Von's No Bullshit Guide to Self Care
HI! I’m Von, GYBO’s Socials Specialist! Some of you might know me from way back when, when Sim-Wise and I worked as glamour models and sexy columnists for those things we used to call ‘Lads Mags’ (ask your Dad). I’d be found regularly writhing around semi nude, often brandishing a whip and spouting off on my infinite sexual wisdom for the once infamous FRONT magazine. Normally I will be blogging about how to be shit hot at social media, but today, instead of socials, I am going to talk about SELF CARE as it is REALLY important!
How did you go from sexy to socials?
Well, In between all the sex, writhing, and whip brandishing, I managed to fit in some time to do an actual marketing job and got pretty good at compartmentalising everything and being mega corporate. Truth be told, my workmates didn’t really know me very well then and I was coping with some pretty heavy issues which only now in my 30’s have I really gotten a grip on understanding.
Stuff like self care and mental health really weren’t discussed back then like they are now, we didn’t have the same kind of social media (well, Myspace… but that doesn’t count) so we just sort of had loads of nervous breakdowns, took handfuls of drugs and accepted we were all totally fucked up.
Self Care you say?
This blog initially started out as just the bullet pointed list below, Von’s happy clappy top tips on self care, but I realised quickly how inadequate that was, because if you’re reading this and are in the place I was ten years ago, a lot of it isn’t helpful. Self care looks VERY different for everyone depending on where they are at and what they are going through, so to understand what my self care looks like now and how I got here you need a bit of context, and while I usually try to stay away from mental health labels, I have shared mine to try and help break the shame stigma. Just know that LOTS of people have mental health issues, and the more we talk about them the less shame we feel and the less those issues come to define us.
So here we go…
I have suffered from very severe insomnia from a young age (this comes and goes in bouts, still) and I also had/have OCD which hasn’t helped my insomnia much. Because these things went untreated for a long time, I have some pretty spectacular learning difficulties, in addition to a ‘low dopamine brain’ and ADHD - thanks genetics.
Later on in life I developed some terrible issues with addiction, drugs, sex and alcohol - which combined with various traumatic events, left me with PTSD and Bipolar 2. PTSD mostly manifests itself in my sleep, when I wake up fraught with panic and night sweats (and other fun stuff) and the Bipolar 2 mostly explains my life of horrendous depression, anxiety and chronic manic episodes.
OK, so see why a chamomile tea and a back rub doesn’t always help some of us?
I can’t write a list that will apply to everyone on how to look after themselves, but I do believe there are a basic set of principles that got me through some of the darkest of places. I would also stress that above ALL else - start with professional help, from a medical practitioner or therapist. Over the years I have sought a LOT of help and I also took antidepressants for over 7 years, I even took a pill that entirely stopped my periods so my manic episodes wen’t triggered. However, it is important to know, that throughout my darkest days, I coped, and that most people wouldn’t have even known I had a problem. Coping for me came in the form of the mechanisms that were at my disposal then, drinking, drugs, sex, toxic relationships - whatever it took to pull me through whatever hell I was going through. It was after years of HARD work in therapy and working on self care that I started to get better, and I can now cope in much healthier ways.
I believe self care is THE most important thing we have at our disposal, and to me it means knowing you need to put yourself first, either because you’re not ok, OR you want to live better. Some of you might read this and be just fine, but I genuinely believe we can all live better!
People like me however, (and perhaps you) that are wired differently, don’t always do the basics, we don’t always remember to wash in the midst of an agoraphobic week long house binge (yes also me) or pop on a facemark after our fifteenth panic attack that day.
OK, CHILL OUT VON, I JUST WANTED TO READ SOME SELF CARE TIPS, YEAH?
Away from all the deep dark pits of my soul, I am a firm believer that all the things that made me wrong are what makes me now right. Everything I have been through has taught me lessons in compassion and strength, and it has given me a willingness to learn and better myself. My mania has helped create some of my best work, and how I am makes me who I am. Von today manages to go through every day with very little anxiety. I sleep without aids (I spent my ENTIRE life plugged into a laptop, with an eye mask and could NOT be touched). I am now taking zero medication and I am free of addiction… (I do really love to bang still, but it’s very controlled with my extremely caring boyfriend).
