Is eating 10 cookies self care — or self sabotage? What about retail therapy? In today’s show we discuss the idea of self care, particularly for those of us with mental illness. If you watch TV when you should be studying, is it self care or wasting your time? Self care is clearly very important, but when does it slip into a coping mechanism? Click on the player below to listen now!


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Computer Generated Transcript for “Self-CareEpisode

Editor’s NotePlease be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Lisa: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast hosted by my ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder. Together, we created the mental health podcast for people who hate mental health podcasts.

Gabe: Hey, everybody, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Not Crazy podcast, I’m your host, Gabe Howard. And with me, as always, is the fantabulous Lisa Kiner.

Lisa: Usually you then say, Lisa, or something like that.

Gabe: I just

Lisa: Ok, you’re right, that’s dumb.

Gabe: I just said your name. You don’t think that’s good enough?

Lisa: Ok, you’re right, you’re right.

Gabe: Don’t you have a quote, lady?

Lisa: You’re right. OK.

Gabe: Read your quote. You have one job.

Lisa: I’m thinking. I’m thinking.

Gabe: Hang on. I’ll fix it for you. Lisa, welcome to the show.

Lisa: By the way, I have a comment on that, too. Don’t say welcome to the show. It makes it sound like I’m a guest.

Gabe: A minute ago, you said normally you welcome me to the show anLisa: No, I said that.

Gabe: Therefore I didn’t and now and you say, OK, hang on,Lisa: All right, never mind. OK.Gabe: Ladies and gentlemen,

Lisa: Let’s just stop talkingGabe: This is

Lisa: I’ll do my quote.Gabe: Hang on, hang on. I want to explain this because you’re not cutting this, Lisa. Notice I didn’t say welcome toLisa: I’m so cutting this.

Gabe: To the show because she said that makes me sound like a guest. And I didn’t say it. And then she pointed out that I didn’t say it, so I said it. And then she immediately criticized me and said, hey, by the way, don’t say that. You recognize I didn’t say it until you told me to say it?

Lisa: No, you have to say something, just not that thing.

Gabe: This, this, this,

Lisa: You’re doing it wrong.

Gabe: This right here, Lisa, is why you should not start a podcast with your ex-wife,

Lisa: I thought you were going to tell me it’s the secret sauce?

Gabe: Instead of welcome to the. Oh, secret sauce.

Lisa: I know you like secrets sauce. You know, it’s just Thousand Island dressing, it’s not really a secret. Childhood ruined.

Gabe: I have no idea what it is, but I do know that the audience has been waiting for a quote.

Lisa: Hey, everyone, today we have a proverb and that is you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Gabe: This proverb is so common in advocacy circles, I hear it in caregiver support groups, friends and family groups,  hear it from peers, people living with mental illness. I hear it all the time. And it’s so simplistic. It doesn’t matter how desperate you are to give to somebody else. If you don’t have it, you can’t give it. And it’s fascinating to me that people can say things with such little words.

Lisa: Hence proverb.Gabe: But this leads us right into our topic today, which is self care. Self care is one of the things for people living with mental illness that is the most needed. Well, frankly, self care is one of the things that just everybody needs. But we’re a mental health show. Self care. It’s so vital. It’s so important. It’s so necessary. And in its own way, it’s so incrediblystigmatized as some sort of almost a luxury item.

Lisa: Well, this isn’t just related to mental illness. We see this everywhere. This is the whole concept behind caregiver support groups or respite care, and it’s very much regarded as a luxury item. But have you noticed it’s only a luxury item if you can buy something? Because self care isn’t about, you know, taking care of yourself, it’s about indulging yourself.

Gabe: People, they sort of conflate self care with self-indulgence, they see taking care of themselves as like rewarding themselves or praising themselves or doing something nice for themselves. And people are uncomfortable with this idea. Right. They should be working with their children or their jobs or making money or cleaning the house or doing something productive. And they really don’t see it as self care. They see it as indulgence.

Lisa: This is especially obvious in things that are marketed towards women. Notice any article you read about self care s always things like, oh, relax in the bath with these expensive soy candles or you need this artesian chocolate or do you have 1000 thread count sheets for your pampered nap? It is interesting that this idea of self-indulgence can be commodified.

Gabe: Lisa, in order to make sure that we’re on the same page, because so often we’re having different conversations on the same show, we need to define self care. And one of the things that I’ve noticed is that people conflate self care nd self-indulgence as if they’re the same thing. And I think this is very, very important to understand that there’s adifference between being self-indulgent and caring for yourself.

Lisa: And often that has to do with the marketing of various products to women because self care is so incredibly mportant and that means you need to pamper yourself, you need to indulge yourself. You need to give yourself something expensive.

