#AtoZChallenge 2020 Reflections

Oh boy, it’s already May 10. Can you believe May is already one-third over? I think time flies. Today, I am rather late joining in with the #AtoZChallenge reflections. April seems so far behind me, but it’s good to look back on the challenge.

The good part is I actually completed the challenge this year. As you may know, I signed up each year since 2015, first on my old blog and last year here. In 2015 and 2016, I completed the challenge. I had the topic of autism awareness/acceptance as my theme for 2015 and the alphabet of mental health in 2016. In 2017, I made it myself rather hard by picking autism again even though I was in the midst of being re-assessed for it. I only published one post. I can’t remember how I did in 2018, but last year, I was fooled by the letter X. I had had a word in mind that I thought meant something different than it turned out to mean (xenial) and couldn’t think of any other word once I found out I couldn’t use that word.

Then this year, I had the letter X already figured out before I even wrote a post. I know, I cheated a little, but well. I ended up unconsciously choosing the theme of self-care. I actually stuck to this theme rather well to be honest. I know I also cheated by using The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care for inspiration. However, I mostly wrote down my own thoughts and gave credit to Anna Borges, the author, where needed.

The more challenging part was reading an dcommenting on other bloggers’ posts. I still must say I find the Google spreadsheet a harder to use format than the linky the challenge used until 2017. However, I was able to work it somehow. Then, still, it took quite a bit of time to visit a satisfactory (to me) number of other bloggers. I had only a few bloggers I followed in my feed reader, so most I visited only occasionally. I liked the new connections though.

The absolute best part of the challenge though was that it kept me motivated to write. Or maybe my motivation to write helped me complete the challenge. I’m not sure. In any case, I loved being active on my blog and look forward to staying in this zone for a long time to come.

ZZZ: The Role of Sleep in Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to the last post in the #AtoZChallenge. For my letter Z post, I have, each year that I got to it, used ZZZ at least among other things. And yes, it’s totally fitting with the self-care theme too. Sleep is so important! Today I’m going to explain a bit about how you can take better care of your sleep hygiene and how sleeping issues can signal other problems.

Most people have some sleeping issues at times. I have had quite a few nights in which I fell asleep late recently.

When I was a child or teen, anxiety would often keep me awake. Since I didn’t get any help for my anxiety then, the issue grew until I had to use sleeping pills for a while at age 20. When I moved into independent living, my insomnia grew worse and it was one contributing factor to my suicidal crisis three months in. The first medication I got, was again a sleeping pill.

Now let me be very clear: sleeping pills are not to be used long-term. When I got my first script in 2006, my GP said to take it no more than two to three times a week. I was taking sleeping pills for a few months early in my psychiatric hospital stay, but I eventually decided less sleep without pills was better than less sleep with pills. I did take sleeping pills on an as-needed basis for a while after that. However, except in extreme cases of severe mental illness keeping you awake a lot, you ultimately need to find other solutions. So learn to practise proper sleep hygiene. I honestly don’t do too well on this now that I write about it.

For example, one tip is to use your bed for sleeping only. Though I do that, I tend to nap a lot too. I am learning to get up after at most an hour, so that I won’t disrupt my night-time sleep.

Also, it is recommended to turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. I’ve heard this is because the blue light of your smartphone or computer screen can stimulate the brain to stay awake. As I always keep my screen curtain on, this isn’t an issue for me and it may not be with dark mode either. However, I do experience that keeping very busy shortly before bedtime keeps my brain awake.

Some people find that hearing some white noise or soft music can help them sleep. I usually turn on calming music when I’m struggling to fall asleep, but eventually turn it back off as it seems to lead to a more restless sleep.

Having a soft toy in bed does help me too. Occasionally, I diffuse some lavender essential oil. There’s no scientific proof that it works, but it may help.

In addition to insomnia, sleeping too much is also an issue. I find that I sleep way too much when I’m depressed. This, of course, in turn worsens my depression.

Lastly, waking up unrefreshed can happen even when you get the right amount of sleep for you. This can be caused by a number of factors, including medications you may be taking or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. If this happens a lot, it may be time to see your doctor. Then again, doctors can be incredibly dismissive where it comes to fatigue.

Yoga and Other Movement-Based Self-Care Practices #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 25 in the #AtoZChallenge. Wowah, can you believe after today there’s just one more day in April? Time does seem to fly.

Today I want to write about yoga and other movement-based approaches to self-care. I know, I already discussed exercise briefly a few weeks ago. However, there are other benefits to yoga too.

