This weekend, I took a few days at home to rest. There is my default sort of resting, where I ‘rest’ by keeping busy and dissociated so I don’t have to think. And then there are reset weekends where I focus on self care. I tend toward a ‘reset’ weekend when I realise that I’ve gone beyond triggered and into not coping with the mundane stuff in life that usually doesn’t bother me. At that point, it takes me a few days of focused time out to deal with my PTSD symptoms.
The trigger? I am not sure what it was. The warning sign? A printer error made me cry – that was my first clue that something was up.
Self care seems to have been accepted into mental health culture as a coping technique, which I’m grateful for. I first encountered self care during a group Dialectical Behavioural Therapy module a decade ago. I think there was a list of fifty very American sounding tasks you could do to soothe distress (go to the beach! Get your nails done! Eat a sundae!) And at the time, I was skeptical. The great thing DBT did for me was to make room for my skepticism and still get me to fill out a weekly homework sheet where I marked down the self soothing skill I had practicing. I then had time in group to admit that cuddling up with my cat to watch stand up comedy *did* help. A bit. Ok, a lot. (My DBT therapist had the patience of a saint. Big love to you, Debs, wherever you are.)
Nowadays, self care is a concept most people around me understand even if some of that stigma about it remains; as though self care is indulgent or childish. My hesitancy in being kind to myself when my PTSD flares up is a lot about not wanting to face my pain but also about being harsh with any parts of my psyche that seem vulnerable and childlike. So I acknowledge that a reset weekend of self care is not an easy thing for me to choose.
A reset weekend looks like this:
- I decide to pick a few days and then I ask for help. I loathe asking for help but I’ve found that doing self care stuff in secret like it’s a shameful thing backfires. I need to tell my partner that I need his help.
- He and I clear a few days on the calender. We look at what has to be done – cooking, basic cleaning etc – and make sure that I don’t emerge from my self soothing weekend to be swamped by stuff I should’ve done and will now feel really guilty about. Part of the ‘not wanting help’ thing is also a ‘I am awful if I don’t do everything for everyone all the time’ thing.
- I plan in a few nice things that I know will make me feel relaxed. I try to avoid experimenting with movies/books that might have disturbing plots, reset weekends are not for binge watching the gritty crime series on my Netflix list. I potter about, I make little crafty things, I read, I nap. If I want to go out, I do. The aim is to keep things short and simple.
- I have a back up plan. When I started having reset weekends, I had sky high expectations of how much better a weekend of cat snuggling and knitting would make me feel. I thought that if I experienced bad thoughts or painful emotions, it was confirmation that I was weak, self care wasn’t working and that I was beyond help. These days, I expect pain to show up because I have made space for it. I keep a meditation for breathing through painful feelings on my Spotify list. I also have a journal to hand. My partner knows that I might be to go lie down and be alone without having to explain why.
- I have a reset weekend ending ritual. Did you ever have that Sunday night dread that overshadowed your Sunday because you were already imagining how awful Monday would be? Rather than dwell on my impending fears about returning to Normal People Routines and jumping back into my life, I have little ritual. I get clean pajamas, spray my pillow with essential oils, lay out tomorrow’s clothes and journal before bed. I underestimated how effective this until I went to a spa day and half an hour before the day was over, the therapists gave me a ‘goodbye ritual’ that included spray essential oils and soft music, it made me feel prepared for getting out of the fluffy spa bath robe and back to my fully dressed life.
I feel better for a weekend of rest. It was hard to feel like I deserved my kindness. If I am honest there is a panicky bit of me that feels like I should have pushed through the printer related panic weeping. That part of me is a protective but misguided aspect. By taking time out, I could be honest and make space for my pain. It’s not indulgent or childish to want to rest, to tend to your needs. If you are finding the idea of self care (for an hour or a weekend) difficult, perhaps there are ways to make it easier? Perhaps you could allow yourself a bit of experimentation? How would it feel to be skeptical or sad and still do something kind for yourself?