Gabe: Give yourself a break today, and after all, getting a haircut isn’t just a chore that you have to do to make sure that your hair isn’t in your eyes. No, no, no, no, no. It’s a way to take care of yourself and come out the other side feeling refreshed.

Lisa: Self care seems to very often equal out to a spa day, which is odd, why is it always a spa day?Gabe: I think it’s important to note that you can give yourself a spa day and that can be self care, taking a break fromthe world is the very definition of self care.

Lisa: But I think when people conflate self care and self-indulgence, it makes them less likely to participate in self care because it seems again like an indulgence and therefore something you can skip, something that’s not as important as other things you’ve got to do.

Gabe: And that’s really the crux of what we’re trying to get out right? Self care is just taking time for yourself to reenergize. It’s literally putting liquid in that cup. Nobody is telling you what that liquid needs to be. It can be water. It can be diet soda.

Lisa: But is it artesian water?

Gabe: Well, it can be just whatever.

Lisa: From the Alps?

Gabe: People think it’s self-indulgent because they’ve decided that if it’s artesian water from the Alps or it’s tap water, it’s the same thing. It’s a shame that taking a couple of hours for yourself is seen as shirking your responsibilities or being lazy or being irresponsible or being mindless or

Lisa: Vain.

Gabe: Vain. It’s really kind of a bummer if you’re a person that wants to go to a spa day and you have the time, energy and finances, resources to do it. And that is part of your self care routine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.But I am so saddened when I tell people, look, you need to take an hour to yourself every evening and they’re like,you know, I’m not one of these rich people that can just go to the spa whenever I get overwhelmed. Like, Wow, I can’t believe that you’re equating taking an hour to yourself at the end of the day to make sure that, again, you have some liquid in your cup to pour from as taking 12 hours to go to a spa. Those two things are worlds apart.

Lisa: And spending hundreds of dollars.

Gabe: Yeah.

Lisa: The implication is that self care is shirking your duties to other people and especially again in all these productsthat are marketed towards women, because after all your primary responsibility, well, your primary reason for existence is to care for other people. Caring for yourself is a secondary thing, maybe not even a priority at all. And that’s why you need to be reminded to do self care, probably at the spa, because strangely, although women are tasked with caring for every aspect of family life, they’re also morons who can’t take care of themselves and will just sit around and die if not reminded.

Gabe: It’s a fascinating concept to think how marketing has changed our view of things, right? For example, men get haircuts, too, but we don’t look at it as any sort of pampering event. We just look at it as a chore that we need to do. But then I look at marketing for like cars. You know, a car for a man is part of your virility. It’s part of your machoism. It’s part of your manhood. It tells other people who you are because apparently this works on men. And I’m going to focus n like on a midlife crisis. The car industry tells you all you need is a fast car, preferably a red one with a convertible, whereas a woman who is uncomfortable with her age, well, she needs plastic surgery,

Lisa: Yeah

Gabe: It’s the same feelingLisa: That’s a good point.

Gabe: In a different direction. And I think this all just muddies the water because, again, maybe these are self-indulgent things, maybe these are personal preferences. But these thoughts are not our own. They’re heavily influencedby culture and marketing. And again, I think they make it harder for people just to take a moment for themselves because they’re getting all of these mixed messages.

Lisa: Well, but self care isn’t just about mental health, it’s also literally about caring for yourself. How come we don’t count things like exercising or eating well or sleeping as being part of self care?

Gabe: It’s interesting that you brought up sleeping and I want to focus on that one, like uber hard. People equate sleeping with laziness.

Lisa: Big time.

Gabe: It’s the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. People need sleep. Every single person needs sleep. Yet we think you’re lazy for sleeping.

Lisa: Yeah, very much so.

Gabe: How much sleep you get, the time you sleep, how you sleep.

Lisa: People who don’t sleep very much are held in high esteem.Gabe: Right, because they’re go getters.

Lisa: Right.

Gabe: Or they’re doing I don’t even know. Lisa, you used to work nights and I was fascinated because everybody called you lazy because you were asleep at noon, even though you didn’t go to bed until literally 8:00 in the morning.

Lisa: Well, people would always say that, oh, well, I bet it’s nice to sleep in all day, you just stay in and sleep away the whole day. How do you think nightshift workers are supposed to exist?Gabe: This, of course, is the misunderstanding of sleep. Culturally were raised early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. So the fact that you are still asleep at noon must mean you’ve done something wrong. And the very fact that you were up all night working is irrelevant to the cultural expectation that people who sleep at noon are ne’er do wells. I love

Lisa: Yeah.

Gabe: The way you handled it by starting to call people at midnight, and asking them why they were sleeping when there was just all this prime time to work when the world’s quiet.

