I followed the Facebook page QTPoC Mental Health – an offshoot of the wonderful website Rest for Resistance – many months ago in an attempt to stay informed about issues facing a community I want to be an ally too. So often, discussions of mental health focus on straight + cis + white people, throwing everyone else under the metaphorical bus.
I don’t interact with their posts other than to share them, since I don’t want to take up space in a place that’s not meant for me, but it has since become one of my favorite mental health-related pages on that site; everything posted there is amazing and spot-on.
The other day, one of their posts asked the question:
“Instead of motivating yourself to be productive, how can you motivate yourself to rest?”
Brb, printing that quote out and sticking it above my bed where it shall remain for ever and ever.
That single message seriously changed my thinking. I work hard… and it pays off. But I’m never satisfied, either. However productive I am, I always that I could have worked longer, harder, more. And that’s exhausting. I think I do it to prove myself. To make up for lost time. To stave off depression.
None of which are inherently bad things. They can become bad when taken to an extreme, though, and I feel myself careening ever closer toward that extreme.
Obviously, I’m going to come at QTPoC Mental Health’s question differently than someone who experiences oppression on more axes than I do would; for instance, I don’t have to contend with institutional racism from psychiatrists, psychologists, therapy groups, and the like that have the potential to interfere with my access to self care.
But I do think there is an overwhelming pressure from American/Western culture as a whole to go go go without ever stopping for breaks. You’re not supposed to rest. You’re supposed to be productive. And somewhere along the way, I bought into this wholesale. A fuckton of my self-worth is based on my productivity and it fluctuates according to how much I’ve gotten done lately!
I’ve said this (many times) before and I’ll say it again: Relaxation does not come easily or naturally to me. I’m all about to-do lists and planners and calendars. I love crossing tasks off when I’m finished with them!
I could use more practice when it comes to resting.
I build in time to get sh*t done by waking up early, using any spare time I have between classes or meetings, multitasking during meals, and more.
I don’t build in nearly enough time to relax. I don’t write it down in my planner.
Perhaps I should start doing that.
Immediately, I wondered, “What do I need to be well-rested?”
Does collapsing onto my bed after class and laughing at memes on my phone for five or ten or fifteen minutes qualify as relaxation? I don’t think so. And yet that’s one of my main restful activities.
It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what “counts” as self care. We idealize it. Self care doesn’t have to mean taking a bath. It doesn’t have to mean a digital detox. It doesn’t have to mean making yourself a hot drink and curling up under a blanket with your pet.
But it can. It can – and should – be whatever it is that really nurtures you. If taking a bath doesn’t particularly do anything for your psyche, then so be it. If making yourself hot chocolate does, don’t feel ashamed to be practicing so-called “cliche” self care.
For me, part of figuring how out best to motivate myself to rest meant figuring out what activities work best for me.
Some people paint their nails in order to take some time for themselves. That doesn’t work for me. Painting my nails stresses me tf out because the end result looks like a monkey did it. (And I don’t like the feeling of something on top of my nails. It feels weird… I can’t explain it.)
So what does work best for me? What do I need to do in order to be well-rested?
Not to be all “smartphones are evil and the downfall of mankind,” but I feel so much better when I’ve been away from my phone for a bit. With it, I entrap myself. I spend way too much time checking this app and that message and those notifications, feeling distracted and disoriented and only marginally happy.
Being outdoors helps, too. I need to find more trails and other walking paths nearby, where I will be surrounded by trees and relative peace + quiet. Doesn’t have to be an intense hike, but it feels so satisfying to stretch my legs and take deep breaths of fresh air.
Reading helps. While writing is a therapeutic activity for me, it also stresses me out and requires me to spend most of my time in front of a screen, since I can type much faster than I can write.
I’m sure there are more pastimes that are good for me, but the last one that comes to mind right now is cooking/baking. I love the focus it requires. I love the repetition of actions. I love the sensory details, from the smell of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven to the sight of a kiwi’s bright green and juicy inside.
No matter what, I need to make more of an effort to motivate myself to relax… but it isn’t helpful if the activities I claim are “self care” aren’t really helping me. Watching YouTube videos or DIYing a face mask from avocado are nice and all; I mean, I’m not necessarily going to stop doing them.
Sometimes, however, I need to set aside the digital devices I turn to out of habit + ignore the nagging thoughts that tell me my self care has to match the Instagram Aesthetique. At times, motivating myself to do such things is easier said than done.
But I won’t give up.