My Experience Only. YMMV.

Posts tagged ‘self-care’

Self-Care and Human Needs

Self-care is one of the hot topics these days in the world of bipolar disorder and the people who live with it. Self-care can be as basic as remembering to eat or as complicated as knowing and avoiding your triggers.

Back in 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow created what he called a “hierarchy of needs” – a series of stages that human beings must go through on the way to the ultimate goal of “self-actualization.” With few changes, the concept, usually illustrated as a pyramid, has continued to influence the study of human motivation and developmental psychology.

So what does self-care have to do with the hierarchy of needs?

The most basic needs of human life form the base of the pyramid. These are called “physiological needs” and are essentially what a person needs to stay alive: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing. Without meeting these needs, a person cannot move up to the next level of the hierarchy.

A large part of self-care is devoted to meeting these very basic, fundamental needs. Air is usually not a problem but shelter and clothing can be, for those bipolar persons who are homeless – and there are more than a few. Many of us are just one financial reverse – loss of income, insurance, options – from being homeless.

The most common advice for self-care is to pay attention to these base-level needs: Remember to eat. Stay hydrated. Get enough sleep. At times, it’s a real struggle just to meet these self-care needs. Add “get exercise” to the list and it can suddenly be overwhelming. People with bipolar or major depressive disorder often need help accomplishing them. That’s as high as we get on the pyramid.

The second step of the pyramid, which people need to work on after they’ve met the requirements of the first step is called “safety needs”: personal security, employment, resources, and health. Again, the needs on this step may seem insurmountable, and may – probably will – require help to achieve.

But they are self-care needs too. Current society may not view them as such, but that’s because they tend not to struggle with them, at least not on the level of a person with a mental disorder. Individuals can sometimes help meet these needs, but more often government, community, or charitable organizations provide necessary help. Talking about self-care at this second level may seem like pie-in-the-sky to those who have not yet conquered the first. But truly, taking care of these needs is a form of self-care, enabling one to maintain the gains represented by achieving those of the first level.

The third level of human needs – and self-care – is called “love and belonging”: friendship, intimacy, family, sense of connectedness. Again, this is not usually thought of as a part of self-care. But it certainly is. Many of us – I include myself – lose friends, become estranged from family, fail at intimate relationships. There are other places to look for ways to practice self-care on this level, however.

Therapy groups and self-help groups can lead you to people who share your problems and may be able to help you in achieving self-care. (My husband met one of his dearest friends, who provided support, listening, understanding, and companionship, at a self-help group meeting.) If in-person meetings are not possible, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress provide opportunities to meet some social self-care needs through various groups and online communities.

The top two levels of the pyramid are not as easy to think of as self-care, and not as easy to tackle. Level four is esteem: respect, self-esteem, status, recognition, strength, freedom. And five is self-actualization: to become the most that one can be. Realistically, these are not strictly speaking things that can be accomplished through self-care. Even neurotypical people may never complete step four, and there is reason to think that few people ever reach self-actualization. These are goals to strive for, but not guarantees.

Wherever you may currently be on the pyramid, the important thing to remember is that self-care will help you reach the next step; that each follows the one before; and that your bipolar life will improve with every step you achieve.

 

Self-Care for Overwhelming Days

It’s been said that time is nature’s way of keeping one damn thing after another from being every damn thing all at once … However, every now and then the damn things gang up on you.

– me, “The Overwhelming Problem,” http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-hy

It’s also been said, by Canadian astronaut and all-around awesome guy Chris Hadfield, that he managed to stay alive in space by always asking himself, “What’s the next thing that might kill me?” If, for example, the most immediate danger were running out of oxygen, the next thing to do would be to check your tank and hoses.

I find that attitude soothing in a way, and helpful in getting through one of those every-damn-thing days. It’s not traditional positive thinking, but it does help you set your priorities.

Today and yesterday and the day before have been examples of every-damn-thing days. I’ve gotten through by asking myself, “What’s the next thing I absolutely have to do?”

It starts when I wake up and can involve the simplest of decisions: Do I take my meds first or do I pee first? Pee first. Pee first is almost always the correct answer and is one of the Mystic Rules of Self-Care.

Do I get dressed or do I eat something? I don’t absolutely have to get dressed yet, because I’m not going out anywhere yet, so eat something. Eat something is almost always the correct answer and is another of the Mystic Rules of Self-Care.

This can get me through the entire day. What is the next thing I absolutely have to do? Get dressed. What is the next thing? Go to the bank and get money. What is the next thing? Pay the power bill. Those are absolutes if I want to have a functioning computer. And I do. Very much.