If you are not a yoga person, that’s totally okay. Maybe you think it’s a little too alternative for you. Or maybe, like me, you believe you don’t have the physical flexibility or balance to do it. Well, let me tell you (and myself!) that yoga truly has some benefits that aren’t spiritual at all and that anyone can do it. You may need to modify the poses. For example, when I go into tree pose (putting one leg up to your other thigh), I always touch a wall with one hand. I just don’t have the balance to do the “proper” pose and never will.

Yoga is good for both your mind and body. As well as being good for flexibility and balance, it helps you develop deep breathing, calms the mind and can even help with pain relief.

There are many kinds of yoga. Hatha yoga is what most people in the western world see as the regular kind of yoga. Maybe I didn’t do it properly but it never quite felt like a workout except for my flexibility. There are however also types of yoga that are actually a real workout, such as power yoga. However, I don’t recommend you try those if you’re a beginner or starting back freshly after a while. No matter how eager you are to get moving in these times of lockdown, you’d much better start slow.

In addition to yoga, there are other types of movement that will help you get in physical shape. For example, pilates is a way of working your muscles. Dancing (even just hopping with music on) counts as well.

How do you get moving?

X-Patient: Psychiatric Rehabilitation and the Recovery Movement #AtoZChallenge

Okay, welcome to my letter X post in the #AtoZChallenge. I’m not really motivated for this one, but I don’t want to give up on the challenge either. My topic today doesn’t really fit in with the rest, but well. Today I’m writing about what it is like to be an ex-psychiatric patient. In the anti-psychiatry movement, some people choose to write this without the E, so it counts.

When I first heard of psychiatric rehabilitation around a year into my psychiatric hospital stay, I hated the entire concept. It was all based on training people to be more independent whether they wanted to or could do this at all. I knew already that I needed long-term care, so I was like: “Didn’t I just complete 18 months in a training home only to have it fail?”

Then, a few years later, I heard of the recovery movement. Unlike psychiatric rehabilitation, this is entirely patient-led. I signed up to participate in a recovery course. What surprised me immediately was the fact that my mental hospital chose to only allow those staying there as inpatients on the course. They later started a course for outpatients too. I loved this course. Going into long-term care wasn’t frowned upon but seen as a means of getting my life back on track. Unfortunately, that’s not how most professionals, at least on my last unit, saw it.

A few weeks ago, I watched a short video on a Center for Consultation and Expertise case in which the recovery viewpoint was misapplied to an autistic man. Indeed, I’ve never felt that concepts like “rehabilitation” apply to autistics. I mean, the idea that we all want a meaningful life, is good. However, considering a meaningful life as the same as independent living, is in my opinion rather misguided.

Weighted Blankets: Sensory Activities for Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my 23rd post in the #AtoZChallenge. For the letter W, I choose to write about weighted blankets and other sensory equipment that can help you take good care of you.

I don’t own a wweighted blanket myself. At my old day activities, a staff member made one for use in the sensory room though. It wasn’t ideal, as the weighted compartments wouldn’t stay in place. I loved it though.

I remember clearly how I discovered the good deep pressure can do for me. I was at the first day center I went to after leaving the psych hospital in 2017 and the staff were talking deep pressure as it related to another client. I was at the time already struggling seriously at this day center and at a point where I was looking for another place, but the staff were still trying to be helpful. I asked them whether I could try some weighted products. They handed me a weighted turtoise soft toy. From then on, I’d often have it in my lap during mealtimes and when I was stressed.

Later, once already at my previous day center, I got a weighted unicorn soft toy for Christmas. It was probably originally intended as a door stopper that keeps a door from accidentally banging shut. This one is filled with sand rather than pebbles and it is not wide enough to cover my entire lap. However, it’s cool.

Other sensory products can help with stress relief too. I have a wobbly pad (not sure that’s the correct word) to sit on. I also have a fitness ball that I generally just sit or lie on.

A few months ago, I discovered fidget toys. I think the hype about them a few years ago was exaggerated, but they do help some.

There are tons of other sensory products that can help you calm down or relieve stress. I’m pretty sure I haven’t discovered all that is available.

Verbalize Your Needs: Assertiveness as Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter V post in the #AtoZChallenge. Okay, I already posted a V post and originally didn’t want to write another one for this challenge or at least not so soon after posting my earlier post. However, I had a topic in mind already. Today, I’m going to write about using assertiveness as self-care.

Assertiveness is nothing more than sticking up for yourself appropriately. It doesn’t mean aggressively dictating how others need to treat you. Like, I am always reminded of a scene in the first Adrian Mole book by Sue Townsend, in which he desccribes that his mother went to an assertiveness training for women only and started to rigidly divide all household chores evenly between his father, herself and Adrian. Well, that’s not how it works.

