Self-Care 101: Sleep

There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.

Homer, The Odyssey 

I spend most mornings burrowing under my blankets, desperate for a few more hours of shut eye no matter how much rest I got the previous night. My days aren’t particularly strenuous in a physical sense; in fact, most of my time is spent talking to myself as I play out dialogue and pacing from room to room until I arrive at the “perfect” solution to a narrative issue. Still, I collapse into bed at around 9:00 PM ready to be transported to my own version of slumberland. It usually involves flowers and candy.

Tired GIF
Giphy

Though I’m not spending my days engaged in super intense activities, I’m still exerting a lot of mental effort. It all builds until I’m too tired to stand, let alone make it through an episode of “Killing Eve”. We all have to push ourselves during the day, regardless of the tools of our trade. From writers to welders, we’re all better off after a good night of rest. However, in the United States, we worship at the alter of tired. Sleepless nights are a status symbol, an indicator that we are taking our lives too seriously to ever give into the Sandman. Last week, Steve Harvey went off on a tirade about the superiority of the wealthy, equating it to their not needing to sleep.

Hopefully, this all sounds batshit insane to you.

Drunk GIF
Giphy

We are ticking time bombs without sleep. Studies have shown that going without the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep can result in high blood pressure, weakened immunity, mood changes and increased likelihood of accidents. Throw in mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder, and you’re going to have a bad time – to put it mildly. Think of it like this: your body isn’t invincible. Unless you’ve got some super soldier serum laying around, you’re gonna have to sleep like the rest of us normies. I find that I’m not just more creative after sleep, I’m also able to finish tasks faster and with fewer mistakes. Sleep makes the difference between hours of trying to focus on work and a few minutes of targeted focus. Sounds legit, amiright?

So take care of your body, get some rest, drink water, and – for the love of God – moisturize! (More on that to come.)

 

 

Let’s Avoid A Holiday Implosion, Shall We?

It’s that time of year again: Snow! (depending on your location) Time off! (depending on your vocation) Love and Cheer! (depending on… you get the point).

I’ve been singing the praises of this month loud enough for you to get the hint – I really and truly love December. When I was growing up, my parents infused our winter with magic and information. I didn’t just learn the Christian stuff, but also got to hear about the traditions of other religions. Their stories, mixed in with my own imagination, transformed how I see the changing of the season. It became more than a time for presents – which I love – instead morphing into a time when anything at all is possible if your spirit is willing.

On the flip side, this is also a time when joy fails. With the influx of family cards, lovey-dovey Hallmark movies (that always seem to be set in the same advent calendar- type towns) , and people portraying perfect lives, comes the onset of despair. Not to mention, the grey and unforgiving frosting of the Northern hemisphere can nix any hope for the healing quality of daylight.

Seasonal depression, dear reader, is real and alive.

I come from a place of extreme privilege. I was raised by two loving, while admittedly flawed, parents, who worked themselves to the bone for my brother and I. Our home was warm, our bellies were full, and we woke every Christmas to find toys, no matter how bad *I* had been that year. That is incredibly rare. A home life like that would set anyone with more than five brain cells onto a path of success. Even as a survivor of sexual abuse, I knew happier days than a lot of people. To say that is not to negate the gravity of my pain, but an acknowledgement of my reality.

Still, even with all the stuff and things that make childhood a fond memory instead of a nightmare, I have experienced less than stellar holidays. Those unfortunate times took place mainly in adulthood, and I shudder to think of them. But, that’s what fosters growth, right? After looking back on the times when my Yule celebrations were rough, I’ve come up with some tips to help you navigate the stress without a spontaneous combustion.

Let’s hop to it!

saturday night live christmas GIF

Be with those you love, if possible. If impossible, why is being alone so bad?

Most of the points on this list operate under the assumption you will be going home to be with your family, however I want to acknowledge that oftentimes that isn’t a possibility. Whether it be estrangement, death, or how expensive it is to fly or drive, you might not be with your family over the break, and that is ok. I know that isolation is one of the greatest tools of depression, because in the solitude of your room you can weave all kinds of tales of your inadequacies. Yet, I’m starting to wonder whether being alone in itself is the problem. There are lots of things we can do for ourselves in the quiet of an empty home. What if you were to treat yourself to beautiful things like compliments, a good meal, some you time? Besides, how often do we really get to be paid to stay home and take care of ourselves? This might be an opportunity in disguise. If you can, I say run wild with the possibilities.

