Self-care is all the rage these days- but, is it really?
I’ve been away, if you hadn’t noticed- and will probably be away for a little more time until I level out. I’ve been going through something that I’m not entirely sure I’m going to be able to accurately put into words, let alone convey with any real meaning.
And, for some reason, it’s difficult for me to even want to talk about. Our society likes to pretend it’s all about mental health and self-care, but in reality, if you’re south of the border on the neurotypical scale, you tend to get labelled with the “attention-seeker” badge quite often by [ironically] those who scream the loudest for inclusivity.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually like being the center of attention. I like teaching, and obviously, I like writing and having an audience- but when that audience is focused on me, as the subject, I clam up and suddenly have nothing to say.
But, this topic is important to me, for many reasons. One, it’s affected my life and disrupted things for a bit; and, two, it’s something we- as a people- need to start being more open and accepting of, and if my openness can help even one other person, then it was worth it.
I’ve promised, since day one of this blog, that I would be honest in all things- as the premise behind The Spiritual Garden is that I’m not just growing in my witchiness, but as a complete and well-rounded person. In saying that, I can only be as honest with you all as I am with myself.
And, I lie to myself, a lot. Not in the cute “fake it ’til you make it” way the motivational posters want you to lie to yourself. Oh, no. I’m not to be trusted when I’m conversing with my inner me- as I could sell myself ice in the middle of a snow storm at the North Pole. I’m that good and I don’t even know it most of the time.
For a long time, almost a decade, actually, I’ve been telling myself that I have my mental health under control. I’ve even applauded myself for being open about my diagnoses, believing that by providing people with my labels it excused the mess I was making.
In hindsight, I see now how much time I wasted thinking I was okay- knowing full-well that I wasn’t. Because I haven’t been okay, not for a while.
Recently, the toll of lying to myself caught up to me, and I started showing signs of a complete mental break down.
It started about six months ago, though, even just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have openly admitted that. I began losing interest in things. It started small, as it usually does, with agitation and boredom, and snowballed into the worst experience with my mental health that I’ve ever had.
I’m used to chronic cycles of depression and mania in my life, so unfortunately, I ignored a lot of symptoms until they grew large and out of control. When I started losing interest in things, looking at it now, I should have seen that I was headed for a deep depression- but at the time, I thought I was just ready for change. I’d been doing so well growing out of my shell, after all.
I began overcompensating for my ensuing “boredom” with more tasks and adventures outside my comfort zone- stressing my already fragile sense of stability. I was falsely proud of myself for moving outside my usual introversion, and began piling more and more onto my plate. Most people don’t realize this about me, probably because I don’t act like it around those who don’t know me well, but I’m actually very much a quiet person. I can go (and literally have gone) months without interacting with anyone but my little family. Most of my hobbies are introverted, like reading or writing, and getting me to open up about anything important is almost torture. I live in my head- I’ve always been that way, and will likely always be that way.
Not that I don’t have friends, or people I care about outside my family, but I am that bad friend who is just fine checking in from afar most of the time. Unfortunately, I don’t care about the trivial things that happen in people’s lives, and I find that most people expect me to care about them in order to be friends; like, I don’t care what someone had for dinner last night, or whether or not they’re going to Target after they go to Yoga on Tuesday- my brain just isn’t wired to process those details with any reverence. I forget them, which means I don’t share them from my own life, either.
Instead, I crave depth. I want to know what someone values, what they believe in, what they think about. What is it that makes them who they are in their own unique way- because those are the things I’m constantly thinking about in my own life. I want to know how they feel about things, what their favorite movies are, etc. I want shared experiences and discussions that show me who they are, in that moment. Strangely enough though, most people don’t discuss those things freely like I do- as if they’re afraid of offending someone with who they are.