Assertiveness also doesn’t mean passively agreeing to everything someone else says even if you don’t. I have a tendency to do that and then to complain to other people about the person’s behavior. That’s passive-aggressive.

In order to resolve interpersonal disagreements, I like the DEAR MAN approach from dialectical behavior therapy. DEAR MAN stands for:

D: Describe. Describe the situation as objectively as you can in order to get on the same page with the other person about what you’re actually talking about.

E: Express. Tell the other person how you feel and what you think. Use “I” statements and take responsibility for your stance.

A: Assert. This is where you verbalize what you need or want or don’t want. Be as clear as you can be. Don’t expect the other person to know what you mean if you’re vague.

Remember, we all have different love languages (which apply to friendships and family relationships too). Say your partner’s main way of expressing love is through kind words, but you prefer physical touch. Then you will consistently feel disappointed if they keep saying “I love you” without touching you. State clearly that you want your partner to hug you more often. COVID-19 permitting, they’ll most likely be happy to do so.

R: Reinforce. This means to reward the other person for their behavior. Sounds weird, right? You know you are not dealing with a 5-year-old who gets candy for eating his veggies. Okay, sometimes you are, but in this post I’m mostly talking about relationships between equals. However, what I mean is simply to focus on the positive you want instead of the negative behavior the other is showing you. Often we tend to react negatively in times of conflict, such as by yelling or threatening or withholding our affection. I definitely do. Instead, express how the other person’s changing behavior makes you feel more appreciated, respected or loved.

M: Mindful. Be present and in the moment. Don’t bring up past grievances. I’m often guilty of bringing past stuff into conflicts.

A: Assertive. Stay calm, make eye contact (if possible), keep an even voice. Don’t shout or threaten. It’s okay to express emotions, but let your words express your needs or wants.

N: Negotiate. Once you’ve done all these previous steps, it’s time to let the other person express their reasons for possibly not changing. You need to listen to these mindfully. If you can’t negotiate or you come to an impasse, it may help to ask the other person how they would react if they were in your situation. If nothing else works, you can always agree to disagree.

Understanding and Dealing with Anger #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 21 and my letter U post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I’m going to write about dealing with anger.

First, before you can learn to deal with it, you have to figure out whether what you’re experiencing is truly anger. I mean, anger is often our first go-to emotion even when what we’re truly feeling is guilt, sadness, fear or hurt, for example. I for one tend to express all strong emotions, even “positive” ones, as anger. (I put that between quote marks because no emotion is truly positive or negative.)

Second, check whether you are hungry, thirsty or not feeling well physically. Particularly hunger can cause you to feel angry. Anna Borges explains in her book, The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, that the same chemicals are released in the brain when your blood sugar is low that are released when you are angry. Usually when I’m hungry, I want to overeat and the thoughts I use to suppress that, cause me frustration and anger.

Also, pain can be a really frustrating feeling. When you’re not used to dealing with pain or physical discomfort, it can be that your go-to emotion is once again anger. It is for me.

When you have figured out that you are actually angry, there are several things you can do.

Firstly, leave the environment. Literally physically leave the room. Tell the people you’re with that you need a break to calm down.

Also, write an angry letter – but don’t send it. It may even be helpful to shred it at the end. Write out all your angry thoughts, whine if you want to, let it all out.

Another strategy is to self-soothe. Anna Borges explains that you can see anger as an inner baby who cries. Hold it by doing deep breathing and maybe talking calmly to it.

Lastly, Borges doesn’t mention this but I find it extremely helpful to exercise vigorously. This helps release chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. Also, tearing apart an old magazine or newspaper, stomping your feet, or otherwise expressing your frustration safely, can certainly help.

What do you feel helps you when you’re mad?

Tarot, Etc.: Paranormal or Intuitive Methods for Self-Care #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter T post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today I’m talking about a topic that may be a little weird to some of my readers. Tarot, huh? Yes, I am writing about how to use paranormal and intuitive methods in self-care.

The tarot is a bit of a floaty concept to some. I mean, many people associate it with fortune-telling and predicting the future, which in my opinion isn’t possible. I mean, as a teen, I used to believe in some degree of fortune-telling, but I don’t anymore. However, the tarot is really a method of tapping into your own intuition.

So what is the tarot? It’s a deck of 78 cards, each with their own symbolism and meaning. People who lay out a spread, usually pose a situation or question and then draw one or more cards. Each card then is supposed to give the reader insight into part of the answer to their question.

