Before my assault I really didn’t think anything of the term, self care. If anything I rolled my eyes if I heard people talk about it. It sounded weird. Love yourself! It sounded all fluffy and fake to me. Sure, I took care of myself. I got pedicures regularly and bought myself flowers to brighten up my home. I took good care of myself.
One day at my therapists office in D.C., she mentioned self care. I literally rolled my eyes at her and groaned.
“Why are you rolling your eyes?“ she asked.
“I just think it sounds weird to talk about self love/self care. If anything, I feel like I do too many things for myself. I spoil myself rotten! I should think about more people more often. I’m tired of thinking of myself”
And right there is one of the reasons I was at therapy. This beast called rape plays with every part of your life and I didn’t feel worthy of good things or being good to myself.
She calmly told me that self-care is more than the occasional pedicure. It is a mindset to work on so you can take care of yourself. To love yourself…(cringe). I grew up treating other people way better than I treated myself. I was always my worst enemy. I said some pretty nasty things to myself over the years, and it got worse after the assault. I couldn’t love myself, because quite honestly, I didn’t even like myself at that point.
The hardest job I had was being nice to myself. I can lavish gifts and praise on others, but on myself? Absolutely not. Do better. Be better.
What I came to realize is that self-care is eating nutritious food. So, not binge eating ice cream, cheese and pasta and drinking lots of wine? No. Really thinking about the food you put in your body. Is it good for you? Will it help you heal? That is self care. (although a little cheese never hurt anybody!)
Self-care is moving your body. Go for a walk, meditate, take up yoga…just move. So, I don’t have to do cross-fit or something crazy like that? No. Do something you like. Not to lose weight, but to be healthy in your mind, body & spirit.
I lived in a beautiful neighborhood in Virginia that is extremely historic. Walking the cobblestone streets became a habit and a way to get me out of my apartment. I would walk, get some coffee at my favorite shop and just be. Observe people. Look outside of yourself. As long as it wasn’t at night I was fine. Walking by myself at night really brought my anxiety out. Also, walking on trails where there were no other people caused me too much anxiety. What if I got kidnapped and nobody knew I was there? This is a very real fear after ending up in a strangers apartment. So, no trails for me. We’ll stick to cobblestone streets, history & coffee.
Read a book for pleasure. I love to read and typically have many books going at once, but I lost that zest for reading. If I did read anything it was self-help books and articles on how to survive rape.
Do something you love. Before I moved away from Minnesota, I baked quite a bit. It was my stress reliever and I could give away the goodies to make people happy. Since I was in DC I never baked. My kitchen was too small and honestly I wasn’t typically home long enough to warrant messing up my kitchen. Work travel does that to you.
At another therapy session I started talking about my Grandma on my Mom’s side and how I loved baking cookies with her and especially eating them. (Cookie Monster is my favorite character for a reason). I realized after talking about baking cookies with my Grandma that I really missed that and her. So, my therapist suggested that I bake some of Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies. Let me tell you, baking those cookies was one of the best things I’ve done to take care of myself. I felt like my old self! The assault and living in the chaos of DC really caused me to lose my true self.
To ease my PTSD I had acupuncture done for about a year. I never thought that having needles poked into my body would be a welcome endeavor, but it seemed to help calm my nerves. Although, it is a little unnerving seeing needles poking out of you!
I also took a mindfulness class. This actually helped me the most because it taught me breathing techniques and how to quiet my mind when I get overwhelmed.
I reluctantly took up yoga last winter. I just never thought much about it and didn’t understand the meditation. But, when the doctor recommends it you should try it. So, I took a beginner class and after 6 weeks I really enjoyed it. It was a place where I could go at my own pace and focus on my well-being. At the beginning of each class you set your ‘intention’. My intention for the first few months of the year was to ‘do the best you can.’ You don’t have to be the best, win an award, or be impressive. Just do the best you can and that is enough. My mind quieted greatly after I started to do yoga. I had something to do where I wasn’t judged by others and could relax.
For three seasons I loved going to Washington National’s baseball games with some good friends. It was somewhat perplexing to me at first that I would like being in such a large place, with so many people and unexpected noises. What I learned is that the baseball games made me feel safe because I was with trusted friends. Our seats were familiar. The crack of the bat and the cheering was familiar. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer were familiar. It was comfortable. It was actually kind of a sanctuary for me because I could have a lot of fun without being on guard.
I also learned that sleeping is self care. I am a champion sleeper. I have always said that if napping were an Olympic sport that I could contend for a gold medal. When my doctor and therapist told me that I needed to sleep more I couldn’t believe it! I can do that!
Here is the thing I didn’t realize though – the brain needs lots of sleep to heal. I would sleep in on the weekends and take naps when I could, but it wasn’t enough. My therapist said that I needed to sleep with no TV or radio playing. Just be quiet and rest. Your brain processes so much when you are sleeping that it doesn’t need the distraction of outside noise. So, I spent a great deal of time resting. I rested so much that I felt lazy, but my soul was exhausted. I’m finally starting to not need so much sleep and feel a little more normal.
Now that I’m at home the self care continues. My favorite thing to do this past summer was to get my morning cup of coffee and sit outside on the front porch, read the newspaper and enjoy the view on our farm. That is my happy place. I also love walking on our country road. It has been my favorite thing to do since I was a kid. It took me awhile to go for walks when I moved back. It has always been safe, but there is still that deep, dark fear of walking alone. Still working through that one. And, I’m still sleeping like a champ. I think it scares my parents sometimes because I’m sleeping like I did when I was a teenager.
So when you hear about self-care and being kind to yourself, take it seriously. Taking care of yourself is not only important for PTSD survivors, but for everyone. Self-care is not selfish. I’ve learned that I need to take care of myself in order to take care of others. Since I enjoy helping people, I need to be healthy, strong & happy.
I hope that you will give self care a try!