 

snow drifts and chimbley nymphs GIF by Yule Log 2.015

 

Not every battle is worth fighting.

Yes, I know the drill. We’re supposed to go home for the holidays, set aside our differences, and sing songs at the end of the night with everyone coming to an understanding of the meaning family.  *eye roll*

That’s a movie. In fact, it’s a movie I wrote in one of my journals when I was 13. We’re not all going to get along just because our religious text told us to. Politics (that dirty word) is the fastest, most sure-fire way to watch things go left at Nana’s house. If you want to enjoy your time you are going to have to learn when to fight, and when to bow out. In addition to that, you’re going to have to look out for when your relatives are just looking for a sparring match, rather than an honest and respectful discussion. No, you shouldn’t let your auntie say wild things about the world, or sit idly by when your great-uncle on your father’s side tells a rape joke, but the little digs from people who don’t care about you might not be worth your time every single time. Ya dig?

Speak up when you can, and in the meantime just radicalize your cousins and siblings.

happy living single GIF by Bounce_TV

 

Take care of your body.

This one is simple: eat smart, drink water, don’t blow your stomach to smithereens on pie. You deserve to indulge, but know your limits. As a recovering bulimic, I have to give myself permission not only to eat what I want, but to step away before I spiral. So, mind your body and how it affects your brain chemistry. Take care at the parties, at your family home, or in your own home!

 

hanukkah GIF

 

Remember your successes

When I go to holiday functions, I always start to sweat when I think of the dreaded “So, what do you do?” question. Which is usually followed by the devastating “Is that really a job?” As a writer, I get this ALL. THE. TIME. These questions are accompanied by a smirk, silence, and me slinking away to think of good comebacks in the bathroom.  I’m often reminded of this Tumblr post:

It’s true on a lot of levels, even among family.  Some people don’t know how to respect others based on – oh, I don’t know – being able to happily survive this cruel, heartless wasteland we call Earth . Your mere existence might not be enough for them, but it’s sure as hell good enough for me and the people who aren’t d-bags. Try to remember that while they’re looking down on you, you’re making a life for yourself the way YOU choose to. That’s powerful. Not many people are brave enough to be who they want to be, rather than what will get them shallow accolades. The world needs you just as much as anyone else, regardless of your job. Take stock of your triumphs – whether they be emotional or monetary – and keep it moving.

In closing: BREATHE

Whether it be Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, or just another day off, you can survive this. When I’m on the verge of a panic attack (which I’ll be writing about soon) my husband gets me to settle into my breathing and by the end I’m much better. You’d be amazed what our bodies can do when we let it run on autopilot. I’d like to encourage you to give it a test drive this season by just breathing in, then, funnily enough, out again. The rest will flow from there. So, be well this holiday season. Be strong when you can and forgiving when you can’t, and never doubt your right to the warmth of the sun.

the proud family GIF

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned In 32 Years

Care to spare a moment for a lady on her birthday?

its my birthday GIF

When I was a kid – I’m talking Barbie dolls and no crust on sandwiches young – I couldn’t wait to grow up. Despite the ease of youth (something we never appreciate until it’s gone) I thought getting older would afford me the kind of freedom I craved growing up in a small town in Kansas. I could do the things I wanted to do ( stay up late), I could go anywhere I wanted to go (Narnia), and above all else I would be far removed from the trauma of abuse. In my youthful naivete, getting older wouldn’t just be another state of being me, I would be completely and marvelously transformed into a new person. There was nothing I wanted more than to be the distant, powerful me of the future.

Fast-forward to today, and in some ways I’m still chasing that elusive LaKase with all the answers and none of the world’s weight. What’s changed is how I look at the woman I am in the present and the way I appreciate the skin I occupy. There are days that I wish I could be someone – anyone – else. Preferably someone with a little more money and wings. Yet, more often than in the past, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that there never has been, and never will be, anyone like me on this Earth. Every freckle, every step, every dream, and every trauma I’ve survived is unique to me. There’s nothing anyone can do to rob me of my right to take pride in my journey – and what a journey it has been. I might not literally be a superhero running around slaying dragons, but I’ve come to see myself as someone who is just as formidable as an caped-crusader.

