I believe in the importance of self-care, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. But I wasn't always this way. In fact, until this past year, I'd heard about the self-care movement but dismissed it as "narcissistic" or "selfish." I also thought that I didn't deserve to take care of myself when I could spend that time helping others.
Hurting other people, especially those we love, is inevitable. Living with mental health issues like Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Depression, Addiction and other mood altering conditions, means we will also have to live with the fact that we hurt other people with greater frequency and sometimes with greater depth than those who are not. So if we are going to have healthy relationships, learning to acknowledge our slights and ask for forgiveness is essential.
I come from a large quirky family of addictive and codependent personalities that bred what seems like nothing but toxic relationships; relationships that ultimately did more to harm our mental, physical and emotional well-being than good (7 Basic Signs of a Toxic Relationship). I've never really considered us "dysfunctional" because we actually functioned quite well as long as everyone did their job and played their role. That job or role always being to pacify and enable the person with issues by protecting them from reality or the consequences of their actions. It looks a little something like this:
This time of year, everyone but me seems to be in the “New Year, New Me” spirit. Sure, the phrase is catchy enough; but I like who I am just fine and I have no interest in continuously obsessing about my weaknesses, failures and limitations. For me, self-acceptance is the way to grow. On the surface, I don’t see anything wrong with having the desire to grow and improve yourself. And I know that the desire to be a better you doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like who you are at the moment. But for those of us struggling with self-acceptance, “self-improvement” can become just another hammer to beat ourselves over the head with.
Talking about holiday stress, this time last year (2011), I was a holiday wreck and my mental health was in shambles. I searched high and low for a reason, any reason, to celebrate the holiday season. But I was still recovering from a severe bout with post-traumatic stress and overlapping bipolar moods that left me anxious, agitated and unemployed. My relationships with nearly everyone important to me, including my wife and children, were suffering in some way. Nothing really made sense to me (least of all happiness) and my ability to reason had temporarily left me. It was an odd feeling, being so pessimistic and not being able to help it. For the sake of my kids, I always managed to be an instant party in a box! But I could no longer counter my inner darkness by being the light of family photos and dinner parties. There was no energy left for coordinating gift exchanges or any other festivities. I just didn’t have it in me anymore.