So, most of my relationships with other people take real work on my part- mentally, emotionally, and physically. I have to literally write notes to myself, reminding me to check in on people, to call this person, or text that one back- because my brain is constantly moving too fast for me to remember these things on my own. I have to think, in advance, about conversations to have or things to ask to play my part in normal friendships. I have to question myself, constantly, as to whether I’m being intrusive or interested- and as a socially anxious introvert, the balance is very difficult to discover. All in all, it’s exhausting, and in all honesty, extremely painful for me.
It makes me question what’s wrong with me, on a regular basis, that I can’t be normal and care about the little things like everyone else seems to without having to expend so much brain power on it. I almost wonder if I’m not on the Spectrum, because that’s how difficult I view social interactions that have no depth. I’d rather just sit in my bubble, alone, than keep up with all the trivial details of everyone’s life that won’t matter next week.
Yet, recently, I decided to cover up my “boredom”. I wanted to be more social because that’s what “happy” people do. I wanted to be that butterfly, like my friend Sara, who is connected to everyone around her. I wanted to be known, recognized, and loved as much as I wanted to love others. Not in the perverse or arrogant way of celebrities, but in the friendly way that seems so easy to everyone else but me.
You see, because I lie to myself. I’d convinced myself that it was loneliness that was triggering this boredom, and my loneliness could only be rectified by spreading myself thin with projects, tasks, and people.
I’ve done this before a few years ago- with disastrous results. It led to me completely breaking away from social media for two years, in hopes of regaining myself- but I didn’t see the signs this time. Instead, I thought it was growth and I kept spreading- thinking that this uncomfortable feeling I was experiencing would pass.
I didn’t notice that in taking on these projects and tasks, trying to be the socialite that I am not, I was using it as cover for all the areas I was beginning to neglect. I was hiding behind interactions with others, because I was in the process of falling apart.
My diet, which I’d worked really hard to get under control, went first- from there, it snowballed into every area of my life. I picked up smoking again for a few months, then I started neglecting my house, my duties as a wife and mother, and finally, everything in between.
Then, the last straw, my body began falling apart. In the past six months I’ve been to the hospital twice for chest pains, fully believing I was dying, only to be told there was nothing wrong with me. Since the middle of February, it’s been an everyday occurrence.
I began to believe I was crazy. My body would go into these episodes, and I would know, instinctively, that I was dying- and my brain would spin back and forth between believing my body and trying to convince itself that I was fine. I stopped eating, afraid that food was causing it. I stopped sleeping, as I’d begun waking up in the middle of the night feeling as if I was suffocating. I stopped exercising, or being active at all, because I was afraid it would trigger another attack.
Of course, WebMd and Doctor Google only made what I was going through worse. Having family come in town that fed into my symptoms, and other aspects of my illness and stress, also didn’t help.
My heart was failing, and I was dying.
For weeks, other than putting on appearances for other people, I stopped living. I became a zombie, glued to my computer screen, begging for the escapism of television to take my mind off the inevitable death that I was going to experience. I stopped being a mom, a wife, or even a person. I stopped bathing regularly, and stopped leaving the house- or even the couch.
The entire time, my sanity started slipping. I began spiraling into a panic about everything. Days went by without me sleeping more than an hour or two at a time because I was so afraid I wouldn’t wake up.
I was not functioning any more. I’d lost control of the horses and the wagon was careening toward a cliff.
I tried spells, baths, teas, rituals, writings, routines, regimes, talking, sharing, reading, escaping, and everything in between, and nothing saved me.
I was drowning in my own madness and started considering drastic measures to escape.
My husband, the closest person in my life, didn’t even know how bad it was getting- though he definitely noticed I was falling apart- because I was hiding it out of pure fear.
Finally after much discussion, I caved and went to a doctor- knowing they were going to dismiss what I was going through because I’m mentally broken. No one takes us broken folks seriously.
You see? I lie to myself quite well. I’m also really good at projecting those lies onto other people.
It wasn’t the doctor who didn’t take me seriously, it was me. My brain had done everything but hang a sign around my neck, begging me for help, and I ignored it in favor of “coping” and “self-care”.