The cards are visual, in that they have an image on them. As such, they at first seemed meaningless to me. That was until I downloaded a pretty accessible tarot app that had explanations of each of the cards in it.

Like I said above, drawing a card cannot predict the future. However, reflecting on a card or spread can help you come closer to understanding your own innermost self. You don’t just draw a card or lay a spread and expect the cards to solve your problem. You still have control, but really thinking about the meaning of cards, can help you come to realize your most true feelings and thoughts.

In addition to the tarot, there are many other “paranormal” ways of taking care of yourself. I like to explore astrology. Again, laying blame on the stars for your shit isn’t going to solve anything. However, reflecting on astrology can help you understand yourself a bit. As a teen, I would also experiment a bit with the pendulum, but that didn’t help me.

I also as a teen had a large collection of gemstones. Though I mostly kept them for their beauty, I did believe in their healing power to an extent.

I follow a few tarot bloggers who use the cards to explore emotions, character and setting, sometimes even in creative writing. I love that.

Signaling: Using Crisis Prevention Plans #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter S post in the #AtoZChallenge. There are really many S words that are fitting in a self-care routine. After all, “self” starts with an S and self-care is about YOU. I will be writing about creating a crisis prevention plan.

A crisis prevention plan, which is also called a signaling plan in Dutch (hence the letter S), details the signs and symptoms you experience leading up to a crisis. In most mental hospitals, it consists of three phases:


  • Phase 1 or green: I’m doing well.

  • Phase 2 or orange: I’m not doing well.

  • Phase 3 or red: I’m in crisis.

Here in the intellectual disability care facility, a signaling plan is more extensive and can also be used to signal lowalertness. It consists of six phases:


  • Phase -2: sleeping (when not appropriate).

  • Phase -1: low alertness.

  • Phase 0: adequate and alert.

  • Phase 1: low stress, highly alert.

  • Phase 2: high stress, too highly alert.

  • Phase 3: emotional outburst or loss of control (crisis).


I find it pretty hard to translate these into English, so sorry for my quirky word choice.

In each phase, the signaling plan lists signs patients or their staff will notice when the patient is in that phase. For example, one of my phase two behaviors is loud talking. Abilities are also explained. For example, in phase 0 in my case, I am able to make decisions adequately. In phase 1, I can make choices between a few (usually two) different options. In phase 2 and 3, it’s up to the staff to make decisions for me.

Mental hospitals and mental health agencies in general are strongly focused on patient self-reliance, so they include lots of stuff about what you can do yourself in the different phases. In most cases, in fact, the patient is held fully responsible for their self-care unless they enter phase 3. I mean, patients are allowed to ask for help in phase 2, but staff will not reach out and patients are usually required to come up with direct requests for help. IN my opinion, this is rather odd.

I find it extremely comforting yet a bit surprising to see that my current signaling plan, which was created by my care staff and the behavior specialist, details staff responsibilities for each phase.

Like I said yesterday, my signaling plan also includes a recovery phase, which lists signs I’m coming out of a crisis and ways staff can help me then. This is really helpful.

Recovery Time After a Crisis #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to my letter R post in the #AtoZChallenge. There are a lot of R topics related to self-care. I want to write about recovering after you’ve been in a mentally hard space or crisis.

First, let me tell you that recovery time is important in preventing a crisis too. You just can’t go, go, go all the time. No-one can, whether you struggle with mental health issues or not. So take your down time. Whether that be a nap, a nice bath or shower, or listening to your favorite music, is up to you. Or something else entirely, of course. I often need to take a little time to unwind in the afternoon. I do this by lying on my bed with nature sounds or relaxing music playing on Spotify. When we still went to the day center, I’d go to the sensory room for about half an hour to an hour.

When you have just come out of a mental health crisis, it’s especially important to take your time to recover. Your recovery time, according to my DBT handout, may help you come to an insight as to how to prevent this crisis from happpening again. It often does for me. It may not, but then at least you’ll need time to come back to your usual self.

I have a crisis signaling plan here at the care facility. Its different phases normally range from -2 (asleep when you shouldn’t be) to +3 (emotional outburst or loss of control, ie. crisis). My staff put in another phase for me, which they call “recovery”. This is what happens after I calm down from a meltdown. I usually feel sadness and shame then. Staff are in this phase advised to stay near and help me process my thoughts and feelings. This is, for me, often the time when I can be most honest about my needs.

What do you do to recover when you’re climbing out of a mental pit?