Today, I want to share just a few lessons that have made my journey to 32 more fruitful than that little kid I was could have imagined. I hope each piece of knowledge helps you as go off into the wilds of the world, and steadies your resolve to be who you’re meant to be. Enjoy!

  1. You’re not for everyone. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t beloved by those I desperately wanted to impress and often went home dejected. Eventually, I learned to be thankful for the ones who made me feel at home in their presence and in my own skin
  2. It’s never too late to change your life. Change is terrifying , I readily admit it. There are few things in this world more frightening than starting over later in life, especially in a culture that rewards youth at every turn. Throw in the responsibilities of adulthood, and it becomes nigh impossible to hit the reset button.  I’ll be writing about this more, but trust me when I say that you’re never too old, too far behind, or too weak to change the path you’re on. It takes time – and funds – but you deserve it if it’s what you want.
  3. Stop punishing yourself for past mistakes. This point goes hand -in – hand with point 2. For the longest time I believed that all the things I did wrong in the past –  the times I was a bully, the times I lied, the moments I came up short of human decency – meant that I had no right to claim a good future for myself. Now, I think about it like this: I apologize where I can, I look into why I did the things I did and vow to do everything I can to avoid falling into the ugliness of those mistakes again. We’re all people wearing different brands of weighted shoes, trying to figure out how to untie the laces, so go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be who you were if it hurts you or others.
  4. You will encounter people who like to harm and destroy. It’s not your fault if they fix their sights on you. There’s a part of our victim-blaming culture that likes to, obviously, shift blame away from assholes. Rather than looking at a snake for what it is, we often find ways to blame ourselves for being slithered upon. You don’t have to do that. It’s not your fault when cruelty is visited upon you. I’ve finally accepted the reality that sometimes people just like to inflict pain. Now, I no longer feel obligated to make excuses for them and blame myself.
  5. You, my dear, are perfectly made.  Trauma operates insidiously. It creeps into your nooks and crannies, altering the fundamental structures of your psyche. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I hated looking in the mirror, why I felt sick in my skin. After years of work, the answer is quite clear: being abused messed with my ability to see myself beyond the pain. Looking in the mirror was a reminder of the hurt, and of the fact that my body was “damaged”. I’m so thankful to be in a place of relative peace with myself. I was, am, and always will be, just right.

And so are you.

 

When The World Brings You Down

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why I was so sick. One day I was fine, then the next I was blindsided by a sore throat, migraine, and stomach ache. I would get better, only to be right back at square one a few days later. For weeks, I’ve been in limbo without a clue of what to blame. The new environment? Allergies? Diet? I tried it all, but nothing seemed to work beyond taking enough medicine to put down a blue whale.

Sickness isn’t just inconvenient, it’s also a real mind warp. You start to wonder if your body is more than just sick – maybe you’re dying. Maybe you’re finally succumbing to all that cheese and wine. It’s even worse when, like me, you’re waiting for insurance to kick in so that you can get a doctor to tell you to chill out and prescribe something you’ve had in your cupboard all along. Instead, I started to question every single food and exercise decision I’ve made in the last year. But, nothing stuck. I haven’t diverged from my diet in any considerable fashion, I exercise a little less, but not drastically, and my last doctor visit was normal.

Then it hit me: the world is a dumpster fire and I am caving under the stress. When we talk about stress, I think it’s important to acknowledge the insidiousness of it. It creeps in slowly, but it can cause a weakened immune system, a lower blood pressure and heart attacks. I realized I was slowly being taken down by the weight of the world.

If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you can tell that I’m a liberal Feminist with a soft spot for the inherent goodness of humans. I really and truly believe there is more good out there than bad. However, I’ve realized that I can only take so many hits to my optimism. My body was being affected by the stress of the ugliness in the world. After a little digging it became apparent that each stretch of days that I was sick has coincided with terrible events in the news. If your first thought is ‘Well, terrible things happen daily’, then you have just solidified my theory. The reality is those terrible things ripple out, they infect us all, and make healing more difficult.

So, now what?

