When living with PTSD, depression, anxiety, or another mental illness/psychiatric injury, it’s important to learn tools to cope with your condition. Over the past decade, I’ve taught myself several. Some I discovered through a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) diary and others I developed myself.
There was an eight-year period where I cried virtually every day. Panic attacks and catatonic states started after the first assault in 2010, as did the seemingly unending tears. During the following five years, through two other assaults, I was barely functional, but I had my husband to lean on and comfort me.
Then he left me.
Struggling to Survive
Those were dark times. I spent many nights on the suicide hotline or on the phone with RAINN. I found one reason to stay alive: Live in Europe. As a way to survive, I started traveling to fulfill that lifelong dream. Through TrustedHousesitters, I discovered a way to travel affordably by living in other people’s homes for free while I cared for their pets.
Each morning started with tears. Each night ended with them, and there were countless waves of grief during the day that had my tears falling on London’s cobblestone streets, mixing with the rain.
Half a world away, navigating the end of a 15-year marriage, I had no one to turn to or comfort me. I had to emotionally care for and soothe myself for the first time in my life. No one had ever taught me those things, so I had to figure it out on my own. One day while curled up on the bathroom floor in London crying my eyes out, a plan began to emerge.
The Art of Self Care
The next thing I did was create a list on my iPhone Notes app entitled: If You Could Do Anything Right Now. On it, I wrote things that brought me joy or comfort. Here is my list:
The first step was self-compassion to show myself the same empathy that I would show anyone else in pain, even a stranger. I’d pick myself up off the floor when the worst of the agonizing wave had passed, look in the mirror, and say, “A trusted colleague and two close friends sexually assaulted you. Your husband suffered a brain injury that changed his personality, then left you. Anyone would cry in your position. It’s okay to cry.”
1. Listen Musicals/Classical
2. Tap Practice
6. Hike / Kayak / Snowshoe
8. Watch TV
11. Hot Shower
12. Read / Audiobook
14. Walk to Store
15. Drive and Explore
16. Walk Around City
17. Look for New Pet Sitting Gigs
18. Cook / Bake
19. Bike Ride
20. Practice French
I made it a game. When I found myself curling up in a ball, drowning in my pain and loss, I’d ask myself, “If you could do anything right now, what would it be?”
The Only Rule
There was only one rule for this game: I had to have the means and opportunity to do just that. The answer couldn’t be fly off to Paris for the weekend, unless I could do it in that moment. Usually it was something simple like take a nap or a hot shower, have some popcorn and watch a show, or walk to Starbucks for a mocha. If I couldn’t think of anything, I’d look at that list and read each one aloud until something captured my interest.
As soon as I did that small thing for myself, I felt a little better. Just that basic act of self-care made all the difference and helped me get through some very difficult days, indeed. This is how I learned to listen to myself and address my mental and physical needs.
To this day when I’m feeling down or the darkness creeps back in (as it always will with C-PTSD), I still do this exercise. It works as well now as it did during that dark decade.
Perhaps this strategy will help you, too.
Just like any advice or information given, take what works for you or amend it to suit you, then discard what’s not helpful. If my game for self-care doesn’t speak to you, I hope it sparks a though for what will.
May you find peace.