For so long, "self-care" and "me time" have been synonymous.
"If you're stressed out, take some time for yourself. Self-care is important." We hear the message from all forms of media—it's the plot-line of your favorite sitcom, the main message in movies about being a mom. We find it in listicles on BuzzFeed or Tumblr text posts.
"Read your favorite book, take a long bath, get a massage, go to the nail salon."
Those things aren't bad; they can be beneficial and help you relax when you're stressed and overwhelmed. Taking some time to do something you enjoy is good.
The problem is when that form of self-care finds its way into tips on how to deal with mental illnesses.
While stringing up fairy lights and putting on fuzzy socks to read your favorite book might lift your spirits, the suggestions are ultimately just "cute" solutions for "cute" mental illnesses.
Mental illnesses aren't cute.
Depression isn't a poetic melancholy; it's wearing the same clothes for three days straight and not enjoying the things you used to love and knowing you need to do even the simplest of things but not being able to bring yourself to do them.
(It looks different for each person, but when it comes down to it, depression is never cute. It's a drag and it sucks.)
Normally, those who struggle with their mental health—especially those who struggle with depression—are severely demotivated. Important tasks are left unmet, bills unpaid, basic hygiene ignored. Not because those of us with mental illnesses are lazy, but because those mental illnesses are tiring.
If you have anxiety, you're on edge all the time and your adrenaline is crashing frequently from anxiety/panic attacks. Fighting your brain and its depressive and suicidal thoughts is exhausting. Plus, low energy and fatigue are common side effects for both depression and anxiety.
It makes sense to not have the motivation to do things. But if you're going to find it within yourself to actually do something, then the most empowering thing to do isn't something fun or cute or getting back into a hobby.
If you actually want to take care of yourself in the midst of your mental illness, then do something responsible that you've been avoiding.
Take a shower. Wash the dishes that have been in the sink for days and are stinking up the place. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Vacuum your room.
Go to the gym like you've been meaning to, maybe even going every week. (Not gonna lie, it was extremely hard for me to make it a habit, but I've noticed significant changes in my mood because of it. Whether it's going to the gym or staying home to do weights or walking or whatever you want to do, make working out a priority.)
Pay your bills. Eat actual meals instead of snacking on whatever is left out on the counter. Drink water and maybe even eat something healthy.
Apologize to your friends for vanishing and try to connect with them again, or in the very least let them know you still need space. They're just worried about you, and you owe it to them to let them know what's going on.
Call someone who will encourage you to make that doctor's appointment you've been avoiding.
Wash your car. Do the laundry. Scrub the toilet bowl before the feces stains become permanent.
Sit down and compose the important e-mail you need to send or the cover letter for a job that you've been meaning to get around to.
If you're going to practice self-care—which you should—then do the responsible things first. Treating yourself to an at-home spa day or going to the pet store to pet the cute, fluffy animals can come later.
Responsibility is empowering, and it will set us on the path of recovery and back to mental health more than fairy lights will.