Next comes a real decision: K-Mart is right next door to where I pay the power bill. Do I stop in and get the loaf of bread I need and maybe some underwear, or do I eat first? I eat first. (See above Mystic Rules.) By the time I finish my banh mi (if I’m out and dressed and in motion, I may as well make the most of it), it’s pouring rain. Do I absolutely have to go back to K-Mart, walk through a wet parking lot, and get that loaf of bread? I do not. I go home. One errand (two if you count the bank, and I do) is a major accomplishment for me.

After I get home, there is no “next thing I absolutely have to do,” so I switch to “What is the next thing I could do?” Say there are three choices: take a nap, watch TV, do some work. Obviously, the work is out. I am spoonless by now. I decide to watch TV until closer to bedtime, then go to bed.

If there is work that absolutely has to be turned in the next day, I get up early and do it when I have a fresh supply of spoons. (After peeing first and taking my meds.)

There is also an element of creative procrastination to this. (See http://wp.me/p4e9wS-ct.) It’s like sorting your tasks into three piles: absolutely, would be nice, and meh. Not that I’m recommending writing them down. That’s not flexible enough. Throughout the day, an event can wander down the progression. “Buy loaf of bread” started out as Category 2, but the rain pushed it into Category 3. I ate the other half of my banh mi for dinner and bought bread the next day. And if I hadn’t had the banh mi, I still had a jar of peanut butter as a back-up plan. Eating it straight out of the jar is pretty depressive, but you do what you have to do when your spoons run out and you still need self-care. (Have I just discovered another Mystic Rule?)

Of course, I’m describing a moderately-functioning day. There are other days when the categories shut down after peeing and meds.

Self-Care and Sleep: Fact or Fiction?

Every article you see about self-care for bipolar disorder will tell you, Get enough rest or Get enough sleep.

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.  – Thomas Dekker

But what did Thomas Dekker know? For many of us, proper, beneficial sleeping is easier said than done.

Neon light owlEven with my prescribed Ambien and Ativan, I’ve done the wide-awake-at-3:00-don’t-get-to-sleep-till-5:30 thing. And the unsettled-from-nightmares-afraid-to-go-to-sleep thing. (Also the just-one-more-chapter thing, but that’s my own fault.)

Then the next day I have to take a mega-nap (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-iO), which leads to guess what? More insomnia.

But this coin has another side as well. There are days when all I do is sleep. A full night plus (at least 10 hours), then a mega-nap, then right back to bed after dinner.

I don’t think I was awake for much of my childhood. I did a lot of napping. This might have been a defensive measure against encroaching depression. – Michael Ian Black

I know that part of my problem is my husband’s work schedule – third shift – and wanting to be awake at least at some of the same times that he is.

Another part of the problem is my medication. If I wake at 8:30 (yeah, I work at home) and take my meds, I’m down for the count again until at least 10:30. Or 11:00. Or even noon. I hope my clients think that I run errands in the morning or work on my projects with chat, IM, and phone turned off so as not to be disturbed.

And then there is my meal schedule, which is just as erratic as my sleep schedule. Most days I try to eat at least one good, full, hearty meal (another self-care recommendation, though they usually advise more than one meal). But after I eat – especially a hefty meal – I get postprandial torpor, the technical term for why you fall asleep on Thanksgiving after eating all that turkey. (And you thought it was the tryptophan.) And there comes another nap.

The repose of sleep refreshes only the body. It rarely sets the soul at rest. The repose of the night does not belong to us. It is not the possession of our being. Sleep opens within us an inn for phantoms. In the morning we must sweep out the shadows.  – Gaston Bachelard

But recently, it’s been the not-able-to-sleep thing. There’s a Tarot card that symbolizes the feeling – the 9 of Swords. In the Rider-Waite deck, the image is of a person sitting up in bed, hiding her face, with nine parallel swords floating in the background. I always refer to it as The Dark Night of the Soul. (The 6 of Cups usually means something like Childhood Memories, but for me it means “See Your Therapist.”)

(Note: I had a rather irregular introduction to the Tarot deck, and for me it acts sort of like a Thematic Apperception Test. I apologize to those of you I have just offended in one way or another.)

Sleep is when all the unsorted stuff comes flying out as from a dustbin upset in a high wind. – William Golding

Anyway, a recent event caused me a fair amount of trauma that I had to suppress at the time, and it came out immediately as bloody horrible nightmares the next time I slept. I haven’t had any more of those since, but I suspect they’re still lurking at the back of my brain.

That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep. – Aldous Huxley

I guess what I mean by all this is that sleep as self-care is wonderful, if it cooperates. But there are so many things that can go wrong and screw it all up – grief, guilt, depression, sorrow, anxiety, fear, loneliness, restlessness, obsessive thoughts, worries. It doesn’t feel like something that I have much control over.

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