Might be more to it than you think!
One topic that comes up frequently on the autistic groups I attend is self care.
This is usually mentioned when people are feeling stressed or have had a meltdown.
Self care is usually mentioned as something one does at the moment of distress or trouble. Things like retreating to a darkened quiet room, putting on headphones, taking a long hot bath (with bubbles!), or self comforting in other small ways.
I want to change the concept of “self care” as immediate first aid applied in generous doses to urgent situations. I believe self care, if applied correctly, goes much deeper.
“Self care” can be described as everything one does to assure one’s own health and welfare. It is not just a band-aid, quick fix box of self comforting behaviors for bad days. True self care is in seeing oneself as an entire person and taking care of ourselves, all the time, not just in emergency situations.
Many of us struggle through daily living to the extent that we might never have given thought to the future. We are busy working from stressful event to stressful event and have not stopped to think that we can make choices to change things for the better. We do not have to take on that new project. We do not have to do that dreaded social event. We do not have to jump through hoops to please others, say yes when we would rather say no. We do not have to dress in certain ways. We do not have to go to places we dread. We have alternatives! We can build lives for ourselves and take our autistic struggles and strengths into account as we build lives with less stress, better health, more convenience, fewer challenges to our sensory sensitivities, and a better future for ourselves and those we care about.
Self care is about making your own autistic accommodations. It is about planning for a healthy future. It is about doing things differently to bring about better results.
Examples of self care include thinking through your personal needs and making sure you provide opportunities to assure those needs are met.
Examples of self care: Make a schedule and stick to it, make sure you have a safe home with hand rails, plenty of space to move, less clutter, ease of access to do cleaning and laundry, and other household work. Plan for better health care, diet and exercise. Plan ahead for old age and struggles with things that might be easy now. Why wait? You can take control of so many every day issues and challenges and figure out ways to make life better for yourself.
Self care is having a list of emergency contacts, a will and a power of attorney, A person who will take on the responsibility of your care decisions if you are not able to at some point ( power of attorney for health care).
Self care is refusing to live in a filthy home, have a dirty body, or stinky clothing. There are so many ways these issues can be handled. There are so many alternatives available besides tolerating these issues because of sensory struggles or administrative dysfunctions.
Self care is refusing to take on yet another set of responsibilities because you are already stressed to the max. It is saying NO when asked to do yet another thing because you have always said yes in the past. It is taking time to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and building ways to make sure you do not harm yourself or others through making poor choices or ignoring your needs for rest, safety, or health care.
Self care is making sure you get exercise, have a healthy diet, and regular medical and dental care. Self care is thinking ahead and building a plan to make sure these things are done.
Self care is learning about yourself and what you need to stay healthy, and setting aside time for yourself instead of rushing to please others and serve their demands. It is knowing oneself and knowing what you might need help with, and what you are best at. I did not even begin to think about these things until I learned of my autism. I was busy rushing around trying to please and help others regardless of how extreme the demands on my own emotions or health. I was busy trying to appease others and to keep others from getting angry with me by any slight disagreement over even the smallest things. I had no idea how my own behavior was making my problems so much worse! I never thought about it at all, believing that all the stress and pain were simply part of life and not knowing I had deep struggles that others did not. Is this true for you today?
Self care is not selfish. It is healthy to make sure we have our basic needs taken care of, and that we build a life for ourselves which takes into account our need for perhaps unusual accommodations for our unique struggles and strengths. Most of us have heard the explanation of the “spoon theory”. It is true that if we use everything inside of us and do not replenish and provide for ways to be rested, refreshed, and renewed, that it will take us much longer to recover or to be successful at things we want to try.
Self care is an entire system of living, which you must think through and design for yourself, ( often with the help and cooperation of others) that makes sure you get what you need to survive and even thrive. One of my several often- used sayings is “self care always first”. Self care is important to your health and sanity, and to your having a better life both now and in the future. Do you have a plan for long term self care? It is not just self comfort after a crisis, it is a way of life! If the thought of making a self care plan is overwhelming, there are many ways to get help from others. Think about it and reach out if you don’t want to do it alone.