Let’s talk about… Self Care

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Self care is about feeling better and this is a story about getting better at feeling better. Let’s just get this out there. I am terrible at self care. I could say that I don’t have enough time between work and kids and everything else. I could say it’s because I was never taught the importance of self care. Regardless, the fact that I am writing this means that I am about 100 times better that where I started (nowhere).

I don’t at all know all there is to know. But here’s what I’ve learned so far…

  • There are some prerequisites. First of all. you have to want to feel better and be well. If you don’t, it won’t work. Also, you need to have some self-awareness. You just do. You need to be able to recognize that you aren’t well or that you are feeling stressed or whatever else you may feel…
  • Self care is different for everyone. What regulates or recharges one person may be completely different than another. I am the kind of person that has a hard time sitting still, relaxing, being chill. I also have a lot of anxiety surrounding my environment. There is no way that I can recharge in a messy room. It just won’t happen. Just knowing there are things that need to be done even will prevent me from relaxing. So, for me a huge self care activity is making a list of to-dos (i.e. straightening the house, cleaning the kitchen, taking out the trash) and then identifying an activity I want to do (i.e. writing, reading, etc.) and completing my to-do list so I can enjoy the activity.
  • You have to put yourself above everything else. In the world of family, kids, work, and more, it is easy put yourself aside due to (lack of) time, others’ needs, or whatever else. For me, I have to remind myself that without (the well version of) myself, those other things will start to fall apart, I won’t do my best work, I’ll get snippy with the kids, my relationships will suffer.
  • Self care takes time and practice. At least for me, you don’t just decide in your head one day that you are going to practice good self care and poof, it happens. It can take time to figure out what activities will help. For me, it depends on the moment, the mood, the level of stress, anxiety, depression.
  • People don’t talk about self care. Well, too bad. I’m talking about it.

So, here’s what it really looks like for me. I’m chugging along in life. Slowly, almost unnoticed, I start to develop a tiny bit of worry. It’s not even there really. But, it is. My every interaction is framed by it. Maybe a petty argument occurs. My mood is affected by these little negative things that are happening. I start to get preoccupied. It doesn’t matter what the tiny bit of worry was that started this whole thing. It’s now a different and much bigger bit of worry. It may even be full on anxiety. Maybe my wife asks me, “What’s wrong?” I say, “Nothing.” A couple of days pass and this is usually where I start to realize that I need to do something for myself (I aspire to realize this about eight sentences back). So, I make time. I tell my wife I need it (she’s painfully supportive every time, mostly because she knew two days ago). Alas, I take a walk. I read a book or paint a picture. Sometimes I put together puzzles or read comic books. I do whatever it is that I need to do to feel better.

What do you do to help yourself? Do you experience a similar cycle? How do you take care of your mental health?

It’s better on the [out]side…

Three days ago, two days before the first day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I was reading a literary journal, a journal of poetry to be exact. I had just finished writing one of my Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day posts. I scrolled to the author bios, as I usually do, and skimmed. Among the trans poets, and the non-binary theys, there was a bio that started, “[This] is a pen name.” I was caught on it. I am fascinated by pen names. People that write under another name. Why do they do it? Why would you say that it is a pen name? Isn’t the point of a pen name, that people don’t know that you aren’t who you say you are? Except in this case, that was the point. The author bio explained that the writer, a celebrated and award winning poet, lives in a closet.

I consider my own coming out to have been a long, drawn out, and exhausting process. Living as a straight, cis female was not just draining but incredibly detrimental to my mental health. But, to live in a closet… I cannot even imagine a life now, where that is an option. Coming out is exhausting. It is sometimes gruesome. Sometimes you get kicked out of your home. Relationships end. I am not saying it is easy, but once you make it to the other side. The side where you know who your friends are, the side where you can build relationships and family beyond blood (#chosenfamily, please go here: Chosen Family: Stories of Queer Resilience), the side where you can be who you are. That side is worth the struggle.

two people in hats and coats standing in front of cathedral de notre dame

mother and son with helmets and jackets taking a selfie

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Perhaps on the very same day, I read this article: The Secret Life of Secrets and it struck me how invasive of a secret it is to live in a closet. It’s not something that comes up in conversation once in a while, or something you think about a couple times a month. We are talking about hiding who you truly are. When I think back to my own time in the closet, I’m not surprised by my emotional state or actions. I am in awe that I made it through. And mostly, I’m in awe at how amazing life can be when you come out.

