#SelfCare starts with Education

May 19, 2020

 

I bang on a lot about the importance of education and whilst that does include school, training for a profession, or to obtain a degree, what I'm most passionate about is getting to know yourself. And no, I don't mean spending hours gazing at your navel ... 

 

Neither am I advocating you take out a subscription to the British Medical Journal (unless that's your particular thing), just that you pay attention to your body and your mind. It doesn't require a science degree, just you taking the time to notice and give thought to stuff. For example, if you start an exercise programme, how about you focus on how your body responds to certain repetitive actions, maybe pay attention to how it reacts to extremes of temperature, or how your emotions are when you're sleep deprived or hungry. Start small and build. The more you practice, the quicker it'll becomes second nature.

 

Why is this #SelfCare you ask? Well, we're all individual - both in terms of our physical and emotional make-up. The medical professional is wonderful, but they operate on what is normal over a cross section of human beings. Now, that may be you, but it also may not - and only you can learn about yourself, for the medical profession doesn't have the time or resources. The more you understand about your own physical and emotional make-up, the easier you can adjust to whatever life throws at you.

 

Here's a couple of simple examples. Years ago, I believed I'd developed an under-active thyroid. I had all the symptoms ... except my thyroid readings were normal. Eventually I accepted the only thing I could change was me, and if I want to manage my weight, I have to maintain a more strict regime of diet and exercise than the average person. I'm not pretending that I'm any good at that, but I've a choice - either I do what's necessary, or I live with the consequences. More recently I've been on a weight-loss regime (yes, there is a theme emerging here) since having knee surgery. Despite the limitations of lock-down, the weight has been slowly & steadily coming off. For my birthday, I took a day off - I had a couple of glasses of Prosecco, a slice of cake and a small packet of crisps. The result was I gained 6lbs (3 kilos). Had I not known my body, I could've fallen into a pit of self-pity. But I do. I know it doesn't metabolise alcohol well - it's why I'd not drunk anything for 2.5 months, unlike pretty much everyone in lock-down. I know I simply need to return to my previous regime, and the weight will start to reduce again. Having that knowledge means I don't feel like a victim. 

 

I've selected these particular examples, as weight gain & loss is something most of us can relate to. But how about you apply that self-knowledge wider, for it can also apply to more serious medical issues. What's often key is noticing a change, then getting it checked. Most serious illnesses are more treatable when caught early. If you're confident in knowing your body, you can put together a reasoned argument from a place of self-knowledge. A GP is a generalist, and they've only a tiny window of time to diagnose your condition - help them to help you by knowing yourself.  

 

That same process applies equally to your emotional well-being and mental health. I see so many people suffering from depression who have no real knowledge or understanding of their depression. They've no idea why they have it, and so they're not empowered to help themselves. For starters, knowing if your depression is genetic, hormonal, chemical or reactional matters. The common belief is it's purely chemical - that our supply of serotonin is suddenly too low and we simply need more. But what if you need more serotonin than you normally do because life is difficult, or stressful, even traumatic? So while taking anti-depressants may help - in the short-term anyway - what caused you to need more serotonin than normal will still be there, if you don't address it. 

 

I believe it's so important to establish what category you fall in to. The choices available may be relatively limited, but if you don't know your base line, how can you make an informed decision? Always act from a position of knowledge. Your GP should be alert to any aspects of mental illness which may signpost them towards it being more than simply depression, but it's your self-knowledge and clear description of the symptoms which will help them to help you.  

 

Even when it is just depression, your GP has limited options at their disposal. A range of anti-depressants and a limited availability of talking therapy is pretty much it. That's when #SelfCare moves beyond education. That's why it's important to identify what kind of depression you have, and then find your tribe. There you'll not only find support, but also a source of shared knowledge and resources specific to your type of depression.  

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