I was mooching around on Twitter this morning, as I do, and I came across the hashtag #selfcareseptember . I will confess right now that it’s the first time I had heard of it, but it immediately struck me that a) this is a fabulous idea and b) I have been subconsciously using September as my own self-care month.
OK, I am getting married at the beginning of October; and part of this urge for self-care is, quite frankly, to stop me getting so stressed that I’m an absolute wreck and on three bottles of gin a day by the big event and also, in a rather uncharacteristically girlie way, a chance for me to feel and, hopefully look, the best I can. Although, let’s face it, given my usual look is slept-in-a-hedge chic, just having my hair brushed and no dirt on my face will be a vast improvement.
Just a quick disclaimer: I don’t have any medical training, though I’m very good at putting randoms in the recovery position, and I’m not squeamish about blood. I’m not trying to say that a bit of self-care is going to solve all your problems and ‘cure’ mental illness. It would be a gross and insensitive underestimation of all our intelligence to even imply that this could be the case. What I can attest to, however, is how various things I do at this time of the year personally help me.
For those of you who don’t know me, I suffer from a delightful combination of clinical depression and severe anxiety. I am currently on Citalopram for the depression side and beta-blockers and mindfulness for the anxiety and, touch wood, I have been pretty stable with only fairly minor peaks and troughs for the past few months. So yes, having lived with this for at least the past thirty years, I do get mental illness. I also appreciate that we are all totally different, and what helps some will not necessarily help others. Always remember that mental illness is a spectrum, and all of us are on it somewhere, and wherever we are can be massively traumatic and confusing – do try not to compare your emotions with those around you.
There are times where you might like to try some of these. There are times where you might be too scared to leave the house, or too wired to concentrate, or too sad to get out of bed. Don’t worry, there will be other days to try, if you want to. Don’t add to your troubles by feeling you somehow fail because you can’t always manage self-care. That defeats the purpose.
“Autumn casts a spell
and dying never was so beautiful.” – Amelia Dashwood
September is a strange time of the year for me. It is undoubtedly breathtakingly beautiful, with the myriad colours and early frosts and morning mists; but also tinged with sadness. It has always represented, for me, an ending of things. The close of summer, the death of warmth. I’m not sure why I was always so pessimistic about the changing of the seasons, I can only put it down to the fact that I love hot, sunny weather and, as a naturally outdoorsy type I love the long days and the buzz of nature.
Last year I decided to do my best to get a grip on how I dealt with the colder, darker months. I was already unwell, I knew that, and understood that I needed to knuckle down and deal with getting through that without being bogged down with additional seasonal depression; and the best way I could think to be proactive was to find things that I really enjoyed doing and fit them into a self care routine as a way of treating myself whilst my poorly brain rested and recovered.
Here are a few things that work for me:
Walking It Out
They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. They have obviously never spent November in Scotland. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for a stroll, whatever the weather. Some of my favourite stomps have been on the dreichest of days where I have sloshed through mud, felt icy rain batter my face, and watched the rippled circles from raindrops dance on the Clyde. Coming home and drying off and putting on my cosiest clothes and indulging in a cup of tea in front of the fire is a treat in itself. I also find frosty mornings when it is so cold your jaws ache hard to beat.
My pro-tip here would be to always carry your phone or a camera; and invest in a pair of small binoculars and take every opportunity to stop and investigate your surroundings, and notice things you might never have noticed before. I’m going to write more about this, and the concept of Awe Walks in a later piece, else I ramble on forever.
Autumn and Winter are perfect times to curl up with your favourite crafts and get stuff done in front of the fire with plenty of tea on the go. As you know if you’ve read my blog before, I am an avid crocheter and spend much of the colder months working on longer projects – last year I worked on my Hebridean Islands ripple blanket (you can find Lucy at Attic24’s pattern and tutorial here).
Another really worthwhile thing I was able to do was to stay involved with the local craftbomb club, and we organised a Christmas craftbomb in the village – it wasn’t an awful lot of work, but it kept me in touch with friendly faces and I enjoyed our meet-ups and discussions very much. Craftbomb / yarnbomb groups are popping up all over the country and often meet in local cafes and libraries so it is worth checking out your local community noticeboards.
Emma Mitchell, blogger at the lovely silverpebble blog has a whole book on beating the winter blues coming out next month.
You should probably buy it, like I will be doing the moment I can get my grubby paws on a copy. (Actually seriously cannot wait!).
Once you’ve burned all those calories with a good, bracing walk; why not indulge yourself with cooking something wonderful? I can understand that many people work really long hours and have other responsibilities such as caring for relatives, but if there is any way at all you can lose yourself in a recipe, you won’t regret it. When I am feeling particularly anxious, there is something incredibly soothing and comforting about just pottering in the kitchen, radio on, prepping and planning and taking time to concentrate on every aspect. I will confess I am not a very good baker and can destroy a Victoria sponge with a single glance; but I love making main meals for my family and experimenting with flavours and modifying recipes; and I have a particular love for making jams and chutneys. There is something very zen indeed about leaning over the jam pan, and something deeply satisfying about seeing all those lovely jars of hot preserve cooling on the windowsill.
Also, did anyone mention rhubarb gin? Quite ridiculously easy to make….
Over to Facebook
I thought I would ask my friends on Facebook how they liked to prep for the colder months, and what they would include in their personal September Self Care packages:
“Make time for yourself every day. You’re allowed to. It’s not selfish” – EO
“I get my SAD lamp out around about now and read by it most evenings. I also batch cook on the Sunday after pay day and freeze healthy meals for myself and my daughter – great for those nights you come in late and/or knackered after work.” – AG
“I let things go – coming up to winter and going into summer are the two times of the year where I get rid of unnecessary things that weigh me down. Declutter of everything really – people, stuff, worries. A wonderful fire purge around Winternights/Halloween/Bonfire night is always welcome. It’s done almost subconsciously I think now. For winter its preparation for all the fabulous Christmas/Jul things. But also…you don’t want dead weight following you into a hard winter and a new year.
I feel similarly about spring into summer – shed the layers of clothes and any unnecessary baggage.” – CMcH
“I make a point of watching the sunrise from the swimming pool/sunset while I walk by the river. I make sure I stop and stare at everything beautiful that catches my eye on my walks – from a dramatic sky to a tree bending beautifully to catch the light. I write those moments down for my memory jar too – a lot of repetition to others reading them but each one is memorable to me and makes me smile. Listening to music and TED talks too. Classical tunes, folk music etc for quiet relaxation and proper rock songs to lift my mood.” – CM
“I walk, a lot. It’s worth it to pay more attention to the changing seasons. Even in the rain, the sounds and scents change. I also have a clear out and rearrange where I can. An organised space definitely brings me a call mind. I try to do seasonal crafts with the kids.. I’m lucky they are going enough to still be interested. If not, we bake.. and have our treats for movie afternoons. Reading is a must too.” – LH
Wise words from some very wise women, I think.