The Broken Teapot-Mental Health, Homesteading, and Self Care

This one was hard to write.

There is a meme that goes around Facebook among the more woo woo set that talks about how empathy and the self are a teacup, and you can’t pour from an empty teacup so take care of self first.

However I’ve also seen a great many of the same people who share that meme share another meme that basically says give…and give…and give, and keep giving in effectively thankless situations because you’re a Good Person and Good People are just compassionate perpetual motion machines.

I am deliberately posting this entry after the Great Roach Confession for a reason.

I pretty much lost my mind this summer. Over a bunch of cockroaches.

This is not an exaggeration. This is where I get really, really honest, and very bare and very direct. So consider this your trigger warning if you need one, for discussion of self harm, depression, anxiety, and mental health.

I have written in the past with my long lasting battle with my mental health. I had a very bad winter and my housekeeping slid backwards to where the apartment really, truly did need work. That, I will not deny. There’s an article going around social media about ‘depression did this to this woman’s bedroom.’ That’s….basically what my mental health did to me. A situation developed to where I -had- to start taking care of my physical surroundings and I sort of wrote it off to personal woo woo the Universe is giving me a kick, I can start over again.

Then the roaches came. And it turns out I’m phobic to roaches.

By the time the dust settled, I had thrown out close to half of my personal belongings (though in fairness, this is not inherently a bad thing), calorie restricted and otherwise self harmed myself out of two dress sizes, stopped sleeping, and basically got obsessive with cleaning my kitchen. Which didn’t even necessarily have the decency of completely stopping the bugs, because it became obvious that they’re probably traveling in from a different space. I admitted to myself that for the first time in a decade my actually well developed self treatment system wasn’t going to be enough anymore. I wasn’t suicidal-but I had stopped caring. If you had tried to hurt me, I would have let you. It would have been better.

If this sounds extremist, remember that this is what mental illness does to a person. You lose your compass, and your ability to stay whole.

Bear with me, I am getting to the homesteading in all of this.

There is trying to pour from an empty cup, and then there is trying to serve from a broken teapot.

An empty cup is bad enough, but when you’re trying to sure that you’re taking care of a large, carefully balanced interplay of a tea party inside a tempest inside a ballroom, and your teapot is cracked with tea dribbling everywhere and the guests staring at you wondering why you’re not performing at top level and you’re wondering what the hell is wrong with you, every other tea party seems to be going okay…you really need to understand that it’s time to work on fixing your teapot before going ahead with more serving.

By the end of this whole situation, I ended up breaking lease, finding a much, much nicer, much larger apartment with a functionally designed kitchen and storage space and light (glorious light for two people living with SADD), and a landlord with a written extermination policy. And minimalism is looks good on me and I want to keep purging, because purging means less stuff and less stuff means less to clean and less places for bugs to hide. Things will be okay, they will be work because the new place is that much more expensive but they will be okay.

This is what the Summer of Bugs has taught me about self care and attempting to restart a homestead, even an urban homestead like I’m doing in Buffalo:

  1. You have to eat. That is non-negotiable, even for the mentally healthy. It is absolutely pivotal for the mentally ill. I have both an EDNOS plus at least one anxiety disorder. I have literally never flared to the point where my blood sugar triggered my anxiety until this summer. I am still waking up having to try to decide if I’m hungry or having a panic attack. Eat something small once an hour or whenever you can fit it in if you can’t fit in a full meal.
  2. You have to sleep. I understand that sleeping on a homestead is often a matter of working around your homestead’s schedule. But you must do it when you can.
  3. You have to stay on top of your meds if you have them. Herbal, mainstream, mental health or otherwise, you need to stay medicated if they’re prescribed.
  4. You need to learn when you’ve had enough, You have a natural limit, and then a point where you’ve overworked, and then a point where you’re actually damaging yourself. Try to set up a system to avoid causing more problems in the long run by overextension.
  5. You need to try to engage in basic levels of physical care. I get that this one is hard when you’re depressed or exhausted, or both. But try to brush your teeth. Try to wash your hair. Try to remember deodorant. I see this a lot as an idea that gets interpreted as ‘making it easier to socialize’ but it’s helpful for grounding out back into yourself. And it feels good.
  6. Ask for help. Ask for help if you need a task done, ask for help if you need a mental health professional. You don’t need to work under extreme duress. There are even places that do mental health work online.
  7. Learn when it’s time to say no. You don’t need to do every project the Internet suggests for your homestead, and you don’t need to listen to people when they tell you what a perfect homestead should look like. One of the best pieces of homesteading advice I’ve seen lately was ‘there’s no brownie points for misery.’ Don’t work yourself into exhaustion just because you feel like it’s more noble or more authentic. It’s wonderful to have goals and vision, and compromise is certainly a valid option, but don’t come down too hard on yourself for not being able to be Little House on the Prairie all the time.
  8. Shit just happens. Animals die, fires happen, rivers flood. Your building gets cockroaches from some unknown source because humans and vermin have lived in tandem for thousands of years. Sometimes life is going to knock you on the ass. Sometimes just acknowledging that things are beyond your control is enough to knock your head free.
  9. Tomorrow is not certain, place 95% of your energy into today. I don’t like never planning ahead. Assuming my head is in the right place, I function better knowing what the absolute worse case scenario is. When I was potentially facing housing instability over this whole mess [seriously. Things got that bad. It was truly bad.] I came to realize that the worst case scenario was moving back to Central New York, renting a house, and truly homesteading. That was very calming, to have a mantra of ‘the worst case scenario is home.’ Then in the space of 24 hours I had the money to move, found a new apartment, applied for it, got approved, signed paperwork, and told my old landlord I was leaving. A day can and sometimes will change everything. So let tomorrow take care of itself, as long as you’re not so caught up in today that you forget that painful situations will end.
  10. It is better to make consistent 1% changes over time than it is to try to change everything and burn out. This has been a very firebird summer, a lot of hot burning to ashes and rebuilding in a better place. But the greatest success has come from training myself to be at least a consistently mediocre housekeeper than keep cycling between spotless and chaos. Very little change on a day to day basis needs to be extreme, fast, and intense. Be kind on yourself and let it be a journey. [Not my original idea. I’m not sure where it comes from, but it’s not my original phrasing.]

The biggest takeaway from trying to serve with a broken teapot is this: it is very sort of woo woo but you are the pot and the pot is you. You need to do those things that keep you both physically and mentally well enough to not let reality feel like a horror movie. Very little, precious little, of what the Universe throws at you will need to be addressed so completely and so quickly that you can’t care for self first.

If you do feel like you need help preventing self harm or addressing suicidal ideation, please contact 741741 via text if you are in the United States. 

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One comment

  1. It might of hurt to write, but it helped to read! And it definitely resonates more than endless tumblr lists of self care tips… I’m really glad your housing situation is figured out now–every time I’ve moved it’s an ordeal no matter what the conditions. The kitchen is the first part of my routine to break down so I eventually said screw it and bought a huge stack of paper plates. Not eco-friendly, but not dealing with the shame of seeing unwashed dishes everyday can help a whole lot I tell you!

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