Note to Self #2: Starting Small

Good morning dear one,

Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

The funny thing about self-care is that you do it all the time even if you don’t call it that. If you’re a living adult not hooked up to life support you’ve been engaging in self-care every day, and like a lot of people you may suck at it.

In your case of course there are considerations beyond being too busy. Having a chronic illness, invisible or otherwise, makes positive self-care way harder just like it makes everything way harder.

Like I said last time, you’re not “normal,” and can’t be. Comparing your own level of self-care to those who are able to function at “normal” levels is not just pointless, it’s toxic; and even if you were of average ability there are always going to be people who can accomplish a thousand things before breakfast and seem to float around the planet in a state of perfect health.

I guarantee those people have problems you can’t see – even the most “together” person gets the shit kicked out of her by life now and then. But you can’t know what other people are dealing with any more than they know what you’re dealing with, so there’s no use in feeling like a failure if your life isn’t an endless Instagram feed of vintage-filtered adventure and kale smoothies that somehow don’t taste like bong water.

You have to pick your battles, especially when things are bad. For a fully able person self-care might include hours of exercise and fresh home-cooked meals every night and weekly mani-pedis. But that’s not you. Besides, you don’t like people touching your feet.

Those Pinterest-friendly lists of “10 ways to practice self-care” aren’t gospel. Fuck spa night! You can barely get out of bed! Again – don’t set yourself up to fail using someone else’s standards.

However, even on bad days, there are ways to do better by yourself.

Start with the absolute basics.

Say you’re lying in bed, paralyzed by the relentless gravity of your own mind, and you know it’s going to be one of those days.

You know what? That’s okay. The world will not end. Forget the rest of the world and focus on keeping your heart beating another day so that when the weight on your chest begins to lighten you’re still here to see the color come back into the world. You don’t have to try and force it – you know that won’t work anyway. All the “positive thinking” in the world won’t turn the planet faster. It’s okay.

It really is okay.

Eventually you’re going to have to pee, though, and that’s a good place to start. After you’re done, wash your hands, then wash your face. Just a bit of water – it’ll help get the sleep gunk and tear residue out of your eyes. That’s it. Just wash your face.

It’s possible this will make you want to brush your teeth. If so, go ahead. If not, that’s fine too, go back to bed. You might not do anything else today, but you did do that.

Next time you get up, eat something. Screw “healthy,” just find something to put in your belly; I’d recommend keeping a stash of something that you know will be there if all else fails. Don’t try to cook – sometimes even the microwave is too much to deal with. On days like this having too many options or too many steps is only going to get you stuck. Find something you can open and eat.

The idea isn’t to try and make yourself feel “better” so much as to make the day a little more bearable.

So don’t choke down a salad or some cardboard-ass tasting protein bar if you don’t enjoy those things. Don’t punish yourself with things you “should” want. Don’t make some “happy thoughts” playlist to force on yourself when you’re drowning. Don’t force yourself to list things you’re grateful for and then feel like a shitty person when you realize you don’t feel grateful for anything right now.

Days like this suck giant hairy goat balls, and you don’t have to feel grateful. Don’t worry about trying to magically shift your mind into a better place. This isn’t a self-help problem. If you had the flu would you consider yourself a failure of a human being? Well, your brain has the flu.

Don’t punish yourself for being ill.

Don’t think “transform” or “fix”.

Think “be gentle.” Think “be kind.”

When you’re feeling better you can work on bigger changes. Like I said, there are things you can do that will help bad days like this come less often, and ways to support your body and mind to give you more resilience when they do come. Wellness is holistic and depends on the interaction of a lot of moving parts, some of which are beyond your control and many of which are not. But those are not concerns for the bad days themselves.

You can be as pissed at yourself as you want for putting off that flu shot, but once you’re actually sick your focus is no longer on prevention, but treatment.

You know those days will happen again – instead of living in constant dread, think of how you can prepare for them better, minimize their disruptive power. You probably can’t stop them, and even predicting them can be a fool’s errand, but you can prepare.

Remember: Kindness. How can you be just a little kinder to yourself on bad days?

Let’s not overcomplicate things – you don’t need some 5-step plan or even a plan, per se, at all; start with just one thing. Think of one thing you could do to make a bad day feel less awful. Wash your face. Put on warmer clothes. Light a stick of incense to make the room smell nicer.

Seem pointless? Look at it this way:

When you’re at your lowest, how do you feel? You feel abandoned, alone. Like the entire world and God above have all left you to bleed to death slowly in the corner of a cold, dark room. Worst of all you feel like you deserve it. Like there’s something so fundamentally broken about you that nothing good or loving should touch you.