I’ve been on meds for two weeks, and other than right now- writing and reliving the absolute panic and terror I felt, I haven’t had an episode in several days. My sleep schedule is still messed up, and I’m still climbing out of a deep depression, but I’m returning to the me I want to be.
I was dying. Not in the way I thought, or the way Google made it seem (my heart is fine), but mentally and emotionally.
Self-care isn’t about bubble baths and face masks, and sometimes, it’s not even about shadow work or removing toxic people- it’s about being real with our needs, and accepting that they must come first.
I thought I was being a good mom by not medicating- showing my son that it was possible to learn coping skills without pills; but in the two weeks I’ve been on meds (that, by the way, I chose for myself- which was liberating) I realize how much I’ve let fall through the cracks. I let my past issues with medications, and an irresponsible doctor, keep me from getting help for a lot longer than I should have. In the past six months, I’ve stopped playing, laughing, and even enjoying our time together. I’ve become an anxious ball of nerves that is constantly and forever on edge- something he’s most definitely picked up on.
I’ve only just begun to realize that even though I was doing right by healing old wounds, and working with my shadow, I cannot heal chemical imbalances with candles and incense.
In these two weeks, I’ve started to see how terrible I’ve treated my loved ones, but most importantly myself. I’ve neglected my needs by providing for everyone else first. I’ve neglected my magick by ignoring medicine.
I should have been on pills a long time ago, because even though I say six months, it’s probably been years of slowly sliding into these most terrifying moments of my mental health. It didn’t spawn over night, but manifested through years of neglect.
Ignoring is not the same as coping.
And magick is not the same as medicine.
It’s important for me to make that distinction, not only for you, but for myself. I cannot handle life alone, apparently. I am broken, and there’s nothing wrong with that- it makes me uniquely me.
I’m allowed to be a witch and take pills to help me function.
I’m allowed to be a witch and not rely solely on my poor (read: nonexistent) coping mechanisms to live.
I’m allowed to be a witch and believe in medicine.
And though I knew that, and have preached it to others who needed help, I was lying to myself- believing that I could heal myself if I wished hard enough. If I believed hard enough. If I crafted just the right spell.
But like I cannot change the circumstances which broke my mind, I cannot magick myself into being who I’m not.
I am a witch on meds, and that’s pretty damn magickal.
Now, the question might be: Why are you telling us this, Nicole? And, I don’t have an answer. Coming out of something so horrifying for myself, and seeing, for the first time in a long time, relief- I need to let it out.
I also feel that there’s a stigma in our community when it comes to being honest about medicine. You can’t be natural and authentic if you take pills. It’s a damning, and frankly (as I’ve seen first hand) dangerous way of thinking.
My goal in life isn’t to be the best witch alive. It’s to be the best me I can be. I’ve been watching Lucifer, a television show about the Devil who abandons hell and moves to Los Angeles. In it, he’s constantly telling people that he doesn’t send people to Hell, they send themselves through their guilt. And, for a long time, I’ve lived with a lot of guilt.
I’ve never been the mom I’ve wanted to be, or even the wife I’ve wanted to be. I considered myself lazy, since I’d wake up with my energy levels already depleted, and constantly wondered why I burdened my family with my apathy. I wanted to be better, but never felt I had the power to be.
Sure, I’d try for a bit, but it always circled back to me growing too tired to continue- and I’d revert to being the mom who couldn’t find the energy to shoot hoops, or the wife who couldn’t find the joy in kissing her husband.
I’ve felt guilt for being that person for a very long time, believing that I was just not made to be better.
Maybe I will never be the Martha Stewart of moms, even on meds. I might not even be the hot and passionate lover my husband deserves, even on meds.
But, climbing out of this dark hole I’ve lived in for a very long time, I realize that I can be better at both. I just needed help.
And, really, that’s my biggest flaw. That’s the Hell I’ve committed myself to, the guilt I carry- never knowing how to ask for help. Or really, never wanting to.
I am not all knowing, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m a witch, but I’m also human- and there’s no separation needed between the two.
Even if I sometimes lie to myself and try to believe there is.
Until next time, my friends…