Before election results even started coming in, I reached out to Chicago theater artist Eileen Tull asking her to write a piece for Artfully Engaging; I suggested self-care as a topic. I saw on social media that with all the creative hats she wears, she was making an effort to prioritize her wellness. And now I am so glad to share her guest blog post with all of you so that you can learn and be inspired by Eileen's journey.
When you are rested and fully present, I expect to see you engaged and creating work that blows our minds. Let's work together to keep ourselves strong so we can continue to ask important questions.
Self-Care: The Remix
It's time like these I turn to that little Internet sensation called "self-care." As a freelance performing artist with a day job and several teaching artist side-hustles (not to mention a whole host of mental health obstacles under my belt), I utilize self-care an awful lot. If I am not firing on all (or at least most) cylinders, I simply cannot create worthwhile art. People say great suffering begets great art, but I say that a lot of those artists never really had a good time. Like many things related to mental health, I worry that the true idea of self-care is getting lost in the shuffle of Tumblr posts and likes and faves and all that jazz. So here is a playlist of self-care suggestions, avenues, tips, tricks; a place to start.
Please note: I'm in no way medically qualified to talk about anything ever. All I am is a gal with a great sense of humor and lots of mental health issues (addiction, body image and disordered eating, anxiety issues, as well as a partridge in a pear tree).
1) Should You Stay Or Should You Go Now?
Sometimes self-care is about removing yourself from a situation that is unsafe for you. This situation may not be unsafe for others, but because you are a unique snowflake with your own brand of mental health cocktail, it may not be safe for you. That's okay. For example (speaking of cocktails), I perform a lot of shows in bars. As a recovering alcoholic, this can prove to be a challenge, especially as the night continues. The more that people around me drink, the less comfortable I feel. There's an emotional factor at play, but it's also that I become physically ill by the smell of alcohol. My sense memory flares up, recalling too many nights drinking until I made myself sick. This is a great boon to my sobriety, but not so much to my social life. I and those who love me understand this, so if I ever abruptly exit, most people understand that it is not out of rudeness, but emotional necessity. Those who might not understand may think me rude, and you know what? That's okay. I'd rather be rude than relapsed.
On the other hand, sometimes that flight impulse is a passing feeling. I stay more often than I leave, and I'm almost always glad I did. Don't underestimate the power of a few deep breaths, a drink of water, or a breath of fresh air to put your needs in perspective.
2) Here Comes The Sun
Go outside. Yes. It's still there. And we need it. Even when it's cold or it's rainy or it's oppressively hot. We need to feel the outside world. So much of our lives are spent living through screens (she said as she typed away on an iPad), where the reality is getting lost in the virtual more and more. Go outside and let your senses experience the world. It's fall in Chicago, the most engaging time of year. The smells and sights of leaves falling to the ground, the feel of the crisp autumn air: this is the world. Take a five minute walk or even open a window. So often when I feel in the midst of a breakdown, my instinct is to retreat into my apartment and plug my face into my machines. Interacting with the outside world always gives me a different point of view, reminding me that I am not alone on this earth and that I am able to look outside myself to ask for assistance.
3) Help! I Need Someone!
Ask for help. Self-care doesn't have to be solitary. People who love you want to be there for you. This is a hard one, because you have to strike the balance of asking for help, but being able to hold yourself up. I'm still heavily working on this one, because I'm used to being a relatively independent and self-reliant person who doesn’t come off the court unless there’s blood. Recently, I experienced a tragic loss in my family, something very painful and sudden. My addict voice tried to convince me that this grief was too much for other people and to clamp down on my feelings. "Suffer through it, don't burden anyone else." I quickly found that a) this grief was too much to bear alone and that b) I have built a network of people that would not leave me alone, constantly pestering me with love and support. When people want to love you, believe them. And furthermore, be the loving person for someone else in their time of need.
4) These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
No self-care arsenal is complete without the things that you love. As you feel yourself tipping, peeking over that despair cliff, wondering once again if you can fly, bust out the things that bring you joy. Make a playlist of songs (may I recommend lots of Sia], OK Go, this crazy, sorta Christian ska band from my youth called Five Iron Frenzy, the last five minutes of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and listen/dance to them as long as you can. Save the links to those articles that made you feel better and heard and more informed about yourself. Find podcast interviews with your favorite people or YouTube clips of parakeets that make you laugh. I have a folder on my phone titled "Nice Things People Say," full of screenshotted compliments and affirmations. It sounds a little desperate on paper, but I can't tell you how many times I have looked through those images and remembered compliments that my brain tried to block out. So whatever the things are that bring you joy: a TV series, book, video game, song, sport, comic book, etc., give yourself space to enjoy those things.
Of course, the caveat here is to find a balance between enjoying and binging. I love The West Wing, but after seven straight hours of watching a few years ago, I swear that Leo McGarry looked right at me with frustration and said, "get a hold of yourself, Eileen." This may have been a slight hallucination. See #2.
5) Do The Mess Around (Or Don't)
Get your mess in order. Yes, self-care is about treating yourself sweetly in a harsh world. We must be more gentle with our beautiful selves. But. Self-care is also about feeding yourself well. Taking a shower. Finishing a project. Sending an email. Paying a bill. Doing your laundry. Taking out the garbage. When I become so overwhelmed by "life," what I'm really overwhelmed by are my thoughts and feelings, usually relating to my mental health challenges. I allow this overwhelming to atrophy my productivity, and as more and more things pile up, my anxieties grow. The vicious cycle becomes a fun wheel to spin at the county fair; which task will I obsess about but put off completing NEXT??!? When I find myself here, I try to focus on what I am physically able to accomplish. If my to-do list is laundry, save up money, end street harassment, and achieve equality for all humans, maybe I should start with laundry. So yes, watch a cute video of a cat and take a walk, but also take out the recycling, finally. For the busy mind, these tasks are frustrating and cyclical, but tackling them allows me to literally make more space for things that make me well. They are the first to fall by the wayside when stress starts to mount, and they have a cumulative impact on my ability to move forward with anything.
And if needing to be reminded of this makes me bad at "adulting," so be it. Nobody's perfect, and unburdening myself of the notion that I have to be has been one of the best progressions of my life.
Care for yourself. Unplug your devices. Volunteer your time. Tell somebody that they're great. Get eight hours of sleep. Drink water. Go to a museum. Look at pictures of Harrison Ford from the 1980s. Eat green things. Apologize for that thing you feel guilty about. Make something with your hands. Write down that thought you keep having. Tell yourself that you're good, you're great, you're wonderful. Throw away that potato.