Of course none of this is true. But it’s not logical thought that got you here and it’s not logical thought that will get you out. What you need is to feel loved in a way you can accept. We’re not talking hugs and therapy sessions. We’re talking a tiny concrete gesture that tells you, “I love you, and I will not abandon you.” Just a small something to get you through.

Sometimes just that one thing will start a chain reaction that will make a huge difference. Sometimes it won’t and you’ll just go back to bed. But the important thing is that you made it clear to yourself that you were worth caring for, and that you do care.

As they say, if you don’t think tiny things make a difference, try sleeping in a tent with a mosquito.

Buzz buzz buzz…
Love,
Me

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Planner Friday: Lavender Sage

I’m a bit behind in posting my weekly spreads – if you want them as they happen you should follow me on Instagram (not to mention you’ll get all the latest images of my FunkoPop collection which I know you’re all dying for).  

The week of the 6-12 I needed some peace, some quiet.  I recently came up with the idea to scroll for theme inspiration on DesignSeeds – all those lovely color palettes!  I scrolled until I hit upon one that had the feel I wanted; I don’t remember exactly which it was, but there are quite a few with the general scheme I ended up using, like this one:

Then I used it as inspiration to hunt through Pinterest for suitable images.  

I made some quick headers (the font is Julius Sans One), and voila, a soft and gentle color theme that I really, really loved looking at.  

That’s really the point of all of this – what feels good when you look at it?  What makes you want to open your planner and use it?  What makes you leave the pages open and touch them once in a while, smile at the colors or the pictures?  

I like how it has a sort of Jane Austen-y feel to it, maybe because the woman with the book reminds me of Elizabeth Bennett.  It’s feminine without being…girly.  I love the grey-lavender of actual lavender plants, and the grey-green of sage leaves, so they wound up in the theme as well.

(There’s nothing wrong with girly, really, it’s just not what I wanted.)

I was also trying a new meal-planning thing, hence the new sticker, but I ended up not liking it, so this week I tried a new sidebar thing I’ll show you in my next Planner Friday post.  

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Note to Self #1

Hey sweetheart,

It’s been shitty, hasn’t it?  I mean this whole winter has just kind of eaten itself, shat itself out, and left itself out where you could step in it.  What a bastard.

This one’s been especially bad thanks to the world out there going to hell in a Cheeto-colored handbasket.  People have given themselves permission to be as mean and hateful as they want because why not?  Obviously there are no real consequences, and it can even get them into the White House!  

But that’s not you, and right now you need to pull your head out of Twitter and take a breath.  You’re no good to the world paralyzed by despair, and let’s be honest here, your personality is the kind that runs the edge of empathy-implosion even when things are going great.  You take on too many of the world’s sins as if it’s your job to feel the world’s feels, but you’re still just one girl with a brain full of faulty wiring, and if that wiring burns the house down, there’s nowhere for that compassion to live.  

You’re doing okay, though.  Hey, don’t laugh.  You’re still here, aren’t you?  And yeah, you used up your sick days and got zero work done for over a month, but…so?  In the long term view, what’s the big deal about that?  You didn’t hurt anybody.  You’ve had to deal with far worse consequences from far less intense depression, so, overall I think you’re doing all right.  You’ve reached the point of self-reflection where you’re actually being kind to yourself, so, I take that as a good sign.

Here’s the thing, and it’s a combination of something you don’t want to think about and something really cool, so, let’s just get it out there:  This is going to happen again.  Always.  It’s nice to think about your bipolar going “into remission” or whatever but let’s face it, you’ve spent five years trying a couple dozen different meds and combinations (and that’s after over a decade of doing the same thing when you thought you were “just depressed”) and what have you learned?  Nothing “fixed” you.  There is no “fixing.”  And really, overall, the meds haven’t made that much difference in the way this plays out.  Lithium dulled it all down to where you felt like your heart was wrapped in cotton batting, but everything else just offered variations on the theme, with some working better than others at keeping the lows from going as low, which is important and can definitely keep you alive.  The cycle itself, however, is the same regardless.

You’ll feel all right for a while, maybe even great, but eventually it’s going to slide – maybe not as far, maybe not as long, but you got dealt a pretty gnarly hand by the mental illness gods and basically you’ll be pushing that boulder up the hill until the day you die.  

Yeah. You’re mentally ill for life.  That, as Mark Watney would say, is a real dick punch.  

You could get angry about it, I guess.  The world is full of people who feel nothing deeply enough to be destroyed by it – that’s how we all got in this mess, in my opinion, people thinking everything happens “out there” when the truth is it’s all interdependent and connected and therefore “in here.”  There’s no strand of the Web you can yank on without making the whole thing shake, even just a tiny bit.  But all those folks walking around with the luxury of not having to care, not having to fight just to get up in the morning, not understanding why you can’t just “think positive” and “snap out of it…”  Lucky bastards!  You deserve better!  It’s not fair!