By putting my self care at the TOP of my priority list, I made a change, but without making some SERIOUS lifestyle changes I honestly don’t think I would be here today. That’s why ‘Self Care’ means WAY more to me than just looking after myself, it saved me.
I now wake up everyday feeling grateful, feeling lucky to be alive and I am healthier than I have ever been. I once relied on medication and that was OK because I needed it then, however I did manage to change my entire life by aggressively sticking to the below.
SO, now can we get to the self care bit…???!
I’ve broken down my tips, in a basic order of personal importance and given it a category - just in case you want to Google each category to read a bit more in depth about what that might look like to you, and how you can implement it in a structured way to your lifestyle.
1. EXERCISE - (physical) I have said it before and I’ll say it again, exercise quite literally saved me. I don’t see exercise as a chore anymore or something to dread. Exercise is my ultimate self care, I see it now as a treat, it’s giving back to my body that works SO hard to keep me going. Exercise fixes us mentally even more than physically, personally I go 6 times a week to the gym if I can, I vary my workouts and have grown to love it. It takes time, but start slowly, and try to see it as doing something to give back to yourself.
2. MAKE LISTS - (financial/professional) - As you can see from this blog, I do love a list. Sometimes when I feel the chaos, I list out my entire days tasks (including really basic things like ‘remember to eat’) so I can ensure I factor in me time, alongside the shit that NEEDS to get done so I can’t overthink it or worry. Journaling alongside listing has become a huge part of my healing process and therapy, I used to write daily about my emotions and patterns so I could understand myself better - and I have always kept lists of what I need to get done so I can systematically approach my day and factor in things like treats and podcasts.
3. MEDITATION - (spiritual) - At first, even the THOUGHT of meditation alone would make my skin crawl. I HATED IT. Everyone told me to do it to help with my mania, anxiety, insomnia (ETC.) and honestly at first it didn’t touch the sides. However… eventually I stuck to it, I implemented a daily ten minutes at first and then started using more and more apps like ‘Calm’, ‘Headspace’ and ‘Companion’. Meditating and controlled breathing has SAVED my ass a thousand times over, it helps me to sleep, it brings me down from mania and panic attacks and helps give my mind space when I really need it. After a lot of trying, I can now tap into it easily. Believe me, it took me YEARS, don’t panic if you aren’t a fan - try headspace first. I see it now in the same way as I see exercise. We physically need to look after our body, so hit makes sense that we need to do the same for our minds also.
4. LEARN - (psychological) - I started reading again and discovered podcasts on my spiritual/mindfulness journey and it has become a really important part of my healing and self care. I learnt the majority of things I know about mindfulness, meditation, fitness and nutrition from books and podcasts, and use them as a tool to break up my day when I’m on a ‘mad one’. I’ll listen to something positive every morning when I can, and I try to read when I am having trouble sleeping now instead of watching Netflix.
5. EAT RIGHT - (physical) - This is as important as exercise to me, and particularly so for me because I have quite a lot of imbalances. When I fall off the food wagon, I see real noticeable changes in my moods and often sleep. For me I had to make a lot of lifestyle shifts, so slowly implementing nutritional change really helped me - so like exercise, a huge part of self care for me means waking up, and planning what I will be eating that day based on the nutrients and also supplements I need. However, I do eat chocolate and sweet stuff regularly, I eat carbs, burgers, pasta too - but I have balance now, and that’s taken me a LONG time to get right.
6. TREAT YOURSELF - (emotional/physical) - Treating ourselves looks very different depending on the person. For me now, a nice glass of red and some chocolate is THE ONE, or making time to get to the gym as much as I can. Other ways of treating yourself might be crafting, or painting something, a nice facemark - just think of things that fill you with joy, and make time for them as much as you can - especially when you’re not feeling great. Whatever you consider to be a treat, make sure you ALLOW yourself it and don’t feel guilty if you indulge.
7. TALK - (social) - This can be a tricky one because sometimes we do not want to talk, like at all. An important part of my self care became learning how to talk to people and to enjoy it. That sounds weird, but as an anxious person it can be really hard just having normal conversation sometimes, so knowing when to reach out and talk to someone, even about what you’ve been up to that day is important and the benefits are huge. Knowing we have people around us to help who care, is for me the fundamental base of my self care now, and learning how to talk through my emotions or how I feel is very much at the heart of that.
