Yesterday, I took a much needed day off – a mental health day.
Over the past two years, I’ve learned that when I become stressed out and depressed by an event or series of events, I tend to hold these things in and keep barreling my way through life trying to pretend that they aren’t or didn’t happen. This is in large part how I was raised. To state the obvious cliche, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We call this having a good work ethic.
I have also learned that this is not good for me as a long term solution. When life becomes overwhelming, I must take time away from my normal routines and allow myself to process my experiences in a healthy manner; if I don’t and I continue to hold these things inside, I eventually explode and collapse. Exploding and collapsing is a much more costly scenario in terms of sick days and physical and mental well-being. My explosion often takes the form of anger and frustration to the point that I mistreat those around me for no obvious reason; it affects my relationships in a negative way.
So yesterday, after realizing on Wednesday afternoon that I really needed to “check myself before I wreck myself,” I made the decision to take a day off. I don’t do this frequently, but I’ve learned the importance of self-care. I decided that a good way to spend my day would be to tackle a personal project that would, when finished, provide me with a sense of accomplishment and also serve a functional purpose. I needed the positive feelings of accomplishment to help boost my mood. I’d gotten to the point that I wasn’t feeling sad anymore, but rather I wasn’t feeling ANYTHING; I was numb. A job well done would help to restore my emotional balance.
The task I chose was to organize my studio/library. I’d been steadily adding supplies for my various art projects, but not really taking the time to organize. Not only was it time to organize my physical space, but also my emotional space. As I am one of those people who tend to clean and organize when I’m angry or stressed, I often run through conversations/arguments in my mind as I go about the mundane tasks involved in cleaning and organizing. It helps me to process my feelings, consider different points of view, devise solutions to problems, and discover coping strategies for those times when I know I’m allowing the world to get the better of me.
I woke up about a half hour after my usual time. I had my coffee and an English muffin, fed the cats. I did not change out of my PJs and I did not shower; I just went to work. I sorted and organized and put things where they belonged. I labeled boxes and bins. If I had acquired something new and still had no place to put it, I created a spot for it. I took a break and made some new art pieces as Christmas presents for friends. I went back to organizing and sorting. I worked from 8 a.m. to around 1 p.m. when my husband came home for lunch. I ate lunch with him. I took a nap. I went back to organizing and sorting. I hung up some artwork I’d been meaning to get on my wall for quite some time. By the time my husband came home from work, I was nearly done with the room. I spent my evening watching television with my husband and playing with my kitties. The day was perfect.
My old self would never have allowed me to take a day off in this manner. I would have struggled through becoming more and more exhausted and irritable. I had no concept of self-care and no idea how to take care of myself even if I had. Having a major breakdown last year forced me to learn not only how to take care of myself, but that it was vitally important to my physical and emotional well-being to do so. I am not the same person that I used to be. I am much kinder, gentler, and more sensitive these days. I’ve discovered that I am what some would call an empath and often take on the troubles and emotions of others as though they were my own. I hold on to worries and allow them to burrow deep into my core until I am unable to function. But I am also much more aware of who I am, what my needs are (both physically and emotionally), and how to ensure that my needs are met. I’ve learned to ask for help, space, empathy, and affection when I need them.