It’s not fair.  Never has been.  It’s awful and hard and it sucks that you have to deal with it – you’ve already dealt with enough just from other people hurting you, you shouldn’t have to protect yourself from your own brain.  It’s shitty, shitty, shitty, and you don’t have to pretend otherwise.  Don’t cheapen the hard work you’ve done by pretending the universe did you a mitzvah here.  Any lesson or gift you get from this is the result of struggle and sweat, of nearly drowning and pulling yourself out over and over again.  

Besides, yelling at the sky will accomplish exactly nothing, whether because nobody’s listening or because it’s nobody else’s job to deal with your shit.  If there’s a God, or a Goddess, or a Whatever, you might get a boost from Her, a door opened, maybe a last-minute save, but it’s your life and your work to live it, not Hers.  She ain’t your fairy godmother, babygirl.  Granted, you figured that out back when you were a kid.     

But there’s a difference between accepting that you’re never going to be “cured” and just giving up altogether.  Because yeah, you’ll always slide, but you’ll also always climb out again.  This too shall pass – like food poisoning or a kidney stone.  Assuming it doesn’t kill you, you’ll see another sunrise.

That’s the cool part…although I understand if you think my definition of “cool” needs some revision.  

Every time, you feel the color draining from the world, and you know you’re sliding down, down.  And every time you claw desperately at those shreds of happiness as if you could bring them with you, but you can’t.  You end up in the pit again, staring up at the night sky wondering why, why, WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS?  And every time, you think, “Is this it? Is this the one that kills me?  Is this the one I can’t beat?  Is this going to be the time I can’t climb back up?”

But then you do.

You climb out filthy and battered and exhausted, but you do it.  

Can I just say how badass that is?  

And you’ve learned, over the years, that there are ways to help make that climb a little less arduous, or to make the pit seem a bit shallower.   There are tricks and practices and emergency measures that, when put in place and used properly, really do help.  

The slightly grating yet accurate term for this is “self-care.”

I think it’s time we took a closer look at those ideas and figured out what’s worked and what hasn’t.  You’ve tried so many things in the last 20 years to alleviate the pain, you’ve amassed a gigantic mental library and arsenal of techniques and philosophies ranging from the reasonable to the ridiculous; your application of these things has been a bit slapdash, I’ll admit, but there are plenty of tools in the box.

Time to start going through the box, getting it organized, maybe coming up with a more cohesive and holistic plan – including some measures to put in place for the next time the pit starts beckoning.  I mean sure, often those self-care practices are the first thing to go in hard times – it’s that way for everybody regardless of mental health. In fact entire extremely cynical industries exist to profit on that all too human tendency to fuck up and start over and over and over.  TV ads in January are all the proof of that you need.  

But don’t beat yourself up for being human.  There are definitely worse things to be.

Meet you back here in a bit and we’ll get started.  Sound overwhelming?  Don’t worry…there will be lists.  

Diagrams.  

Possibly stickers.

Knew I’d get you with that one.

Love, always love,
Me.

 

 

 

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Planner Friday: Ugh, January

Well, that whole “2017 is bound to be better than 2016!” is working out great so far.

I’ve been having a really, really hard time brain-wise lately, so all those delightful plans (and when I say plans I mean “that stuff I was excited about for like a week before depression set back in”) are on hold, and that also means my planner life has been kind of shit too.  I’ve put forth some effort in the prettiness department but when it comes to actually writing in the blanks I’ve kind of fallen down on the job.  

It happens.  Even a brand new planner with all the possibility of a brand new year can be shat upon by mental illness, the world going to hell, life just getting too hectic to do more than throw up your hands and just go with it, or a combination of all three.  Here’s January in review, regardless – submitted without commentary because, dear reader, I am weary and want to go watch my newly beloved TV show (Lucifer) and have a long Winter’s vodka.

 

 

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I have altered the sidebar. Pray I do not alter it further.

It’s funny how when people get involved with the whole planner-mania, they do exactly what I did:  BUY STUFF.  

Stickers! Stamps! Dashboards!  Wait, what the hell’s a dashboard? Washi tape! Clips! Bookmarks!  MORE WASHI TAPE!  SO MANY STICKERS! Pens!  OMG more pens!  No wait, I don’t like Erin Condren, let’s try a Filo!  No, a Happy Planner!  Wait, how about a Traveler’s Notebook?  I’M GOING TO NEED MORE STICKERS!

This is of course part of the fun.  Less fun is when you realize how much money you’ve spent on things you never actually use – but part of the process is discovering what you really need in a planner, versus what you want just because it’s pretty or fun.  We all have different planner needs and personalities.  