On Friday I spoke about shutting down my social media, taking time to unwind and breathe in preparation for the new week. I did all those things and I admittedly feel much better today. But how realistic is that for us all? Not everyone is privileged enough to remove themselves from the world, and even fewer of us have access to mental health advocates and therapy. Funnily enough, thinking about those facts started to overwhelm me. When you have nothing but everything to lose, how do you take care of yourself? For me, it has boiled down to this: if I don’t take that time, if I continue to ram my way through the muck without stopping until my body begins to lose the fight there’s a possibility I could die. My life could end and no one would get to read all the stories I have rolling around. I won’t ever get the chance to meet my future family members, or go to Paris, or try deep-fried crickets. I don’t think that notion is so dramatic once you’ve looked at how stress can kill.

If you’re like me, feeling weighed down and without a therapist, there are some alternatives:

  1. Daily Self-care.: Technically, brushing your teeth and eating three square meals counts, but I suggest taking it further. No phone after 8 PM, saying no to triggering TV shows or movies, listening to music that relaxes you. Anything is better than nothing at all!
  2. Meditation: I’ve written about how hard that is for me to do, but now that I use Tapping to ease into the practice, it’s become much easier. The Headspace App is another great alternative that I was recently introduced to.
  3. Free therapy: Most advocate services for domestic violence, sexual assault, or PTSD offer group therapy or one-on-one therapy sessions. It all depends on the level of funding, but they do their best to have something for everyone. I’m currently going to a weekly group session that has made waves in my mental and physical health.

I must also add that is imperative you speak with your physician and share your health concerns before labeling your struggles as stress-related. It was only after a doctor’s visit that I was able to rule out any physical ailments beyond stress.

I say all of this to remind you that you do not have to suffer and you definitely aren’t required to do it all alone. Since I’ve been working to listen to my body and disconnect here and there, I’ve been feeling healthier and clearer. I really encourage you to take time to figure out what you might be going through and what you need to get better. Good luck!

 

World Mental Health Day: How I’m Working To Empower Myself

When you’re struggling with your mental health, every day becomes a battle to stay afloat. You never know which interaction is going to propel you forward with confidence, or which has the potential to stop you in your tracks. There are days when the smallest of set-backs can become roadblocks to your healing journey. I have learned that by doing a few little things each day to fortify myself for the bad days, getting back up from a fall can be easier than I previously thought possible.  In honor of World Mental Health Day, I want to share the little habits I’ve picked up that are really helping me to redefine my worth and move forward with a new kind of confidence that I have so been missing in my journey.

No more calling myself “crazy”

I think this is an easy habit to fall into, as anyone or anything deemed to be difficult is quickly smacked with this label. In particular, it is usually leveled at women who do not conform to what makes men comfortable.  There have been many times I’ve whispered this to myself with derision after failing to get this whole perfect life thing right. It’s not only unfair, but a particularly cruel way to invalidate the pains and triumphs of living with authentic vulnerability.  No more, I say!

I’m committed to talking about what I do – and don’t – need

I was raised by two very polite people who instilled in me an almost pathological desire to keep the boat from rocking. I’m thankful to them for the ways they’ve modeled kind and caring behavior, however now I am working to unwind myself ever so slightly from this fear of letting people down. Being a considerate person is a wonderful quality, yet when you’re unwilling to do what’s best for your mental health can anyone really win? Nowadays, I am doing my best to say yes when I mean it, and no even if it might disappoint the one making the request. It seems everyone in my life is better off because of it.

I say my name proudly

Folks with spicy names will get me when I say this: no more watering down my name to make others happy. I can scarcely remember a day that didn’t involve someone stumbling over the schematics of my first name. They get a confused look, turn up their noses, and sometimes even scoff at the ridiculousness of me not being named something easily digestible like Rachel (no shade to girls named Rachel). I used to get so embarrassed that I would quickly encourage people to call me Kasey or Kase, or I would laugh along with them. Can you imagine what that does to a young person, always trying to make others comfortable? It’s a nightmare. I can’t remember the exact moment things changed, but rather the growing rage that made me say enough is enough. My father carefully chose my name to honor his sisters, and I am happy to have it. Just that simple act of wearing my name with pride as changed the way I look at myself in the mornings and how I carry myself. There’s a wonderful kind of joy in reclaiming something so simple.

 

My journey has taught me that a lot of the struggles tied to my mental health involve the way others will perceive me and how those perceptions shape my confidence. It’s truly never too late to shake things up, especially when it comes to how you’re going to take care of yourself. These are just a few of the little ways I’m trying to help myself along each day, but they have made a marked difference in my life. I hope you are able to find ways in your own life to protect and foster your own mental health.