Dakota Midnyght » Art, Writing, and The Search for Zen

Where Self Care Begins

I did an art piece a few months ago. At the time, I was really struggling with some heavy, sludgy depression and I was trying to pour out some of those feelings on paper. Sadly, as cathartic relief it was pretty much a failure. Dwelling on how I feel tends to make it worse.

In any case, finding internal peace and balance has been extraordinarily challenging these past couple months. Although I finished December on a semi-high after the art show, a combination of acute, reoccurring chest pains (undiagnosed, still), ongoing adrenal fatigue, the Engineer’s extra-long work hours, a barrage of illnesses, and Kanoe’s passing all hit hard. Really hard. Left hook, uppercut, go for the heart style hard. Oof. It was maybe even a little worse because I thought I was going to make it through these months without my annual late-winter trip down Depression Lane.

Where Self Care Begins | dakotamidnyght.com

Things are a little better now, and what made the difference is prioritizing self care. It’s a double-edged sword. Spending time on something “unproductive” feels like failure. I’m a person who likes to always move forward, always challenge myself, always see progress. When I can’t keep up my self-imposed pace, immense frustration sets in.

It goes without saying that without that downtime, nothing gets done, but hammering that fact through my numbskull brain… hmmph. I remind myself over and over: Self care does not equal finishing my to do list. Self care does not mean doing everything else for everyone else first. Self care does not mean pushing yourself to unhealthy lengths to attain goals that only matter to you.

I wish I could say I started taking time for myself before I really crashed, but I didn’t. Some of these responses developed out of sheer self-preservation, some after a little self-reflection. All require a little effort – both to make myself do them, and to convince myself that it’s worth it. (It is, despite my mental nemesis.) At this point, some of my self care equals:

taking long baths and trusting myself that taking time to sink into hot water and play on Pinterest is worth it, despite my head reminding me of the myriad of other things I “should” be doing with my “free” time – making art, reading and commenting on blogs, scheduling social media posts, or trying (or trying to learn how) to promote my writing and artwork

eating an actual lunch instead of getting by on a cheese stick or a square of chocolate and cold coffee or nothing at all (although some sources claim chocolate does equal salad   😉 )

keeping a (actual) fresh salad in the fridge (this is actually a new care) so that I can quickly add some to my meal instead of, again, “making do”

indulging in fresh cut flowers for the house

recommitting to to do lists and using my passion planner – knowing that the time spent planning will make taking time easier, even when it feels counter-intuitive to take time to plan taking time – again the “I should be doing something else ‘productive’ ” thought gets in the way!

taking short hikes with the kids when the weather is warm enough to do so. getting out in the sun EVERY day it is out.

asking for adult company when I need it instead of “toughing it out”

eating fresh fruit – I buy it but tend to save it for the kids, eating only scraps and their leftovers.

holding space for myself. trusting my own feelings and reactions instead of assuming I’m “always overreacting.” letting go of fears about what others may think of me

a cup of hot tea and toast with butter and jam at night before bed (I’m always starving at 10 p.m. no matter how much dinner I eat. this relaxes and fills me up so I don’t binge)

practicing self-forgiveness if I don’t reach my goals when I want to

It is interesting to me how many of these things really fall under the category of “general health and happiness,” and yet I often feel guilty doing them: opting to go outside instead of cleaning house, spending money on flowers, and eating fresh fruit.

Using inspirational quotes and setting intentions is a technique that really helps me focus and move forward when I’m really dragging. This week I’m using this one as my phone wallpaper:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ~Confucius

I need the reminder that progress is still progress – whether it’s one baby step at a time, or great galloping leaps.

What are your self care habits? Did you develop them in response to life situations or did you preempt difficulties with those rituals? What relaxes you most?

As a side note, I’m feeling particularly vulnerable about this post. I haven’t posted about feeling depressed in a while. I’m not sure if I’m feeling this way because I’m sharing an art piece that was made during a dark time, or if it’s that this is off-topic compared to my regular posts. 

  • Emily - Dakota, I certainly hear you on this. I am terrible about eating- constantly fixing things for the girls and then realizing I’ve had nothing… which then ends up on a binge of something random like way too much dried seaweed or chocolate chips. The essential oils have been great for this- taking time to apply them to myself morning and night (and adding to baths here and there). Also, going running! Cheers to the days getting longer.ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - It’s in the little things, isn’t it? 🙂 (Although dried seaweed certainly sounds healthier than my chocolate!) And yes, for the light!!! The sun helps sooooooo much. Thank you for coming by!ReplyCancel

  • Teri Llovet - MY favorite post in a long time! This is real.. it’s what life is made of. Of course I don’t like you, or anyone, to be depressed but you began this piece with ‘things are getting better’.. That’s the real message isn’t it? Things get better!…Plus, I love the picture. Maybe a follow up piece? That little flower near the drain.. it’s that spark that doesn’t go out, as a matter of fact, it just gets stronger and stronger..ReplyCancel

  • smithshack71 (@SmithShack71) - Keep being kind to yourself and just always put one foot in front of the other, and breathe in and out.
    Hang in there.

