S is for Self-Care

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Ah, you are thinking. A post that is not about writing. I will skip it.

Please don’t! This is most certainly about writing, and about the fact that your writing comes from your health. There’s some sort of romantic allure to the overworked artist, sleep-deprived and substance-abusing, perhaps artfully depressed. Speaking as someone who recently experienced depression, I can tell you for a fact that it will rob you of your ability to write. Sleep-deprivation, substance abuse, mental health issues, and chronic overwork will not help you write. You might be able to carry on for a time, but when it catches up to you, the crash is going to be horrific.

Also, please understand that when I mention self-care, it is not as some superhuman self-care guru. I am a person who almost always remembers to brush my teeth, and on days when the planets align, I also moisturize my face and drink a glass of water before bed. (I once told myself that I would do that every day, because after years of living in this body, I apparently still do not know myself at all. Ah, well.)

Now, I see a lot of articles about self-care in different professions: nursing, veterinary work, psychiatry. The long and short of it appears to be that people in these professions really need self-care, and also are terrible at it, and the truth is that writers are no different in either of those two capacities. Unfortunately, there is one place that we are different: writers are more prone to mental health issues than the general population.

A lot of people pin this on a writer’s lifestyle: a lot of time alone, indoors, often with shaky finances. Personally, I think the root cause goes deeper, to the same talent that helps writers capture the full range of human emotion – but whether I’m right or wrong, the lifestyle I mentioned above doesn’t help much (and I say that as a contented introvert). Thus: self-care for writers. The following are tips and tricks that I have learned the hard way, and have been made as general as I can make them.

  1. Maintain a good sleep schedule. You’re a writer. Your dreams are your bread and butter, so do what you can to get regular sleep. It’s not always possible, certainly, but when you can do it, prioritize it! Try to get away from blue light about a half an hour before bed. And yes. That means stop writing! I encourage you to keep a notebook by your bed so you’ll know you can capture the ideas that crop up on the edge of sleep.
  2. Don’t forget maintenance of health issues. Say it with me: my writing comes from my health. Take medicine, go to physical therapy, see therapists, avoid allergens, whatever it  may be. Don’t let your health issues spiral out of control if you can help it.
  3. Watch for signs of mood disorders, and have your loved ones do the dame. These are endemic in the writing community, and they are truly devastating diseases. They are neither to be romanticized, nor are they a sign of weakness. There are as many optimal treatments as there are people, so if you find yourself in the grip of one, work with your doctors and loved ones to come up with the ideal plan for you.
  4. Do the basic, boring things. Eat fruits and veggies, limit mood-altering chemicals, get sunshine, and get moving. All general, all helpful.
  5. Take time off and cultivate other interests. Things have a way of figuring themselves out in your subconscious while you work on doing something else. So, guilt-free, make sure you set aside time to pick up a book, play a video game, learn to play an instrument, tap dance, or whatever else. Make time to decompress in the ways that are important to you.

Everyone has their own rhythms. For your sake, and for the sake of your friends, family, and writing, listen to yourself and learn yours. There will be very personal things not listed here, such as having a warm blanket to curl up in or a particular kind of tea. Pay attention to your mind and your body.

Stay healthy.

2 thoughts on “S is for Self-Care

  1. You discuss so many of the things I need to do in order to be healthy and functioning. Sleep is especially key for my mental health. I agree that there is something about being highly creative that predisposes artists to mental instability. My twenties were a mess -dark and scary – because I didn’t realize that my habits could have an effect on my mental state. It took a lot of pain to discover the path you outline here.

    -aniko

    • Aniko,

      It took me so long to shed the belief we’re fed about artists *needing* to be unstable, and I had a very similar experience to yours, I think. Awful. Terrible and scary and dark. I am so glad you’re feeling better now!

      -M

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