Lisa: Pointing that out to people did help sometimes, but it was amazing how often I got crap for that and it was constant. I actually had a doctor say that to me once, years ago, that Americans regard sleep as a matter of will, that you can just force yourself to need less. There you go. Done. Oh, you got a lot of stuff to do in the day? Just sleep less. Problem solved.

Gabe: It is where we steal our time

Lisa: Exactly.

Gabe: If we need extra time in a day, we get up early to get it done. We stay up late to finish the project. And if we don’t make up that sleep, we can become irritable, depressed, angry, anxious, and especially if you’re prone to mental health issues already. Like I live with bipolar disorder. And I can tell you the number one thing that tells me that symptoms are coming and/or drives symptoms is how well I’m sleeping. If I don’t respect sleep, it really is like the gateway to all of my symptoms. But even I have these messages like, oh, I just lay there and do nothing.

Lisa: Right.

Gabe: What if I could sleep six hours a day? And I happen to live with somebody, my wife, she only needs about six, seven hours of sleep on average a night. And that’s the legitimate amount that she needs.

Lisa: But people think that you can force yourself on that. Your body has a set amount of sleep that it needs and that varies for everybody and that’s it. That is how much you need. You can’t make it be less.

Gabe: I need about eight to nine hours a night. Again, my wife needs about six or seven hours a night. Now, maybe it’s because she’s 10 years younger. Maybe it’s because she eats a better diet. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman. Maybe it’s because she exercises. It’s really irrelevant. That’s the amount of sleep that she needs and this is the amount of sleep that I need. It’s very easy for two things to happen. It’s easy for her to say, oh, man, you’re sleeping the day away. That’s one possibility that can cause animosity in the Gabe and Kendall relationship. The second is, I look at her and I think I am so lazy and I start trying to force myself to be on her sleep schedule. Well, what do you think happens?Lisa: That’s an excellent example. The amount of sleep you need is the amount of sleep you need. It’s not a number you can control. It’s not something that makes you good or bad. There’s not a moral value to it.

Gabe: Well, it’s like food, it’s like deciding that in order to be fair or reasonable, that the six foot three adult needs tohave the identical amount of calories for dinner as a five year old. We both need the amount of food that we need. And even there’s even variance in that. All six foot three adults don’t need the same amount of food. People who run 25 miles a day and who are training. Remember the gold medalist, Michael Phelps?Lisa: And how much he ate.

Gabe: He needed 12 to 15,000 calories every day because that’s how much he was exerting.Lisa: That was fascinating.It took him like three hours to eat.

Gabe: How many medals did he win?

Lisa: Oh, I don’t know, like 17 or 18.

Gabe: Right, so somebody that’s his age and his height and his weight couldn’t say, oh, well, I also need 15,000 calories and people understand that. That makes sense to them. Yet if somebody said, well, Michael Phelps only sleeps five hours a night, somebody would say, oh, well, then I can, I’m his same age. And I would venture to guess that if somebody said Michael Phelps sleeps 12 hours a night, they think, huh? Well, that’s weird. I wonder why he’s so, I don’t know if they’d choose lazy because he does have eight gold medals, but the word that they put there would not be positive.Lisa: I think it’s interesting what you said about sleep is where you steal time. People think that all the time and they’ll even say stuff like that, like, oh, did you do the following thing yesterday? Oh, no, I didn’t have time. I had to go to sleep. Oh, my God, how selfish. If you needed to catch more time, if you needed more time to do anything, the thing you should have sacrificed was sleep. People see diet and exercise as being part of caring for your body, but they don’t see sleep in the same way. If you make a priority of your diet and your exercise, like, oh no, I have to have that extra 30 minutes a day to get on the treadmill. People see that as virtuous. But if you say, oh no, I have to have X number of ours per night, nah, you could do better.

Gabe: And we can’t talk about self care without pointing that out. The amount of sleep that your body needs is the amount of sleep that your body needs. And when you get it, you operate at peak physical everything. It’s fantastic. People who are dragging through the day, forget about mental health for a moment. Forget about mental illness. Forget about all of that for a moment. Who has seen their friends, coworkers, family members, tired? Do any of those people ook like they are in peak physical condition, top mental capacity? Do they look like they’re ready to take on the world? Yet they’re so impressed that they only got six hours of sleep or

Lisa: Yeah,Gabe: Five hours of sleep or.

Lisa: People brag it up.

Gabe: They stayed up until midnight and they’re up at 5:00 a.m. These people are not doing well. They’re not awesome. They’re awake and the bar is low.

