Today I want to introduce you to a new principle: asking the right questions. When you don’t feel good, instead of asking “What’s wrong with me?”, ask “What do I need right now?” or “What is my body trying to tell me?” I find the former usually precedes a downward spiral while the latter two are more solution-oriented. Thing is, I already know what’s wrong with me– I’m anxious and depressed, that’s what’s wrong with me! The question is, how can I make it better?
The Self-Aware Self-Care Checklist
When you are mentally disordered, it is important for you to become self-aware. It’s one of the first steps to figuring out your treatment plan. Know thine enemy, know thyself. So, when you’re feeling really awful (or somewhat awful), go through a checklist. Here’s a checklist I came up with that I use:
- What have I eaten in the past twenty-four hours?
- How much have I eaten today?
- How much have I eaten over the past week?
- How much water have I drank today?
- Have I ingested any caffeine?
- How much sleep have I gotten in the past two weeks and what quality of sleep have I gotten in the past two weeks (the body carries sleep debts for about two weeks)?
- What have I been dreaming about?
- Have I gotten in any movement, exercise, or stretches recently?
- Have I spent any time socializing with friends and family?
- Have I spent enough time alone?
- Have I rested?
- What stressors have come up lately? This includes microstressors (like bad traffic and grocery shopping in a busy store with grumpy people and errands and daily hassles), as well as major stressors (like moving, exam time, deadline for a major project at school or work, starting a new job, chronic illness, death of a loved one, etc) and triggers (seeing something that reminds you of a trauma or loss).
- Could I be coming down with a cold or flu?
- Have I developed any new allergies (since allergies can come and go)?
- Have I been taking my medication consistently?
- Have I started any new medications or gone off any old medications?
- Where am I at in my monthly cycle?
- Am I taking any hormone therapies or birth control pills that might alter my mood?
- What kinds of thoughts have I been thinking today?
Any and all of these things can affect you. How much varies from person to person. The point of this exercise is to recognize any factors that might contribute to how you’re feeling right now. Once you identify these factors, you can set out to remedy the problem.
I’d like to call a quick bit of attention to the last question on that list: “What kind of thoughts have I been thinking today?” I’m only going to cover this briefly here because I’m planning on writing a full post on thought patterns later, but people often underestimate the power their thought patterns have over their emotions. Tracking your thought train is really important! When I’m feeling down, I can often backtrack over my thoughts and find the exact thought that started my downward spiral. Then I learn to halt that thought in its tracks and think about something better.
“What Do I Miss?”
Another question to ask yourself is what you miss about this relationship. Do you miss the person themself or the way they treated you or made you feel? I think this is important to ask yourself especially if you’re going through your first break-up and I did ask myself this.
I concluded that it was a combination of all three. I loved the person he was, but also the way he treated me– the way he talked to me, looked at me, said my name, teased me, flirted with me, touched me– and made me feel. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love him for his own sake, because I did, but there were many reasons I loved him and his behaviour was one of them.
Loving someone for their behaviour doesn’t make you shallow. Behaviour is an expression of a person’s character and may be the only thing you can truly know about a person and it’s perfectly reasonable to like someone better if they’re treating you good. That doesn’t cheapen your feelings for them.
When I asked myself this question, I realized something: that maybe I could fall in love again. Part of why I fell for him was because of his obvious interest in me and the way he interacted with me and with other people. Perhaps I would fall for someone again if their behaviour was similar. Don’t get me wrong, I still really care about him and miss him and kinda want him back, but this helped me realize that I don’t need him in order to be happy, which is really empowering.
“What Can I Learn From This?”
Asking yourself what you can learn from this is not necessarily taking on the blame for the way the relationship ended. You can still place the blame squarely on your ex’s shoulders if that is where it belongs.
The point of this is to think of how you can apply your past to your future and turn your pain into gain and your regrets into potential. This is about learning new life skills that can be applied anywhere in your life, not just in romantic relationships. This is about becoming the best you you can be, for you.
Has this taught you anything about yourself or how you handle relationships? Are there any things you need to change or would like to change? Any problems you might have to anticipate and prepare for? Any areas where you would like to grow? What does the life you dream of look like? Who do you want to be?
I’ve also asked myself these questions.
I’ve learned that I need to get to know myself better, particularly my spiritual beliefs, and one day get them down on paper to make them more coherent.
I’ve learned that I’m too respectful of others and too inclined to be understanding and too afraid and that I need to be more assertive and confront people when there’s a problem instead of just hoping the problem will go away.
I’ve learned that I try too hard.
I’ve learned that though I can be very proficient and articulate at communication, there are areas where I do need to communicate more clearly and that sometimes the reason my communication is muddied up is because I don’t fully understand what I’m talking about and need to do more research on the subject.
I’ve learned that I need to say when I’m still working things out in my head and when I haven’t fully made up my mind on things because I haven’t gathered enough information yet and when I will need more time to process things.
I’ve learned that the gender roles I was taught growing up and the lack of sex education and the lack of people talking real talk about their romantic relationships and how they deal with conflict with their partner has really messed me up.
I’ve learned that me being tired is a fact of life and I need to get up and make myself do things anyway and that once I do I’ll likely feel more energetic or at the very least feel like a productive human being.
I’ve learned that I do need my antidepressants and probably should’ve started taking them sooner.
And I’ve decided that I will never let things get as bad as they did again and that I will learn all that I can to make that statement true.
So this has been a lot of learning and growth for me. Am I going to thank my ex for this? No. Absolutely not. I’m sick of people justifying suffering just because I might learn something from it, especially when I can learn the lesson in a far gentler way.
This has been like learning to swim while drowning in a riptide. It’s much better to learn how to swim in a pool with an instructor and a lifeguard over the course of the summer. So far, my psych education has taught me that gradual learning in a safe environment is the most effective. But regardless of whether people provide the opportunity and environment for safe and gradual learning, I am going to learn because I am determined to learn because learning is life.
And that’s really what this whole post and asking all these questions is all about: learning— learning about yourself and how to become the person you want to be and taking steps to create the life that you want for yourself.
And, coming from a psych major here, learning is a mechanism that can change you right down to your very DNA (this is epigenetics– life experiences can alter gene expression). Your brain is wired to learn and adapt, from before you were born up until the day you die. I consider learning to be among the powerful forces in the universe. Use it and one day you’ll create a beautiful life.