Mel Owen: Protecting your sanity and taking care of yourself are not the same thing


YESTERDAY I was in a very dark mental space, so I booked an emergency therapy session because, frankly, I currently don’t have time for depression.

I then realized that I had only consumed coffee since I woke up eight hours before. So I ate and, coincidentally, instantly felt better.

Turns out I was just hungry. So I had paid a deposit of £60 for therapy, when really all I needed was a sandwich.

As if I need more financial waste in the current climate!

I’m obsessed with therapy – like an American level of obsessive. It transformed my mental health and therefore my whole life, about four years ago. Since then I have been shouting from the rooftops how important it is to see a professional as soon as needed.

If we broke a leg we wouldn’t give it a few weeks to see if it gets better, but when we have mental difficulties we have that Welsh instinct to deal with it ourselves.

The truth is that very few of us can deal with it effectively on our own, so we sweep things under the rug until it all adds up and are pushed over the edge by a simple inconvenience that turns out to be the water drop.

Have you ever cried in the middle of Sainsbury’s because the garlic bread ran out? Just me?

Treating and protecting our mental health should be an integral part of our daily lives, but the current brand of “self-care” that my generation so fervently prescribes has us so preoccupied with our well-being that we neglect our responsibility to others.

A distinction must be made between protecting your mental health and participating in personal care.

The first is a consideration of what you need to do to stay healthy and mentally capable of existing happily. The latter is a great way to take care of yourself and de-stress. I’m not disparaging the latter – it’s lovely. But it’s not the same thing.

To take myself as an example, I protect my mental health by going to therapy when needed (or even more regularly if we go by yesterday’s #SandwichGate), making sure that I no longer let toxic people influence me. value and leading a healthy life.

I take care of myself by lying and eating Oreos while watching the Kardashians. The latter is wonderful, but it is not the same.

Yet a narrative driven by social media has unnecessarily advertised “self-care” as a borderline human right, to the point that many of us don’t want to do anything that makes us less than completely happy.


The irony being that if we spent more time focusing on the true meaning of mental health and less time captioning #selfcare under a photo of us polishing a bottle of red, we’d be so much better off. equipped to handle life when we’re not completely happy.

Our obsession with doing anything that “protects our peace” and our adamant refusal to do anything that might cause even a hint of stress has also made us a bit selfish.

While prioritizing our happiness is essential, we should always be willing to compromise it somewhat, only occasionally, so as not to let down someone else who depends on us.

I’ve been in multiple work situations where it all stopped because someone “really needed a day of self-care”.

On one particular occasion, someone’s absence due to needing a “self-care day” cost the production around £8,000 as the whole day had to be rescheduled while other members of the team still needed to be paid.

It was catastrophic for the company in charge of the purse strings, simply because this individual felt it was his right to be “aware”.

Unhappiness is going to be part of life from time to time. Stress is inevitable sometimes.

Disappointment, offense, adversity…these are all elements of life that should not be abundant, but if our sanity is strong and cared for, we can deal with them as they arise.

Yet some of us have fallen into this self-centered belief that the moment we feel less than brilliant, we should reward ourselves with some “self-care.”

I don’t want us to give up on “self-care” altogether, but we need to recognize what an immense privilege it is to be able to take it so seriously.

I simply cannot imagine Millennials in Ukraine currently demanding that their “triggers” be respected, as the atrocities of war unfold before their eyes. So, we need to take a step back and reconsider our priorities.

I know some people will argue that “self-care” is a key part of protecting their mental health, and believe it or not, I don’t disagree.

However, this should be part of the protection – not the whole strategy.

Trying to overcome mental challenges with self-care is like trying to fix a broken ankle with an ice pack – it will temporarily relieve the pain, but you’ll still need a doctor to fix it in the end.

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