Lisa: Sleep is much more important than I give it credit for, I can almost always trace emotional upset to a lack of sleep. It has a huge impact on my mental illness, and I don’t give that the respect that it deserves.Gabe: But on one hand, you do because you do understand sleep hygiene, I am the best at sleep hygiene in the whole wide world and you are mediocre and my wife is the worst. Now, my wife has no problem sleeping. So in fairness, she probably doesn’t need it. But sleep hygiene.

Lisa: We all know Gabe is a big sleep hygiene fan.

Gabe: I am. I love sleep hygiene, but sleep hygiene says that you only use your bed for sleep and sex, that’s it. You don’t have a TV in your room, you don’t read in bed. You don’t play with your phone. You don’t, you do none of this. And you set up your sleeping area to be different from the rest of your house. You make it cooler or warmer. You make it darker. The idea is that when you get into this room and into bed, your body has no choice but to start the sleepingprocess because there’s nothing else to do. I have a white noise machine because I want my room to sound different. I’ve blocked out the sun. I have a fan, I keep the room cooler. I do not use my phone in my bedroom. And in fact, I don’t even bring my phone into my bedroom. My charging station is downstairs in the living room and this helps me tremendously. I fall asleep pretty easily these days compared to where I was. I still have a lot of problems sleeping, but compared to where I was, oh, it’s so much better. So much better.

Lisa: Really? Because that used to be a big deal for you.

Gabe: Oh, it was a huge deal before I’d ever heard of sleep hygiene, and I thought, oh, well, I’m just not tired. And of course with the mania I’d stay awake for two or three days and it would just be gone. And then with depression, I’d sleep for two or three days. But notice what I said. The sleep was interrupted and there was a symptom, mania or depression. A sleep schedule is important and that’s the final part of sleep hygiene. It’s going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. This really, really matters. And all of this directly impacts the amount of liquid you have in your cup to pour. If you didn’t get enough sleep, you’re just not going to be able to help other people. And since we look at slf care as self-indulgence, the reason that we do that is because we want to help other people. Well, how much help are we to other people if we can’t think straight? If we’re tired, we’re irritable, we’re angry or we’re symptomatic? I think you’d be much better spent doing the self care and giving your loved ones 100%.

Lisa: Well, don’t you think that’s interesting that you’re actually framing self care in the context of by doing good self care, this is how you’l be able to care for other people? Really? You need that as a justification? You can only take care of yourself if the ultimate goal is to be able to adequately care for others, why can’t you just do it for its own sake?

Gabe: That is a very good point, it is one that I did not think of, but I think the answer is that people who do things for themselves and understand that they need to do things for themselves, they don’t need to be convinced.

Lisa: And they don’t necessarily call it self care.

Gabe: Yeah, they just call it part of their routine, they call it me time, they I don’t think they’re listening to this show and thinking, you’re right, I need to spend more time for myself. I think they’re listening to this show and thinking, really? There’s people that believe that if they ignore their own body and mind and soul, that they’ll be fine, that they can just ignore themselves and what they’ll magically be OK? Well, that sounds like nonsense, but I believe that. I believe that my time is best spent caring for others. And any time that I am not caring for others, I am doing something wrong. Yeah, one of the ways that convinced me to do more self care is to realize that I could better care for others. That’s honestly what did it.

Lisa: Well, is that a mental illness, self-esteem thing where you are not worthy in your own right, you’re only worthy because of that of which you can offer to others?

Gabe: It’s certainly a possibility it could also just be personality, I’m a very extroverted person, I like spending time with other people. I get something from helping people. Let’s talk about this podcast for a moment. I get something out of it. I like discussing this and spreading these ideas out into the world. It makes me feel good to know that these discussions are happening. It makes me feel good to think that the research that I’ve done, the people that I’ve talked to, the ideas and the opinions that I have collected, can have a greater audience other than me and my circle of friends. So stopping to do that represents sort of a battle in my own mind. Gabe, should you take two hours to relax or should you write another article or should you make another podcast? Should you do another video? Should you cook your wife dinner? And this is a conflict in my mind, because I do get more enjoyment from helping others than I do taking care of myself.

Lisa: Well, do you think that’s part of why self care can sometimes be difficult for people with mental illness? Because it means prioritizing yourself?

Gabe: I think that that’s a very interesting thing, and I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know that I value other people more than myself and that is a self-esteem issue. And that is very problematic because obviously, if I don’t value myself, then I don’t take good care of myself. If I don’t take good care of myself, I put myself in harm’s way and arguably, not for nothing, if I am in harm’s way than the people around me who care about me, people like Lisa, people like my wife and my parents. Well, now they’re going to have to do something about it. And that’s going to be an inconvenience to them, which are all good reasons that I need to take care of myself.

Lisa: Still bringing it around to others.

Gabe:  We’ll be right back after we hear from our sponsors.

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Lisa:  And we’re back, talking about self care vs. self indulgence.

