There is no ‘I’ in self-care: mental health advice from Rose City Comic Con

RCCC 2017 Self-Care Panel

Geeky experts on Rose City Comic Con’s “Beyond Escapism: Geek Self Care” give advance on asking for help in times of stress. (Photo by Sarah Corn)

via The Daily of the University of Washington

According to the geeky experts on Rose City Comic Con’s “Beyond Escapism: Geek Self Care” panel earlier this month, the best (and hardest) advice for good self-care is this: Don’t try to go it alone.

Geeks, much like college students, spend a lot of time in relative isolation on computers and hyper-focused on goals, to the exclusion of all other needs. When distress arises, that isolation becomes an insurmountable barrier to getting help. The first step in self-care is learning to recognize what you need and when you need it.

Panelist Roget Ratchford, an artist and engineer based in the San Francisco area, highlighted how the standard pain scale used by medical professionals reinforces the United States’ culture of “rugged individualism” and can get in the way of good self-care. The definition of a ten is not (as is commonly believed) a measure of relative pain, but a recognition that you can no longer function without help.

“That is where we get stuck with rugged individualism,” Ratchford said. “The narrative is that the most stoic, the most noble people just deal with it. They take that ten and they run with it. That’s definitely to everyone’s detriment because at that point, you run until you fall.”

Mustering the energy to ask for help is hard, especially when your brain is actively fighting against doing what’s best. Acknowledging that difficulty, disability advocate Valeria Levkovskaya reminded the audience that that sense of being cut off is often a matter of skewed perception instead a true reflexion of reality.

“We tend to experience ourselves as more isolated than we are,” Levkovskaya said. “Sometimes you gotta bite your knuckles a little bit and reach out to your friends. The only thing that can help you build trust and support is trust and support.”

Filmmaker and actor Abie Ekenezar agreed. When her empathic nature forced her to erect social walls between herself and her peers as a matter of self-preservation, she relied on close friends to let her know she was being distant. In an effort to maintain connections, Ekenezar starts Facebook messenger conversations with friends that she hasn’t connected with in awhile.

“It’s okay if you haven’t seen someone in two months,” added panelist and cosplayer Sarah Gulde. “They’re still your friend, they still care about you. You can reach out to them.”

However social media, cautioned Ratchfort, can be just as destructive to self-care as it can be beneficial if not managed effectively. For those who can not avoid Facebook and Twitter, he recommends using Facebook’s Take a Break function and On This Day preference settings to hide people, dates, and pictures that could trigger bad memories.

Panelist Josh Boykin, founder of Intelligame.us and senior editor for gotgame.com, shared a helpful daily self-care mnemonic his therapist gave him, SPEAK, which stands for Schedule, Pleasurable activities, Exercise, Assertiveness, and Kind thoughts toward self.

Boykin has found building at least one regular weekly social event to be particularly helpful in managing self-care around his depression. While he was in a period of happiness and stability, he started a board game group that met every week. When his symptoms returned and he started feeling more isolated, the momentum of commitment overpowered his lack of motivation.

“What that meant was that when things got low, there was a scheduled time at which somebody who knew me would have to see me and basically recognize that I was at a low point,” Boykin said.

He encouraged the audience to set up a regular weekly, rewarding social engagement, that could be something as simple as a phone call with family or coffee with friends. For UW students, study groups or participation in Registered Student Organizations (RSO) are other great options. Any commitment that encourages real-time, interpersonal interaction will work.