    Get the chest pains checked out.

    -AngieReplyCancel

    • Dakota - Angie thank you so much. 🙂 Breathing is essential, absolutely. The chest pains – I went in for them, but they couldn’t figure out what they were other than a guess at “esophageal spasms.” I’ve found that upping my magnesium/calcium intake and controlling my anxiety levels definitely makes a difference in when/how often I experience them. Thank goodness, too, because they’re were quite freaky when I first started getting them.ReplyCancel

  • Mytwicebakedpotato - such great ideas and important reminders! Thank you for being brave and vulnerable and sharing-it will help someone else
    Blessings to you!ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - Thank you so much – that means a lot! And thank you for coming by and commenting!!! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Bev - I had been wanting to get a massage for the longest time, months perhaps (I had a gift certificate I wanted to use) and I kept finding excuses. I kept finding excuses, mostly that I had work to do. Finally one evening I just booked it. Generally I’m not as good about self-care as I should be, it’s hard when you’re taking care of little ones and trying to run a business! It sounds like you have found some great things that work for you. It reminds me that I should be thinking about this more for myself!ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - Oooh, I have a certificate knocking around that I still need to use too… it’s (*blush*) at least 18 months old. I haven’t made the appointment because I have to find someone to watch the kids if I want to use it, there are so many other things that I feel like take priority.

      It IS hard, but I’m glad you made that massage appointment and I’d love to hear what else you implement to take care of yourself! Thank you so much for coming by!ReplyCancel

  • Julia - I’m sorry to hear your experienced some depression this winter. So hard. I’m glad to hear, though, that you are trying to take care of yourself. Which is also harder than it sounds! Here’s hoping the warmer weather brings us out of the duldrums!!ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - It always does, thankfully! My cycle is that I usually do pretty well in the summer and fall, maintain through the first part of the winter and then the holidays send me into a tailspin. February is my low point, and then I start to pull up at the end of March and April when the warmer weather starts and the sun is out consistently. This year though, I *thought* I was doing better than normal, so I was unprepared for the crash. Ufta. Thank you so much for your kind words. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Nina - “It is interesting to me how many of these things really fall under the category of “general health and happiness,” —-> So much truth there, Dakota.ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - I find it strange that even though a stranger would look cross-eyed at you (me) for saying “oh, I feel guilty about doing x,” I still feel guilty about it. Not sure if that’s a mom thing, a woman thing, a mental thing… or all three. It’s something I’d dearly love to figure out one day.ReplyCancel

  • JoEllen - Awww *hugs* Dakota. Thank you for being so vulnerable about this. I suppose there are a lot of things I do for self-care that I never thought of as self-care until reading this. For me, it’s indulgences like getting a favorite drink (milk tea :)) or taking naps. I never thought of eating fruit as self-care. I hope you find your way to a beautiful pint of strawberries sometime soon!

    Also, you definitely have as many free passes as you want from commenting on my little Internet space! The last thing I want is for that to be another source of stress for you. You are super on top of that and it always impresses me, but don’t let it be a burden! 🙂 I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers! May your spirits be lifted up.ReplyCancel

    • Dakota - JoEllen, you are the sweetest. Truly.

      I think everyone’s self-care has to look different because we are all so different. 🙂 I just had an epiphany that I feel better when I’m eating things meant for ME instead of my kids’ leftovers. Maybe it’s best when you don’t realize it’s self care, because you’re taking such care of yourself that it doesn’t feel like a desperate measure!

      I need to go back to your milk/boba tea recipe and really commit to making it. The Engineer and I went out for dinner last week (it’s a place called Iza with really spicy Asian food, but I’m not sure exactly which region(s) it’s from). Anyway, I drank two – TWO – glasses of Thai boba tea (partly to quench the spice, ufta!). Normally I share just one with the hubby!ReplyCancel

  • #The100DayProject - Short Poems Illustrated - Dakota Midnyght - […] this is counter-intuitive, I’m also considering this a self-care practice. It’s different from the other self-care habits I’m trying to implement in the sense […]ReplyCancel

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