Gabe: I do think that there is a component of a mental health issue in thinking so little of yourself that you don’t want to do anything that you can’t directly relate to the greater good.

Lisa: Right, caring for yourself is not part of the greater good.

Gabe: Yeah, why do I think that way? For what it’s worth, I don’t know that Gabe’s sleeping helps the greater good.

Lisa: Why wouldn’t it?

Gabe: I think it probably just helps Gabe.Lisa: But what do you define as the greater good?

Gabe: Well, there’s a problem as well. When we talk about self care, we never know what qualifies as self care and what qualifies as wasting your time. For example, when I have a deadline and I make the decision to watch television and not complete the project, is that self care or is it just laziness?

Lisa: That becomes a thing, though, right? So if I decide to instead of doing whatever it is work I feel that I should be doing at that moment, I instead take time for myself and have that spa day or watch TV or whatever. Is that because I’m caring for my own mental health or is that because I lack the discipline to do what actually needs to be done? Where is the line between self care and indulgence?

Gabe: I think this is where we need to be introspective, right? We need to understand is the reason we’re not completing the project because we’re mentally unwell? If that’s the case, then it’s no different than if you get the flu orget in a car accident or break your leg and can’t complete the project, or are we making bad choices? Are we just being lazy or not managing our time? Well, where does that fall? That’s complicated because it’s so personal. But I also think it’s complicated because if every single time you sit down to relax, you think you’re lazy, it’s going to make it that much more difficult to figure out when you’re actually being lazy.

Lisa: It’s really easy to delude yourself that no, no, no, this is self care, this isn’t laziness. This isn’t me shirking responsibilities. I need this. I need this for my own mental health. Some would argue that self care involves self-discipline. It’s not doing the thing that makes you feel better in the moment, but something that’s good for you long term. But then you, of course, would need to have the realization that caring for your physical self is good for you long term.

Gabe: And this is where we need to understand that not every leisure activity or taking time out for yourself is self care. Some of it is, some of it isn’t. And that’s why we need to understand what practicing self care actually is. It’s understanding your priorities. It’s having respect for yourself and the choices that you have made. If the choice that you made led to you to miss a deadline, that probably impacted other people, it could impact your ability to earn a living and pay your rent. We have to understand that the things that you do in the moment, do they feel good? Do they feel bad? Which part of it matters?

Lisa: If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in kind of this consumer based self care, it’s probably because you’re not doing real self care. If you’re constantly having to take this break and step back from your real life to be self indulgent, it’s probably because you’re not taking care of yourself overall.

Gabe: And then we run the risk of self care activities that while definitely meet the definition of self care cause problems in other areas, like you mentioned, retail therapy. When I get so stressed out, the thing that helps me calm down is to go buy stuff. Well, now you have a bunch of credit card debt. You can’t make your mortgage payments, your rent payments. Your spouse is like, why are you spending all of this money? You’ve got all of this junk that you don’t want, but you feel better when you do it. But that’s not a coping mechanism or a self care mechanism that’s helping. My favorite self care item, Lisa, was eatingLisa: Yeah, good point.

Gabe: And I ballooned all the way up to 550 pounds. We have to understand that self care has long term benefits. It’s not just about feeling good in the moment. I believe that self care is something that feels good both in the moment and long term. If it only feels good in the moment, it’s probably not self care because it doesn’t have those long lasting effects.

Lisa: I would agree with that part, but self care doesn’t have to feel good in the short term, in the moment. Things like exercising or eating well, that doesn’t feel good in the moment. I would much rather have the chocolate than the kale, but long term, it’s better for me to not eat junk food, but it feels way better in the moment.

Gabe: You know, I never thought about that, Lisa. You know, I tend to think about self care is something that I can do to make myself feel better, like I’m feeling bad and I do self care, and that makes me feel good. You’re saying that you look at self care as part of the things that you need to do on a daily basis as sort of a maintenance plan, whereas I’m sort of looking at self care as a coping skill.Lisa: I don’t think that makes sense at all, there’s plenty of things that make me feel good in the moment, eating junk food, spending too much money, these are not things that are going to help my long term self care.

Gabe: I.

Lisa: I think that you might be using self care as a justification to do stuff you know is bad for you and you want to do anyway. Oh, no, no. I’m not procrastinating on my deadline. I’m caring for myself. Oh, no, no, I’m not eating crap. I’m soothing my mental health.

Gabe: You are right, I love the example that you use because I know it’s directly pointed at me. Comfort foods are a big thing in Gabe’s world. I had a bad day. Whatever we planned to have for dinner is canceled. We’re now having pizza because it makes me feel better.

Lisa: Self care does not necessarily mean treating yourself. It means taking care of yourself long term.