Most people use a mix of premade stickers, stamps, and so on.  Some people are crazy artistic and doodle or color all over their weekly spreads, or even turn them into art journals and collages.  Some people have tons of functional stickers and barely decorate at all.  It’s all “right,” and it’s all really fascinating to a person like myself who likes to figure out how people tick.

I’ve been through a number of planners in the last few years myself, starting with an Erin Condren, wandering through two sizes of Filofax, trying (and hating) a Traveler’s Notebook system (which is all the rage right now, along with Bullet Journaling), and finally settling for 2016 on a Plum Paper vertical.  Amazingly I stuck with it the whole year, though I did add a sort of modified Bullet Journal for list making and note taking.

Even within my Plum, however, my style and needs have evolved over the last twelve months.  The best example of this is my self-care sticker, which has become quite a different looking beast from its first incarnation.

Incarnation 1: Originally it was meant to be a sticker for every day, as you can see; tiny, cute, but still useful. The problem was it became evident within the first couple of weeks that I was already adding way too much bulk to my planner each week.  (I ended up removing months as I went for the first half of the year because the damn thing was just too thick; I’ve got other ideas on how to keep this year’s from running amok.)  So what if I tried a weekly sidebar?  My sidebar was kind of useless as it was, so:

Incarnation 2:  Still cute icons, but with a full on Baymax.  (I use the Baymax Index, as I call it, to track my mood so I can watch for cycle changes.)  I liked the graph but it was taking up too much space, so I tried boxes.

Incarnation 3: Again I felt like I was using up too much real estate for poor old Baymax, so I tried using my own little drawing of him and squishing him up a little.  I also added a check box for calling my mom every week, and for doing something nice for myself:

Incarnation 4: That was when I realized I was tired of the cute little icons and wanted something more like the sidebar trackers I sold in my Etsy shop.  So I created my own version of that.

Incarnation 5: I liked the format a lot, but it kind of clashed with a lot of the themes I was doing.  What if I tried making it match?

Incarnation 6: So, on the week I did my Peach Trees theme, I tried a sort of ombre-esque color palette, changed up the fonts, and pretty much loved the result.  I set up the file in Pixelmator where each tracker was its own group, and I could go into each and switch the background color and font without much ado.

It is, to be honest, a pain in the butt to switch it out every week, and some weeks I put more effort into it than others.  But the result pleases me so much I keep doing it.  I can always go with the old one in the rainbow colors, which I kept so I could use it when I needed a default, but I do want to create another couple of more generic versions so I can have something to just throw onto the sticker sheet when I don’t feel like screwing with it.

I can even stick a background image in and avoid dealing with the individual box colors entirely if I like.  This one, the starry sky, is one of my absolute favorites, but this week’s is giving it a run for its money just because of the simplicity and elegance of it:

I’ve also changed the headers I use on the daily columns – I started off with a “top three” box, a header for current projects, and one for writing, but over time I realized what I really needed was a straight up to do list, a diary-esque place to note the events of the day, and a place to jot down what I wanted to work on writing-wise and what I’d actually accomplished.  The addition of the shopping list (above) is recent, and I like it. 

I plan to alter the sidebar further in the next week or two, as my needs have again changed.  But this gives you an idea of how your own planner style can evolve (even if you’re not a crazy person with rudimentary Photoshopping skills like me); you don’t have to stick with what you bought the first week if it makes you crazy.  Often you can use what you have in a new way, alter it gently with washi or a white pen, and at least try out new things before you buy new products…although if you’re like most planner fiends, the products are such a huge part of the fun you have a Raskog or at least a shoebox full of your toys.  If you don’t yet…just give it time.  *laugh*  We’re all mad here.

 

Note:  Since people tend to ask, the process of making stickers for each week’s theme takes about two hours from start to finish.  I know the dimensions of the stickers I use by heart, so I can whip out new headers and such in minutes, but resizing images from the internet and then fitting everything on the Silhouette template page takes a while.  I don’t bother making a cut file for my own personal stuff, as that would add another hour at least plus the time it takes to fire up the Cameo and cut the stickers out; usually I use my paper trimmer and a craft knife.  It’s a meditative process to me, and the actual decoration usually happens at Starbucks on Sunday or Monday.  Some weeks I just don’t feel like it, so I slap on some tape and go with it.  If it’s not fun, I don’t do it.  

Note 2:  People also ask about “apply minty paste.”  A long time ago I came across this on Tumblr and thought it was both funny and unsettling and definitely more interesting than “brush your teeth”:

If you want to see how the sidebar, and the rest of my weekly stickers, all work together, have a gander at the Planner Things page.

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