When I first wanted to start taking better care of my mental health, I did exactly what most people do: I opened up Google and searched for resources. A lot of the search results were far from helpful, and I felt like a lot of them could even potentially be harmful.
Like many people, I fall through the cracks when it comes to getting real help through therapy (which I honestly believe everyone could greatly benefit from). Unless you’re a person in crisis, it’s difficult to find resources that don’t come with a hefty price tag. (For any reader who is in crisis, please reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. is 800-273-8255, and the National Suicide Helpline/Pieta House in Ireland is 1800 247 247.)
As an American who’s spent the majority of 2019 outside the U.S., I don’t have regular health insurance that could possibly cover counseling. My international medical insurance is primarily for accidents only, so that’s of no help. Plus, since I only have a tourist visa in Ireland right now, I’m not working and the cost of regular therapy sessions just isn’t feasible without a regular income.
Having previously tried it with much success, I decided to give online counseling a try again, but this time it was a disaster. My first counselor I matched with never even replied to me, and my second counselor didn’t give me full attention during the few video sessions we had. Although the online therapy platform marketed the counseling as a way to get the same benefits as traditional counseling without the hassle or expense, I found I was increasingly frustrated. For example, my second counselor didn’t fully read my brief messages between sessions updating her on what I was going through, or even respond within a week. When our next video session came around, she would ask me go over everything that had happened which I had already sent her in a short message several days before.
My goal for therapy was to have someone assist me with organizing my own thoughts so I could come up with a feasible action plan for how I wanted to tackle the next few months of my life.
After the online counseling failed, I was determined to see how I could help myself feel a bit “more together” and gain some clarity about what to do through some intensive self-care. Basically, I wanted to organize my thoughts and come up with an action plan on my own.
I knew I wouldn’t find clarity through bubble baths, face masks or massages (although they’re all nice), and I wanted to break past the surface level of self-care.
Here’s what I did that helped me gain some clarity and feel more together:
I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford Class Pass and currently live in a city where it’s used. I also practice at home if I can’t make it to a studio or just don’t feel like leaving the house.
Yoga is hard work and classes can be expensive, but for me, it’s definitely worth it.
I started writing my thoughts down, but not really as a journaling habit. I’ve been allowing myself to explore writing with no rules and no pressure because it makes me feel more organized without giving me the anxiety of having a daily journaling habit on my overall to-do list.
3. Removing myself from a toxic environment.
I won’t share too many details about this because I’d like to respect the privacy of others involved, but about a month ago I was back in the U.S. and temporarily living in a situation where I wasn’t sleeping enough and I was in the presence of someone who (perhaps unintentionally) belittled me for my life choices and compared me to others on a daily basis.
I found someplace else to live before flying back to Dublin and it honestly helped me a lot. My environment makes a huge difference in how I feel.
4. I stopped making lists about things I wanted to do or merely talking about my “plans.”
I am so guilty of doing this … repeatedly. I like to talk about the things I know are good for my mental health without actually putting in the effort to do those things sometimes. I also write down a lot about what I’m going to do in the future. I realized over the past several months this is just another form of procrastination, not preparation.
So, I made a conscious effort to start doing more. Anything I talked or wrote about, I did. That meant scouring through my lists and taking action on the things I could do right away. I had a list for getting my finances in order, so I went through it and took care of everything I could do. Anything that had to wait until my next income opportunity came around could stay on the list.
I stopped just talking about wanting to spend more time writing, and now it’s a regular habit. The same with yoga; I talked about how much I loved it, but I made excuses to not practice at home and to skip out on classes.
My lists are more purposeful now. They’re a form of preparation, and I don’t talk about what I want to be doing if it’s something I can already do now.
5. I put less energy into relationships that weren’t 100% mutual in effort and care.
This one still sucks. I didn’t exactly cut people out of my life, but I stopped putting in so much effort into relationships if the effort wasn’t reciprocated. This sucked for me because I’m a huge believer friendship break-ups can be just as bad as romantic break-ups.
I had a few friends I considered close, but over time I felt like I was always the one initiating conversations and I had plans canceled on me on a regular basis. At first, I took it very personally and tried to make even more of an effort; I arranged plans and tried to be supportive when they were busy or going through personal hardships.
But it got too hard for me because I genuinely cared about them and valued the relationship.
My solution? I stopped making plans and starting conversations. Instead, I started going to MeetUp groups and made more plans with people I knew wouldn’t cancel at the last minute. I let myself have a social life outside of those initial friendships because it helped lesson the sting of not ever getting a text or a call when I wasn’t the one always initiating.
To be honest, this still sucks a lot because I miss those friends dearly. Who knows … maybe one day we’ll be on the same path and share more experiences together. But in the meantime, I’m going to continue giving 100% effort to the relationships that show me I’m valued. And for any other relationships where I feel like I’m not valued as much as I should be, I’ll always be supportive and loving of the other person, but I’ll redirect my efforts to spending time with others or just with myself (because alone time is also super important!).
Overall, I’m in better shape with my mental health than I was even just a few months ago. I’m constantly working on myself.
What’s next? I’m moving to New Zealand in less than a month, so I’ll be taking care to keep myself feeling grounded with a self-care routine that’s manageable and helpful. Perhaps that might even include the occasional face mask or bubble bath.
A version of this article was originally published on Suzy Klein