(First thing's first - I'm NOT talking about my husband or my dog!!!)
Part of my job at the hospital is to assess a person's physical ability to navigate their home environment and make appropriate discharge recommendations for them when they leave the hospital. This includes asking about anyone they may have available to assist them. One of the first questions I ask my new patients is, "Do you live with anyone?" There are often times where I meet older women who have had one of their kids move in with them to assist with tasks in the household. These women will often answer with a very firm, "My son/daughter lives with ME," making sure that I understand that this family member has moved into my patient's home, not the other way around.
Now to get to my dreaded roommates. We've all had roommates that we didn't get along with so I think this is a good analogy. Ever since I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety last year, I have often told myself, "I am a person who lives with anxiety and depression," as a method of acceptance, normalization, and person-first language. I have learned that I am not defined by my mental illness. And sometimes I despise my mental illness. So I have chosen to start describing it in the same fashion as the patients I mentioned above - "My depression and anxiety live with ME."
My mind is just that. MINE. It is home to my personality, thoughts, emotions, memories, and much more. It does not belong to my mental illness. My mental illness is like a tenant in my home, or a roommate. I picture my mental illness like characters from the Pixar movie "Inside Out." Depression is like Sadness, and anxiety is like Fear. If you've seen the movie, you could imagine that living with those two characters would make my home a very stressful place.
Depression is the roommate that lays on the couch and does absolutely nothing to help out. I ask Depression to take out the trash, and she says yes but never gets around to it. She's not trying to be a bad roommate, but she just doesn't have it in her to complete that task. Maybe she smells a little bit because she hasn't had the energy to take a shower for a week. She definitely hasn't exercised for months, and typically raids the fridge or pantry whenever anything remotely unexpected happens - even if it's not her food. She also leaves trash and dishes laying around the house and never gets around to cleaning them up.
Anxiety is a whole different beast. Anxiety is always saying how much she has to do but she can't ever seem to figure out how to get started. She's so preoccupied with the idea of perfection that she is afraid to try because she might do it incorrectly. She's constantly rearranging furniture to try to get it just right. She also fixates on tiny little issues in the household that no one else would have even noticed (such as organizing the medicine cabinet or rearranging the home gym area), even though there are much bigger things that need to be addressed (such as dishes, laundry, vacuuming, or putting away Christmas decorations at the end of January). Anxiety is always pointing out things I could do better when she should really take a look at herself in the mirror.
Between the two of these tenants/roommates, I get EXHAUSTED. Sometimes they are on their best behavior and let me go about my day without interfering too much. But other days they are all up in my business and won't leave me alone. Those are the hard days.
I recently had to take a "mental health day" from work. I felt my depression building up to the point that I was crying for absolutely no reason and had a hard time functioning at work. I knew I needed to spend some time doing some self-care to refresh my mind. For the sake of my roommate analogy here, I'll say that I needed to spend some time caring for my home.
On my day off, I spent most of my morning in bed. Depression was really dragging her feet and not wanting to do anything, and Anxiety was having racing thoughts about all the possibilities the day could hold and worrying about how many of those things I may not get to do. I made Depression and Anxiety go to their own rooms, and I got myself out of my bed. I ended up taking Arizona to the dog park which gave me a chance to get some fresh air and feel some joy about watching all the dogs play together. After that, I got my favorite food EVER - Taco Bell!! And yes, I know that is ridiculous but it's a fact. I love Taco Bell. I came home and caught up on my favorite TV shows. I took a hot bath at the end of the night while I listened to my favorite podcast and then some calming music, read a few chapters in a new library book, and breathed in the soothing scent of a nice candle. Anxiety and Depression didn't get to interfere with my day.
I definitely allowed my true self to be the dominant roommate on my day off of work. I am still working on managing Anxiety and Depression a little better in our shared space. I know they'll always still be in the next room waiting for just the right moment to come out to try to mess up my day. But I hope that I can continue to learn more and more about them as I interact with them through my lifetime. I learned a lot of coping skills through my therapy sessions, and those are skills I need to continue to develop and become more confident in using them. As of this exact moment in time, we are living in harmony in a peaceful household. I know that won't be the case every day, but I'm hoping for more harmonious days than chaotic days.
How do you practice self-care? If you have a mental illness that lives with you, what are some ways you effectively manage the chaotic days? As always, thank you for reading. Please message or comment below :)