My own experience has shown me that it’s most difficult to practice self-care at the times when I need it most. A few years ago, when my mental health symptoms were at their worst, and when I was at the very beginning of my therapeutic journey, the idea that doing something as simple as buying myself flowers or listening to classical music might help me to feel better, would have seemed ridiculous and even offensive. It would have felt like it was trivialising or minimizing my distress. Self-care felt not just impossible to do, but impossible to entertain as a concept. However, as my recovery has progressed, I have been able to take little steps towards self-care, and that’s particularly true of the way in which I now approach therapy breaks.
I find the summer therapy break the most difficult, mainly due to its duration. I usually have three sessions per week, but I have a five or six week break in August/September, which is a significant gap. Over the last eighteen months I have found myself building a small ‘toolkit’ of strategies, and I have found that even the act of planning and putting those strategies into action, acts as a motivator and a form of self-care. Being pro-active about how I will cope, particularly at the very start of a break, helps me to begin in a positive way. The little things I put in place then help me to keep going and to bridge the gap - the idea being that they should prevent me from sinking into a deep depression, rather than lifting me out of one.
In this post I describe – in no particular order! - the acts of self-care that have helped me most during therapy breaks.
Connect with your inner child
This can be done in various ways; personally, I try and go to the cinema to watch kids’ films (it helps that I have small children!), and I also read children’s books. I find that books and films aimed at children have a wonderfully simple but powerful way of reminding us of important life lessons, and connecting us with our emotions. I find them thought-provoking, and an excellent way of consolidating lessons learned in therapy. In addition, connecting with my inner child also connects me very directly to my feelings of sadness around missing my therapist, in a way that feels very validating.
Listen to classical music
I find that classical music stabilizes me and keeps my emotions ‘on a level’. I tend to avoid pop music during a therapy break because I find that both the rhythm and the lyrics serve not just as a good indicator of my mood, but as a mood enhancer (whatever that mood may be). Pop seems to feed my emotions and their intensity, whereas classical music tends to calm them, making it less likely that I will start to swing between high and low moods. I know that my therapist likes cello music, and so listening to that also helps me to feel more connected to her.
Buy yourself a small treat
I find it helpful for this to be an item I buy mainly during therapy breaks rather than at other times (so that it’s meaning is particularly connected to therapy). Personally, I also like to buy something practical! It can be edible, or a piece of equipment, or clothing, or anything that works for you. During breaks, I like to buy interesting or unusual pairs of socks, and I was particularly excited last summer when I discovered socks by a company called ‘Therapy’ – they even say ‘Therapy’ on the bottom! As an added bonus, it was lovely sharing my excitement with my therapist, the first time I saw her after that break.
The mental health charity SANE provides a free service called Textcare. You can sign up either for a one-off text at a specific time, or five weekly texts (at the same time each week). You specify the day and time, and you provide a little information about why you’re requesting the service. This helps SANE tailor the texts to you, so that they are more personal and supportive. I have used this fantastic service during the last few breaks, and have asked for the texts to be sent at a time when I would normally be in session. By letting me know that I am supported, they also prompt me to remind myself that I am kept in mind by my therapist, and that I matter.
I knew I could never stick to keeping a diary, and the idea of a ‘gratitude journal’ really jarred with me. I felt that it was slightly ‘artificial’ to try and feel good about something even in a dire situation, and that trying to feel happy or grateful was an added pressure in an already stressful environment. However, last summer I decided to capture my longest ever therapy break via a daily tweet. I had no preconceptions around what I would tweet about, but I thought it might provide a useful distraction and a helpful record, as well as being a means of reaching out for support. It proved to be more helpful than I could have expected, and I did the same during the most recent Christmas and Easter breaks. Though I tweeted about difficult feelings, I also found that without realising it – and despite my aversion to gratitude journals! - I was trying to post at least one ‘grateful tweet’ every day. I have also created a scrapbook of my therapy break tweets, which was a self-care exercise in itself. It is also a lovely record and memory of what my therapy breaks have taught me.
Clara blogs at LifeinaBind