Let me tell you about the spiral I have gotten myself into, and out of, and into, and (possibly?) out of in the last few weeks...

You know what, scratch that. I don’t want to tell you about my dark days. Point is that I’ve been having them, and having them more than I’d like. (At book club last week my friends and I joked that as INFJs we’re no strangers to venturing to Mordor and back before noon… LOL. Also, *deepest of sighs*)

It’s easy for this darkness to spiral. It’s easy for me to believe that things could get worse because for so long, they did. The darkness would stretch across weeks and months, consuming seemingly everything in its wake.

I haven’t experienced that all-consuming darkness for a long time, but I get glimpses of it and sometimes that’s enough for the muscle memory to kick in and for my body to start preparing for the worst. I can literally feel my foundation get wonky, and that’s when it’s easy to talk myself out of all the progress I’ve made.

It’s in these moments—these dark days—that I refer to what I’ll call my mental health survival kit (honestly I’ve never given it a name before, but I suppose that works for easy reference). It’s a list that lives in the front page of my journal and a notes app in my phone. And it looks like this:

Kate, when was the last time you…

Ate something green?
Took your supplements?
Read a book? Like a real, honest to God, printed-on-paper-you-can-hold-out-in-front-of-your-nose, book.
Went for a walk? A photo venture?
Knit something?
Wrote something?
Lifted something heavy? (And no, your emotions don’t count here, Kate. We’re talking barbells.)
Hung out with a friend in real life?
Did that deep breathing exercise you think is stupid but totally works?
Made art?
Stood in a bookstore? A craft store?
Stood next to a large body of water?
Touched a tree? Bonus points for tall trees. You know how you like tall trees, Kate.
Made something with your hands? (Folding paper over and over totally counts, FYI.)
Had a dance party in your kitchen?

Please note that “Make a pro/con list” is nowhere to be found. That’s because my rational brain doesn’t help here. If it did, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’d be able to talk myself out of it.  This isn’t about “sense” and “no sense”, this is about whatever my body believes to be true at the time. There’s no reason or logic here.

I’ve learned that trying to think my way out of these spirals—even with the most well-intentioned thoughts—doesn’t help. But taking action does, and it’s often not the kind of action you’d think of (or I would have thought of years ago at the beginning of my mental health journey). It’s the little things, like folding a piece of paper until it won’t fold anymore, holding yarn in my hands, and eating green things on more days than I don’t that tend to help the most. On their own these actions don’t seem like much. But together, stretched out over time, they’re my best antidote against the darkness.

Together, these things are a way for me to embody my light.

Let me be clear… This isn’t a dO thEse 5 ThinGs and You’lL be fInE!! Situation. Heck no, there’s nothing worse than the “Have you tried going for a walk???” person (no one asked, Susan). This is just my first line of defence. The little maintenance tasks, if you will, that I know from experience tend to work for me. And—very important—sometimes my first line of defence doesn’t work and there’s no shame in that. If I don’t feel any better after a week or two of putting these things back in my routine I’ll start booking appointments and asking for professional help.

This is simply where I start. These are the things I’ve noticed I do regularly when I’m feeling my best, and they’re also the first things to go when I’m not doing well. They can be spectacularly hard to get back into but I’m always surprised by how much they help. Stupid walks. I really, truly hate that they work sometimes.

My survival kit is for the days (weeks? months?) that I pretend to not know myself. Because it happens, and sometimes I need to see it in front of my face in my own handwriting to remember.

Reading other peoples “self-care” lists never helped me, but writing my own has. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself. When the going is good, I take note of the things that make me feel my best and write them down (because no, I won’t remember). There’s something truly encouraging about reading a list like this in your own words. It kind of feels like your future self cheering you on, a reminder that this is temporary.

There will always be valleys. I’m not trying to be rid of them anymore, I’m just trying to make them more manageable.

That’s what I’m learning… The goal isn’t all good days and “good” feelings. It’s fine to have bad days and “bad” feelings. It’s about taking care of yourself through all of it. It’s about figuring out what helps you and doing those things before you think you need to.

I go to therapy when I’m doing well so that I’m better equipped to cope when I’m not. I save more money than I think I need to when I’m working so that I have a bigger cushion for the times I’m not. I take care of my body when I’m feeling good so that I have more fight in me when I’m not moving as much or eating as well.

These things, the little things that can feel too obvious or like a waste of time in the moment, really add up. I hate that. I hate when the platitudes are true.

Anyways... Sharing in case you, too, have forgotten yourself recently. Maybe there’s something small you can do that would bring a little ease into your life. Maybe the next time things are good, it could be worth paying attention to what you suspect is a part of that and writing it down.

Remember that spring comes eventually, it always does.

Remember that it’s always okay to stick your hand up and ask for help, we’re not built to do this alone.

Be kind to yourself out there ❤️


P.S. Somewhat ironically, it’s extra important for me to hold onto this going into spring/summer. I’m not sure why, but I typically experience a low patch somewhere around May or June. There’s this initial, “YES WARMTH LONGER DAYS SO GOOD” and then I can feel guilty that my brain hasn’t caught up to the weather. I think it’s the juxtaposition... This is supposed to be a fresh start, look at everything growing and shining around me, why don’t I feel that way? Which is total crap, but a thing I’ve felt before so now I prepare for it by taking care of myself through allllll the seasons (internal and external).

P.P.S. Last week on YouTube I announced my Handmade 2019 Challenge! *cue fanfare*. I intended to explain it in this week's newsletter, but then this sort of spilled out of me yesterday and felt more important. Coles notes: Everything that comes into my home for the rest of 2019 has to be either handmade by me, handmade by someone else, or purchased from a small business (or, failing all that, purchased second hand or of the highest quality I can find???). I believe we vote with our dollars/time/attention, and I want to be putting my resources behind the things I value and the businesses I believe in.

P.P.P. (we get it, Kate) S. I’ll be mostly off Instagram for the rest of the month so if you want to chat, email me!!! :)

As always, you can find previous newsletters here.

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Kate Smalley · 348 Pape Avenue · Toronto, On M4M 1Z2 · Canada

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