Gabe: I really like how you said that self care is not treating yourself or giving yourself extra.Lisa: And the fact that you’re using it shows that you’ve done this whole thing where we’re commodifying self care, because, of course, when you treat yourself, you probably need to buy something to do that.

Gabe: 100 percent.

Lisa: You need to buy something expensive or at least something that you wouldn’t always buy. Certainly a non-essential item. Also if you’re having to treat yourself all the time, self care is something that you’re resorting to because you’re absolutely exhausted and you’re just completely wrecked. I don’t know that that’s a good system.

Gabe: I do think that self care needs to have some sort of efficacy to it, the things that you’re doing to take care of yourself, I think should be working. And I think we need to be honest with ourselves is the things that we’re doing helping us be our best long term, or are we gravitating towards things that are easy, or are we throwing money at problems that actually need therapy or discussion or changes?Lisa: And using that as a justification, you’re throwing money at it because of self care, not because this is actually a bad idea. You’re able to rationalize less than ideal behavior with self care. And if you find yourself needing to resort to this a lot where oh, no, I have to have retail therapy to make myself feel better, maybe you actually need to think deeper nd do some introspection as to why it is you need to turn to this so often. What is so out of control about your life that s causing you to need this?

Gabe: And then attack that right?Lisa: Right, right.Gabe: Figure out why are you pulling out coping skills on a daily basis and what can you do to address it?

Lisa: Yeah, why do you need so many coping skills? Why is this coming up so often?Gabe: And the answer may well be reasonable, we can’t decide what the appropriate number of coping skills is because.

Lisa: Because you can’t necessarily control the stresses in your life, but maybe there is some element of control you can have.Gabe: The bottom line is that self care is an act of survival, it’s something that you’re doing for yourself to live your best life. It’s complicated, right?

Lisa: But you’re using the phrase self care as a way to actually self sabotage.

Gabe: Is that true? Can self care be self sabotage? I guess it’s not self care anymore, right?

Lisa: Not real self care, but the phrase self care.

Gabe: What is an example of a self sabotage?Lisa: Spending money you don’t have.

Gabe: Or overeating, which is the thing that I like to do, but I’m painting that as self care,

Lisa: Right.

Gabe: How do I separate those things out? And how do I then makeLisa: That’s hard.

Gabe: Better choices? So let’s stick with what we have. We have decided that Gabe’s self care is buying stuff on Amazon. And for the record, we’re going to say that it works. In this scenario, my self care is that every night I get online and I buy something on Prime and that makes me feel better and that helps me sleep. But I’m spending money that I don’t have and my wife is getting tired of the junk.

Lisa: But that’s going to vary for every person. If you did it every once in a while, what’s reasonable? For some people, maybe it is reasonable to do that every day, but for some people it’s not.

Gabe: Yeah, I completely agree, but let’s stay with my scenario, we’re doing my role play now, remember, I’m buying something every night. I don’t have the money. Wife is getting irritated at the Amazon junk that is piling up, but it does work in that it helps me sleep. What would you say to me to help me understand that my self care mechanism, while working, is actually hurting me in other areas of my life? Because what I’m going to say to you as soon as you tell me about it is, look, sleep is very important and I need to sleep and this is the only way I can get to sleep.

Lisa: That’s not self care. Like you said, that’s just a coping skill or a maladaptive coping skill, perhaps. I can understand that in an acute crisis situation, maybe you have to resort to these things that are less than ideal. But that’s what they are, last resorts. If you’re having to do this all the time, what’s going on? What is making it so difficult for youto sleep? Why don’t you try to figure out what that underlying cause is and attack that? You’re just treating the symptoms. Why don’t you try to figure out what the illness actually is?

Gabe: I like what you’ve said there, because you are acknowledging that the thing that I’m doing is working, that’s peaking my interest, right?

Lisa: Well, by a certain definition of working, it may be helping you get to sleep right in the moment, but it’s certainly not making your life better long term. Tomorrow, your wife is going to be annoyed and you’re not going to be able to pay the bill.

Gabe: So you would help me see the consequences. It’s a pro and con list, right?

Lisa: Yes, and then again, what are you using this to cover? Why can’t you sleep? Why do you need this? What’s happening? Are you too stressed out or are you having trouble with your medication? Is it maybe all these money problems that you’re causing yourself? What’s happening that you’re having this problem in the first place?

Gabe: I think it is interesting that you talked about the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy, right? I’m having trouble sleeping because I’m fighting with my wife. I’m fighting with my wife because we’re having money problems. We’re having money problems because I buy garbage on Amazon every night before I go to bed. And that causes me to fight. I am unaware of my role in this or how to get it to stop

Lisa: No one ever sees their own bad patterns, otherwise we wouldn’t have them.