A Story from the Past

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I was pacing around the pool deck at my future in-laws house. I held my cell phone to my ear. I was in shock. On the other end of the phone was my mother. This was one in a series of conversations we’d had over the several months after I had come out to her. I knew that telling her I was gay would not be easy (which is one of the reasons I waited so long), but I was entirely unprepared for the statements I would hear during those months.

“This is not who you are.”

“I won’t condone this behavior under my roof.”

“You’ll always have a place here when you realize your mistake.”

“You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.”

This time it was, “If you ever have kids, you’d be ruining their lives.” I was speechless. I don’t actually remember what I said after that. Probably nothing. I may have even hung up the phone. If I didn’t, I should have. In retrospect, that was a very telling moment. It was not just me that had been rejected, it was my past, current, and future life. Wife and kids included.

Fast forward to the present and here we are, two moms raising two kids. Gender/orientation aside, we live a very traditional life. We are married. We have one working parent and one “stay-at-home” parent. We have a five-year-old (WHAT? When did that happen?!) boy (self-proclaimed) who is finishing his first year of school and a three-year-old princess (also self-proclaimed) who is finishing her first year of preschool. Our kids play together, plot together, and scream at each other. They are best buddies. We eat together, play games, laugh, cry, goof-off, build things, dance, get frustrated, and miss each other when we are apart. We are a family. We just happen to be a family with two Mamas (currently differentiated as “Mama that stays home” and “Mama that goes to work”).

two mom family with one boy and one girl sitting on rock steps in front of stone building

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Two moms with children on on their back standing in road with yellow and green leaves in the background

If I could, I would rewind to that day on the pool deck and tell the young, dejected version of myself what the future would hold. I would show her my camera roll and tell her what it would be like to be Mama. And not just any Mama, but the bow-tie wearing, lego-building, comic book reading, Mama-that-goes-to-work. The Mama that got pregnant at home (times two), gave birth in water (times two), breastfed beyond two (times two). My 10+ year younger self could have used that imagery, even if she may not have believed it possible at the time.

This is my seventh year blogging in support of LGBTQ families! You can read my previous Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day posts here:

Blogging for LGBT Families Day 2010: A Baby in the Works

Reflections and a Little Ranting

One Happy Family

Blogging for LBGT Families Day 2013: Another Big Year

Family of Four: Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day 2014

Six years, the Difference

Stigma, it must go…

So May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Do you know anyone with mental health issues? And I’m not just talking about people with Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, and any of the other more publicly known mental illnesses. I’m talking about your friend that struggles with depression, your sibling who has a drug or alcohol addiction, your neighbor who suffers from anxiety. You get the idea. Mental health issues affect everyone in some way. And they affect the LGBTQ+ community even more (image below from the American Psychiatric Association data on Diversity).

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Why, then, is there such stigma around this topic?

We must be able to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.

I say this with such confidence, but here is some back story… Like many baby gays (and I use that term to mean any LGBTQ+ individuals), I struggled with figuring out and accepting myself. This struggle was a lonely and sad place to be for a long time. But, I didn’t talk about it. It was (and still is) customary in my family to not talk about our problems. Some delusional assumption that if we don’t say it out loud, it isn’t really happening or true. Unfortunately, the only thing that creates in my experience is shame and fear (and depression and a load of other problems).

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Baby Gay

I was born and raised in Macon, GA and I grew up attending a southern Baptist church. Some of the people that I was most nervous to come out to, were the most supportive, including my (at the time) 75-year-old grandmother who was also born and raised in Macon and an avid church going Christian. I remember being incredibly nervous. I worried about what might happen for weeks, probably months, before telling her. But I had decided that if I was going to continue to be close to her and share my life with her, I had to tell her. She called me when I was driving home from work one day and I remember her reaction very clearly. She told me that everyone had to live their own life and no one on this earth has a right to judge other people. It made no difference to her. She never blinked an eye at me, my wife, our family.

Coming out can be a truly exhausting process. One that I hope one day is not necessary. But what I gained when I came out to my close friends, and then family, and then co-workers is the realization that you don’t have to live in that place of secrecy and fear. In fact, I found through coming out that communication about things that were rarely discussed is very powerful. It is more powerful than the absence of communication.The way to end stigma, stigma of any kind, is to talk about it. So, let’s talk about it… This is something that I have done for many years as it relates to LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve taken the stance that if I am open and honest about who I am and that impacts just one person’s acceptance of the gay community in a positive way, then it was worth it. It’s time to take that stance for mental health issues also, which I personally find even more difficult.

Below are some fantastic resources for anyone who is looking for support, interested in providing support, or just looking to learn more about LGBTQ+ and mental health issues… I challenge us all to talk more about mental health. How is your mental health today?

Resources:

The Trevor Project

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Mental Health America