I am living with anxiety and depression. And so, it feels like, are all of my friends. Every person I know—especially those in their 20s—have crumbled drastically in the past two years. There's been: divorce, a broken engagement, time spent in a mental hospital, severe anxiety attacks or manic episodes leading to quitting jobs, the development of anxiety and/or depression, serious contemplation of or even attempted suicide, addiction issues due to a prescription, sex addiction, drug addiction, or alcohol addiction.
These aren't the problems of just a few people; they're the problems of all my friends. It has reached a point where I always expect the phone to ring with bad news. Suicidal thoughts? Fired from your job? Impulsively cheated on your husband and you don't know why? Talk to me, friend, I feel you. These are just the average phone calls between millennials.
It's not a coincidence that these conversations started happening after January 2017, the month of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. An ugliness was unleashed that day, hindering many people's ability to enjoy life. While it's true that horrible things occurred in this country and around the world prior to Trump's election, it's also true that his election provided a lot of people with a new kind of clarity about the abundance of those things. It was a wake-up call, in the worst possible way. It became a new morning routine to wake up in a lovely mood, smile into my morning cuppa, and then hear on the news that another group of young people was gunned down in school. Or another Black teenager was murdered by the police. Or another minority group was harassed and assaulted by a MAGA-hatted terrorist. Or another woman accused a powerful man of rape, only then to be accused herself of seeking attention. Or the leader of our country made another senseless, inappropriate, degrading remark.
These things bring me down. They knock the wind out of me and make me cry. They do that to a lot of people. And so we joke about growing accustomed to the negativity, saying maybe it won't hurt as much tomorrow, because we'll grow thick skin today, but I don't buy it. Each day it hurts more. But wanting to grow a thick skin is like a hopeful affirmation of what we would like to be: immune. Less empathetic, less human, less vulnerable to pain. But that's not what we are, and so the hurt continues, and the ugliness does too.
In a world in which manifestations of hatred keep popping up, making it clearer every day that the human race is divided, feeling lost and hopeless makes sense. How can I enjoy the privileges of my life when I know that, just a few states away, families are being torn apart from one another?
It appears that I can't, that we can't. Instead, I—we—collapse. We self-medicate. We turn to excessive spending, drugs, and alcohol. All things that only make us feel worse. And then there's my "favorite" vice: social media.
My vice is all about buying into a fantasy; allowing myself an escape from real life. My current Instagram kryptonite is Nicole Kidman. I like to believe that Nicole and her husband Keith Urban are as perfect together as Nicole's Instagram paints them as being. And, while there's no doubt they're in love, I also need to remind myself as I scroll through her posts that they also must get annoyed with each other and have fights and other petty couple things, but I forget all this while I spend time immersed in Instagram. I get obsessed, and I end up convinced that my own relationship is boring and all messed-up.
And suddenly, I'm back where I started. I log off, and the world is still broken. My life is still my life. I still have depression, anxiety, and slightly yellowed teeth. Donald Trump is still the president of the United States, and Black women are still being murdered daily with nothing to show for it on the news.
Are you now thinking: Okay, so what you're telling me is, the world is shit, our lives are shit, and I can't even escape it with a daily dose of Instagram?! No, Karen. Read it again. If we spent 20 minutes a day online, that would be fine. But we don't. We spend hours and hours a day online, and it is only making us feel worse. Social media itself is not the problem. We are the problem. And our problem is a lack of tools. We were never taught self-care. And we are letting our vices stand-in for self-care, often to our own detriment.
And now you're thinking: Silly Jasmin, of course, I self-care! I order a dirty soy chai every day before work and get blackout drunk every Saturday with my friends! NO, Karen! We can't really afford any of that, not to mention caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating. Self-care starts with water, and ends with knowing when to say no to a party, saving money, and sleeping longer instead.
I know that to some of you, self-care sounds like a frou-frou millennial way of avoiding responsibilities, but that is simply untrue. Children naturally self-care. They are so in tune with the wants and needs of their bodies, they do not question their impulses to exercise, eat, hydrate, play, relieve themselves, express emotion, and rest. Their bodies request, and they oblige. We lose touch with our bodies in this way during our adolescence and then into the workforce, and it continues in our lives, especially when building a family. We are trained to work through meals or skip them, drink caffeine to avoid feeling tired, keep our feelings to ourselves, stifle the yearning to play, and so on. We train ourselves away from ourselves. I'm sure prior generations experienced this in their own way, but the world has evolved and we have additional challenges, e.g. social media, constantly distracting us from caring for ourselves.
Self-care is personal, and the more privileged you are, the more time and money you can put into it. I implore you, no matter who you are or what you do, tune in to your body and discover how you can realistically implement self-care into your daily life. Maybe you're a stay-at-home parent and have zero time to yourself? Start with body awareness. How many times a day are you holding your breath? When you notice your breath is held, release it, and then follow with a few deep inhales. Perhaps you commute to work and start the day with business calls on your drive in. Allow the first five minutes of your drive to be silent, just for you. I promise, your boss will never know! If you are fortunate to have more time in your day, perhaps 10 minutes, try taking a walk, or journaling, or reading a chapter of a book. Self-care ranges from properly hydrating (something almost everyone can do!) to visiting the spa on a weekly basis. Be realistic, meet yourself where you are. Just do it. I am certain it will help.
Here are a few ideas for self-care, ranging from five seconds to an hour; all of them have helped me, in one way or another.
- Take three deep breaths.
- Put down your phone.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Light a candle.
- Go outside.
- Put on happy music.
- Take a nap.
- Go to bed early.
- Take a bath.
- Call your best friend.
- Call your family. Chosen, blood, or otherwise.
- Work up a sweat.
- Talk with a therapist or counselor.
- Say no.
- Avoid sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Have some candy, or a drink, or a latte.
- Smoke some weed.
- Care for a plant.
- Keep sacred spaces sacred.
- Do 10 jumping jacks.
- Dance your heart out to an entire song.
- Color in a coloring book.
- Play with an animal.
- Do something silly.
- Clean out your closet and donate to a local homeless shelter.
- Elect Democrats.
Remember to go easy on yourself. Remember you are not alone. Remember this too shall pass. And remember to be kind. We are all hurting. We are all in this together. We will only make it through if we stick together, and care for ourselves.