Dear readers, I suggest you strap in. Today, we're going to dip our toes into the world of feeling down and out. When we're pretty sure we haven't left the house all week, but we're even more convinced that doing so would be impossible.
It's when Netflix asks you if you're still there and you've needed the toilet for about 26 hours and haven't really thought to do anything about it.
It's the point at which a self-care weekend spirals into a black hole of suffocating angst and stress.
I'm here to tell you, on no uncertain terms, that it's okay.
It's okay to succumb to the insidious thoughts in your head, and it's natural to not be able to fight them off every second of every day. For better or worse, we're all human.
How can I identify if I'm in a rut?
Well, if only it were as easy as me giving you a checklist and ticking off an accurate portfolio of emotions. I'm afraid it's not that simple.
However, I tend to find that the less human I feel, the less likely I am to be feeling great. Think about whether you have stood up in a few hours, or whether you've spoken to anyone all week. Maybe you've cancelled a couple of lectures or social engagements. Maybe life is just feeling like it's all A Bit Much at the minute.
It can sneak up on you over a weekend or even a month.
The fickle thing about humans is that it rarely occurs to us to check in with ourselves. It can be easy to recognise when the people around us are in a rut, but we delude our own sufferings as something separate. As something that might be a personal flaw or that isn't as valid as another form of suffering.
I think you know what my answer is going to be… You are valid! You deserve to exist even when you're in a rut. Even if you aren't being 'productive' or you don't feel that you're achieving any of your goals. You have inherent worth just by existing, and your value isn't tied up in your social or physical contributions.
So what can I do?
It's certainly not going to be a catch-all Fix-it Felix situation, and I won't pretend that it will be. But here are 8 forms of self-care that might not have occurred to you and could make a difference.
1. Brush your teeth and have a shower.
I know it's an obvious one, but the longer I go without feeling clean and well-taken care of, the less likely I am to feel comfortable or relaxed in other respects. If I feel grim, physically, that will often manifest into my emotional and mental state too. Particularly for those of us with a uterus, when it's your period it's so important to stay as hygienic as possible. It won't make your cramps magically go away, but it will make you feel a bit better. Maybe having to undress and have a shower feels impossible, but have some wet-wipes on hand or flannel to wipe your face. Indeed, having a tube of toothpaste or a mint on hand can refresh your mentality a tiny bit. Maybe try to brush your hair, or just touch it and push it into more order – just an assertion of control over your body, if not mind.
2. Switch off the depressing niche Netflix documentaries on murder mysteries for some reruns of something familiar and close to your heart.
Friends and Gilmore Girls are always great options, and the family outlook will reintroduce you to the idea of laughing, crying as emotional catharsis, and the benefit of forming connections. Maybe, if you're up for it, try a non-triggering drama like the Vampire Diaries. Even if you aren't up for emotional understanding, let Elena, Stefan, and Damon go through it on your behalf. Sometimes a good cry can just unlock something in us. Even if it is for some gratuitous vampiric travesty.
3. Run yourself a bath and put on Adele.
There's no need to rush into the monumental effort of talking to people if you don't feel up to it yet. Maybe run yourself a hot bath and warble out the lyrics to a song you forgot you knew. It's important to do this aloud, or even speak them to yourself because this gets your vocal chords going, and singing is like the gateway drug to verbal communication.
4. Now that you've oiled your vocal chords.
Try giving your mum or sister or friend a call. Even if you feel like you have no one, you do. But if you really don't believe me, that's fine. Maybe call the Samaritans or your local mental health hotline. If you get to the website but not as far as pressing 'call', you can still see if there are any hints or tips to distract you. Try to stay off social media for this portion. Instagram isn't your friend right now.
5. If you do manage to get in touch with someone, ask them over.
The hardest part of the whole process is making that leap for human contact. The effort of making ourselves vulnerable is difficult at the best of times, but your friends will recognise that you need support and they will prioritise you. Or invite you out. Or, at the bare minimum, they will keep talking to you. You don't even need to say much, you can just listen to another human being talking. Just remember that they're there for you.
6. If you're keen to stay in, make sure you have drunk plenty of water.
It may be that in your rut you tried to suppress certain emotions by drinking alcohol. That's okay, but it might also be time to stop for a moment and get some water into your body. You don't have to stop drinking forever, but just give the water some time to hydrate you a tiny bit. It will make you feel a little fresher and more alert. Even if it doesn't, sometimes I feel that the psychological benefit that comes from doing something you know is good for you, is just as good. It's the placebo effect.
Maybe order in your favourite food. Or your friend can bring some wholesome home-cooked food and a nutritious salad. Maybe they just bring you chocolate but that's the sugary goodness that you suddenly craved. Make sure that if you suddenly have a hankering for something to eat, you act on it (within reason). You deserve to have your needs met. You can be supported.
8. Stay warm, or cool down as necessary.
While doing all of this, check around yourself that you are at an appropriate temperature. Is there good circulation in your hands or are your fingers freezing? Equally, is your forehead super hot? Maybe kick off a blanket if so, or have a cold flannel to wipe your face. If you're cold, snuggle under a blanket. It's all about feeling comfortable and secure.
Sometimes being in a rut can mean that you need some 'me time' for a weekend. Sometimes you fall into a trapdoor of despair and it can feel impossible to see any light.
Remember that you have people around who care about you.
Whatever happens, your life has meaning and you are valid.
Finally, know that self-love is the hardest thing we ever have to do. You aren't a failure.