8. GRATITUDE - (emotional) - Gratitude training changed my outlook on pretty much everything. I don’t say this lightly either. I started to practice being grateful when I was at one of my absolute lowest points. I worked on a gratitude diary, where I would write everyday what I was grateful for, and also listened to positive affirmations - every single day on the way to work. Later into my practice I began putting this into a mediation, a great one (for me) is Vishen Lackhiani’s 6 phase meditation (you can download this with the Mindvalley app - or YouTube) he talks you through the different stages of what you’re most grateful for, and helps you envision your future goals. A few years ago I couldn’t tell you a day when I didn’t wake up filled with dread, or sadness, or crying, and one day, it just started to shift. I started feeling really appreciative of the smallest of thing, and happy to be alive.
9. BE PRESENT (physical) - Not necessarily a massive ‘self care’ one here - BUT - for me it really is. Being in the moment, was and still is HARD for me. Slowing my shit down, living, feeling and thinking in the now, honestly was a near impossible task for my brain that works 1.2 million miles per hour. I trained myself to learn how to be present, a lot of this involved DAILY practice again - and formed a huge part of my routine. Something simple you can try, is take a daily mundane task like walking out the house to work (or down the stairs) and make yourself incredibly present doing it. When leaving the house, I would look at my shoes, process putting them on, watch the steps I would take to leave the house and then notice at least 5 new things every day on the way to work. This could be the colour of your neighbours door, or the beautiful trees near the park for example.
10. LOVE YOUR SURROUNDINGS (environmental) - Making the space around you beautiful and comfortable is a big self care YES. I remember when I was taking a lot of drugs and living in Bethnal Green, I didn’t bother buying a bed frame for about a year, slept on a mattress on the floor and would often piss in cups because I couldn’t be bothered to go down the horrible spiral staircase to the toilet in my shared house. That was bad self care. Making yourself a pillow fort when you feel like a sack of balls is great self care however. Having a bath with a glass of wine and your favourite candle if you’ve had a long ass day - also good. Learn to love your environment, no matter how much or how little you’ve got - buying a nice plant and keeping your living space clean also does WONDERS for the mind.
11. DARE I SAY IT... SLEEP - I HATE talking about sleep. I have had to talk about it since I was a child and quite frankly it terrifies me still, so it’s ok if you have this feeling too, the feeling that you want to rip someones eyes out when they say - GET MORE SLEEP AND YOU’LL FEEL BETTER. Some of us just can’t, but I will say this; advice on sleep hygiene like, don’t take laptops or phones to bed, don’t do anything other than sleep/have sex in the bedroom, go to bed at the same time every night - ALL that stuff works and you need to keep heavily on top of it if you want to feel good. IF however you’re like me - letting the F*** go of trying, and basically giving up on the battle of not sleeping was the only thing that worked (I did a LOT of therapy and eventually managed to get past 1 hour a night when I was at my worst).
12. ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE - (psychological) - I try as best I can to stick to a routine with pretty much everything I do. Not in an OCD mental way anymore, but with all of my self care, I have to keep on top of it because when I slip up, I become unstable quite fast. With ALL of the above points, if you don’t really stick to it, it doesn’t work. Just like diets, nothing is a quick fix when it comes to self care and good mental health.
NOW REMEMBER. WE ARE ALL SO DIFFERENT! DON’T PANIC if you’re not OK.
Some days self care means eating cookies in bed because you’re bleeding heavily.
Some days it means checking in with a friend to prove you’ve gone to therapy (thank you for all the friends who’ve done this for me)
Some days it’s admitting you need some extra help, and reaching out to a friend.
Some days it’s having the energy to wash, and others it’s about fully pampering yourself.
Some days it’s congratulating yourself for not drinking alcohol, others it is smashing it in the gym.
Wherever you’re at with your self care journey, my advice is always this: take baby steps, you have to start somewhere - tackle too much at once and you’ll be overwhelmed, but start somewhere, even if it is small. Make that list, start the journal, set that bedtime, take ten minutes to breathe. Just take that first step and never compare your journey to anyone else’s.