Gabe: But I’m still going to go back to listen, before I had this, my life was worse.Lisa: Was it?

Gabe: The reason that I am doing this is because now my life is better. How do we tease that out? Because for me, when I talked about how much I was eating, remember, I weighed 550 pounds. The thing that I would always say is, hey, at least it’s not drugs. Hey, at least it’s not alcohol. Hey, at least I have a job. You know, it could be so much worse. So this is OK. And that was enough to convince me. Looking back now, I was like, wow, that was incredibly stupid. But n the moment, it really was self soothing and self medicating. And I honestly thought that this was an example of self care and it felt so good. I am just curious as to how you would recommend that you break that cycle to show us that the thing on the other side would in fact be better.

Lisa: I think you were willing to see it as an example of self care because it’s what you ultimately wanted to do. Why are you acting like there’s only two choices? Hey, I’m eating well, at least I’m not doing heroin. There’s not only two choices. There are an infinite number of other options. Let’s go back to the example that you’re using. Oh, I’m buying things so that I can get to sleep. If I don’t buy things, I’m going to stay up all night. Those aren’t the only two choices. And when you say. But things are so much better now that I do this than they were before. But is there a third thing that would actually make things even better than they are now? Let’s find that third thing.

Gabe: I think it’s a matter of convincing people that there’s more than two choices, a lot of people think they’re either living their best life or they’re not. But there’s an example of the two choice fallacy, right? I believed that I only had two choices, suicidal depression or God like mania. But the reality is, is there was an infinite of choices in there. And I thought that God like mania was my best life simply because, hey, it wasn’t suicidal depression, but the mania was notgood. I hurt myself and a lot of people and caused myself a lot of problems. But I thought those were my only choices. It wasn’t until I got a lot of therapy. I went to a lot of support groups. I started learning about my illness, really learning about bipolar disorder that I realized that I haven’t even scratched the surface of living my best life. This all ties back into why I would caution people of thinking that the self care they’re doing is just fine as long as it’s solving one problem. Real self care should solve all of your problems. It should energize you. It should make you better. And if it’s not solving all of your problems, you should be working toward being the best that you can be and improving your self care plan. I believed that, hey, because I’m better today than yesterday, I’m fine. And I think that kind of thinking really set me up to fail. And Lisa, you observed that firsthand.

Lisa: Yeah, it was heartbreaking because you thought the opposite of failure was success or the opposite of success was failure, as if there were these, only these two extreme choices and you could never just be in the middle.

Gabe: It’s hard, of course, for people with bipolar disorder to spend any time in the middle. It’s

Lisa: But the goal is the middle.

Gabe: We’re not wired that way, so I certainly understand why I had trouble with this, but

Lisa: All of this therapy all these years has been to get you in the middle, OK, that’s been the whole goal all this time.Gabe: Self care is one of these concepts that people just throw out there and it’s almost become a joke. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to practice self care. Remember, you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. It seems so simple, yet people struggle with it. You know, Lisa, when you pitched this show, I was like, all right, we can do a five minute podcast. I mean, that’s fine. I don’t care. Hey, take care of yourself. You’ll be better off for it. This is Gabe Howard signing off.  That’s what I thought would happen.

Lisa: You’ve been sucked into this whole commodification of self care where self care is as simplistic as buying yourself some candles and laying in the bathtub all day.

Gabe: I mean, not for me, because I get all prune-y.

Lisa: The line between what feels good and what actually is good for you has been blurred by this whole mentality of treat yourself and treating yourself almost always involves buying something.

Gabe: Nobody is saying that you shouldn’t practice self-indulgence, it’s fun to treat yourself, it’s fun to go on vacation. It’s fun to spring for the filet instead of the hamburger. It’s eating artisanal chocolate is fun. These things are OK. Just don’t mistake them for caring for yourself day in and day out. You’ve got to practice self care every single day so that your cup constantly has liquid. And I don’t think that going on a vacation once a year is going to get you through the entire year. Vacations are important. Breaks are important. Reconnecting with your loved ones are important. But I really do think that we need to understand the difference between self care and self-indulgence. And I really think that we need to stop stigmatizing both. I think we need to understand that they both have their place, they’re both necessary. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with both taking care of yourself and rewarding yourself.

Lisa: Practicing self care is really a daily examination of what’s important to you. It’s really more of a self-discipline of respecting yourself.

Gabe: When it comes to living our best life or when it comes to being mentally healthy or when it comes to living well with bipolar disorder or depression or schizophrenia, everybody’s looking for like one big thing, that one big thing that they can do that will fix everything. The reality is, it’s not about one big thing. It’s about doing a lot of little things over and over and over again, day in and day out and doing those little things, well, daily. That’s what works. I think we’re all looking for the magic bullet. And honestly, there just isn’t one.

