For most of my life I was always giving out to the world, but not allowing the world to give back to me. I care so much about people that I will forget that I also need some care too.
I did not know of self-care for such a long time because I had not considered it an option and nor had I ever been encouraged to allow myself to be the centre of attention. I couldn’t understand for the most part how putting myself first could ever be beneficial for me, I thought to be successful you must give your all to others, not yourself. I grew up in a way that sacrificing your own mental health was a worthwhile cost for the future, which now I think about it, it doesn’t make sense.
About a year ago now I had an epiphany of sorts, I am not sure what triggered it but I think I just became so exhausted and unwell from ignoring my own needs and wishes. I had made miles in my mental health, I had removed myself from toxic people and environments and found a husband that encourages me to be myself and live my dream. Despite living a good life, I was still empty inside and I noticed that I had spent so much time searching for approval of others when all along the only person I needed approval from was myself.
Two decades of being completely selfless had come with little reward and heavy repercussions. I became so ill in myself that I had locked myself in the house for three months. A saying came to mind, that is now my motto “Be selfish while being kind”. It reminds me to know my limits and look after myself but to not hurt others through my choices. It’s easier than it sounds.
I began by starting to know when to say ‘no’, it sounds like something so simple, but I often would make myself incredibly unhappy and uncomfortable to please others, which is not mentally healthy. I now know that if something is going to trigger a relapse, I can say no and not have to explain why.
I am a lot less hard on myself, though that nagging doubt still lingers. I allow myself to take each day slowly, and to work life around my pace. I am honest with my own abilities, and focus on where I need to work on myself and where I can use my skills. A big part of self-care is knowing when you are the one causing harm. For me I was very angry for a long time, and I would blame others. It took a lot of courage to admit that a lot of my problems were caused by my reactions and that I can simply try to understand instead. This mindfulness has allowed me to let go of my past, not live in resentment, and I feel lighter for it, this is the best form of self-care I give myself.
I do write as a form of physical self-care, it is a very therapeutic process and allows me to organise my thoughts and feelings so I can better understand them. I will also do some light trampolining in my living room to boost those endorphins when I need it, it seems I cannot help but smile when I am bouncing around – it gives me a childhood nostalgia.
Despite this, many consider self-care as having a long bath and a cup of tea. However, my self-care is all mental. It’s about focusing on my own dreams and aspirations and only allowing people into my life who want to lift me. It’s about working the chores of life around the things that matter to me, prioritising the things that make my future look bright. It’s following my passions and exploring my options whilst giving myself a good pat on the back for working so hard, even when I feel like I am not.
I live for myself and no one else, that sounds narcissistic, right? But consider this: How can you possibly help anyone else if you are not living? A saying that someone once told me was that “you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others” and that is exactly it, that is self-care.
Charlotte Underwood is a 22 year old from Norfolk UK. She is a growing mental health adovocate on twitter (@CUnderwoodUK ) and blogger. Charlotte is open about her own mental health struggles and her past, as she has learnt to use her experiences for the good of helping others. The ultimate goal is just to remove some of that stigma and help as many people as possible, so they don’t feel alone.