I often find myself going through periods of time where life becomes very mundane. I start feeling the weight of my responsibilities and I turn my focus from thriving to surviving. Maybe it’s the seasonal depression or maybe it’s the struggles of navigating a post-pandemic world, but the once-colorful world goes very gray.
In times like these, I wake up every day with no energy. I know what I need to do, but I just simply don’t want to do it. I know that I need to get out of my head, but there’s powerful resistance stopping me from doing so. You see, with depression, the cycle never stops until you actively stop it. And with depression, you rarely have the motivation to do so.
We’ve heard it many times before. To free yourself you need to eat healthier, sleep better, exercise, socialize, etc. There’s so much out there guiding you around self-care and the right way to do it. But we tend to forget the self in self-care. We tend to think it’s a one-size-fits-all guide. And so, the failure to comply with this mandated self-care only adds to the feelings of inadequacy we experience.
I’m your typical type A perfectionist. I often mistake myself as a robot and the cycle of self-guilt is a very familiar place to me. When I get in a rut, I go through periods of lack of energy and the odd sudden burst of energy to “get my life together”. In those moments, I go all robotic and want to do everything for “self-care”. One week I can’t get myself out of bed and the next I suddenly want to meal prep, sign up for the gym, catch up with all my friends, and get up-to-date with my to-do list. And as expected, I burn out once again after a few days and find myself back on square one of this highly resistant rut.
I’ve only learned more and more recently the importance of listening to my mind and body. I realized that during this time, I never once stopped and asked myself what I needed. I wanted to stop feeling so fragile and reclaim my days. And so, the absolute first step of self-care became finding out what my “self” needs. To do so, I needed self-awareness. I journaled more and more about what I’m feeling to understand.
By doing that, I got to the second step which was accepting what I am going through. As the type of person being susceptible to toxic productivity, I had to come to terms with the fact that I will simply not be “productive” in its career-oriented capitalist definition. I had to reconsider my priorities and put my well-being up there. And here comes the hardest part: I started giving myself grace. And with that, I learned self-care cannot happen without self-love.
After the mental work, it was time to reconsider my daily routines and activities. Yes, I still believed I needed to work on my eating, sleeping, socializing, and so on. But I realized in order to reclaim my days, I needed to go slow. We are simply humans, and to establish, or return to, habits and routines, one change must occur at a time. So, I did it week by week. One week I pushed myself to focus on my studies. Once I felt comfortable studying again, I considered exercising more and slowly introduced that.
On social media, we often see a one-off instance of a person committing acts of self-care. To see results and heal from burnout, we need to stick to these routines and practice them frequently. In practice, this is much easier said than done. Some days I simply did not want to see my friends and would rather stay at home. And here I learned the importance of patience. For our routines to become sustainable, we need patience and self-acceptance if things don’t go our way. Many days we’ll put all our energy into doing something we know will make us feel better and still fail to do it. Or we’ll get ourselves to do it, but we won’t see any results. It’s extremely frustrating, but we need to comprehend that it is entirely okay.
On days where my routines failed or I simply felt lower than usual, I had two options; either beat myself up for it or simply face myself with kindness. My instinct was to beat myself up. When I did so, I fell victim to the guilt cycle, and that only made healing more difficult. Instead, when I faced myself with kindness, I patiently braved through the day and once again attempted to listen to my mind and body. Most times, I found out I needed more rest, physical and/or mental. And when I gave myself what I was so desperately asking for, I appreciated what resting was doing.
And still, with all that, there are days where the monster of depression is bigger than me. There are days where my head is where I’d rather be and my thoughts are too loud to ignore. But to reclaim my days, I needed to let go of the need to control. I needed to learn that it is okay to be in a rut. It is okay if things don’t go my way. It is okay to feel resistance.
And only when I gave myself the patience, grace, and kindness to appreciate that did I fall back in love with the mundanity of everyday life. And only then did the paint palette of the world I see slowly become more colorful again. And those colors slowly but surely painted a picture of thriving instead of merely surviving.