Lisa: We all think of self care as being this fun thing. No, self care is actually really boring. It’s the daily, oh, I need to make sure I get enough sleep. I need to make sure that I’m setting good boundaries between my family and friends. I need to make sure that I’m eating well. It’s not necessarily always a fun thing. It’s more of a taking care of myself every day thing. An every day self-discipline thing.

Gabe: And I do think that there’s a benefit in finding joy in the minutia. Listen, if you want to light candles and make your bath time fun, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just.

Lisa: Well, I would say keep in mind, why are you so stressed out that you need that? Is there something underlying going on that you can address? Because, yeah, taking a bath and relaxing? That sounds nice and all, but it’s probably not going to fix your real problem.

Gabe: You know, I’m reminded of my sister who’s currently in quarantine with a five year old. She told me that now her showers are three and a half hours. But I understand what she’s saying now. In this case, my sister can’t resolve the quarantine and she’s not actually taking extra long showers because

Lisa: Yeah, we all know it’s an example,

Gabe: The child needs care.

Lisa: We all know it’s an exaggeration.

Gabe: However, I do think to some of the self care that my wife and I have done in direct response to COVID-19. Before all this started, my wife and I had a date night. We would go out once a week. We’d go to dinner, we’d go to a play, or we’d go to a concert, or we’d go to a sporting event, or we’d go to a movie. We’d always gussy it up. You know, it would be fun outside of the ordinary. Well, now that she’s working from home, I’m working from home. I’m traveling less. And things are basically shut down because of the quarantine. We see a lot more of each other. And that’s just sort of become a lot. And obviously, date night couldn’t really exist because everything is shut down. There’s no sports, concerts, movies, etc. and we’re just spending so much time together. So one of the self care things that we worked outtogether was having an un-date night. It’s where one night a week we go to separate rooms and pretend the other person doesn’t exist. We spend four hours apart. She goes to the master bedroom. I go to the living room. We pretend that the other one isn’t there. We don’t text each other. We just do our own thing, watch our own shows, watch our own movies. It’s our way of practicing self care because we know that we can’t do anything about the quarantine. Figuring out what the issue is, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can resolve it. My wife and I know that the issue is the quarantine, but we can’t resolve that. But we came up with a self care plan for both of us that worked. This is important self care skills.

Lisa: So coping skills can be part of self care. Just if you’re relying on them too often and everybody needs to decide for themselves what too often is. It’s very individualized.

Gabe: This is a bummer, don’t you wish there was like one answer I wish all

Lisa: Yeah.

Gabe: Of our shows were hi, do you suffer from major depression? Do this. It’d be like remember in the in the 90’s if you couldn’t beat a video game, you just have to do like up, down, left, right, up, down.

Lisa: Yeah.

Gabe: A, B, up, down, left, right, A, B, B and then boom, you were invincible and you could beat the big bad at the end of the show I.

Lisa: How do you not know the actual code?

Gabe: I mean.

Lisa: Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. How do you not know that?

Gabe: You want to know what’s even sadder? I don’t even know the game.

Lisa: Contra, it was from Contra.

Gabe: I didn’t.

Lisa: What were you doing through the entire 80s? Oh, my God, how do you not know that?

Gabe: I am just incredibly saddened that you do. I mean, talk about worthless knowledge to have remaining in your head. It’s like how I know all the words to Baby Got Back, like, what am I going to do with this?

Lisa: Yeah.

Gabe: It would be great if the world worked like that, but it doesn’t. One of the things that we’re trying to do is give examples and scenarios that may well not work for you. But I think that you need to think about it critically. You need to give it some thought, and you need to decide if these things are helping you move forward in the way that you want to move forward. Your mileage may vary. We say that a lot because frankly, it’s true. Once again, I don’t remember the cheat code that Lisa just said, but man, if it was that easy, I guess we wouldn’t have a podcast because everybody would be fine.

Lisa: Yeah, there are no easy answers, Gabe.

Gabe: Yeah, there are none. Yeah.

Lisa: And Gabe, what do we need the audience to do?

Gabe: Oh, I am so glad you asked, we need you to like, we need you to subscribe. We need you to share, we need you to rate. Use your words and tell people why you like us. Share us on social media. Email us to your friends. When the quarantine is over, we will send you fliers. You guys, like pass them out everywhere. Remember after the break, there are outtakes and Lisa works really, really hard on them. So we hope you listen.

Lisa: And we’ll be back next Tuesday.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Not Crazy Podcast from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit Not Crazy’s official website is To work with Gabe, go to Want to see Gabe and me in person?  Not Crazy travels well. Have us record an episode live at your next event. E-mail for details.

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