts that must be included in your activism:
"...this stuff is even more important when you’re living under the strain of an oppressive government. You need a strong foundation from which to fight, so take care of the basics."
Healthy snacks = Activism!
I must point out that these "basics" are not so basic to everyone. Having the time to take care of oneself is a privilege. I'm grateful every day that I can afford healthy food, have time to go for a walk, have good health insurance, and have a great therapist. But rather than feeling guilty because so many people don't have the ability to do this kind of self-care, I do it anyway. That's how we leverage our privilege, whatever it may be.

Consider your own privilege when taking care of yourself and feel grateful when you do. Gratitude is how we fight off the guilt of privilege. Make it a part of your activism. Radically love yourself. Radically nourish yourself.

So, what are some things you can do to take care of yourself? This is simple. Regular hygiene, a good night's sleep, and eating your vegetables is a great start. Also, praise yourself when you do these things. Why? Because we make ourselves feel like shit when we don't, so why not do the opposite and pat ourselves on the back when we do?

You can also do little things like listen to music that feeds our souls, read poetry and novels that inspire us, take a few minutes to do a mindfulness exercise, or complement ourselves. These are all big parts of self-care.

Need some more specific examples? Here's what I've been doing:

  • Cooking healthy & delicious meals for myself and Sal
  • Drinking half-caff coffee so I can sleep well at night
  • Taking my medications and seeing my therapist
  • Reaching out to friends and family for social interaction
  • Spending time just playing with my son
  • Going to a support group for new moms
  • Keeping my home clean and organized so I feel sane
  • Reading poetry about motherhood
  • Reading Senator John Lewis' autobiographical trilogy March

Seriously, BUY THESE BOOKS.
That last one is truly inspiring. Looking at the adversity that Black Americans faced for centuries and learning more about the Civil Rights Movement really fed my spirit. They literally faced death when they marched. Many people today still face death when they march. My privilege very much insulates from these dangers, but that just makes me more grateful and inspired. I think we can all learn from and be inspired by our Civil Rights Leaders, leaders in the fight for LGBT rights, Workers' Rights - whatever speaks to you.

So what are you doing to take care of yourself? Or what do you want to be doing? What do you aspire to do?  What nourishes you? Start with the basics and build from there. Let's crowdsource a list of self-care ideas and inspire one another!
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