Recently my rat Squiggle had some health problems of his own. He managed to get himself stuck in a tunnel that I didn’t realize he had outgrown, and scraped up his hand along the bottom. He then started picking at the wound which made it worse, so he needed to get a cone around his neck. And in the process of helping him with this issue, the vet also realized he was having problems with his eyes (thankfully only dry eye resolved through eye drops) and a respiratory infection (thankfully resolved through medicine). He is mostly ok now. He still has the cone and will for a few more days, until the wound completely heals, and is still taking the medicine for the respiratory infection, but both the respiratory infection and his hand have healed a great deal, and his eyes are completely healed and he no longer needs eye drops. *sigh of relief*
I hated seeing him in so much pain, and scared from going to the vet and getting medicine every day (which he hates as much as he hates having a cone on his head, and I don’t blame him!) Initially, before the vet had figured out what the problems were and that they were treatable, I was scared myself. At the same time, for the first time in a long time my attention was not on my depression. I couldn’t spend all day wallowing, because Squiggle needed me. And that gave me a reason to get out of my head and be active.
This made me realize how necessary it is for me to be part of something larger than myself, and contribute to others. I wish the best of health for Squiggle, and he of course doesn’t need to be sick for my own need to serve others to be met. I would love to get back into volunteering. It can be really hard for me to commit to doing something on an ongoing basis when I’m often too depressed to get out of bed, nevermind be helpful. However I have joined a volunteer placement organization that lists drop-in days of service at non-profits such as animal shelters, soup kitchens, after-school programs, and Habitat for Humanity. This is perfect for me because I’m not sure what I’d be best at and enjoy the most, and it’d allow me to try different things out. It would also allow me to volunteer only as I am able.
Unfortunately, among many other problems with the mental health system, I find that mental health treatment can oftentimes encourage being self-centered. The common assumption is that if someone is struggling, they need to focus on self-care and on their issues until they’re feeling better. This doesn’t necessarily work, though. For me at least, I find it to be counter-productive; if I spend a lot of time thinking about the problems I have, I develop a low self-esteem. If I focus too much on self-care, I have nothing to distract me from my emotions or to make me feel fulfilled and like I’m needed in this world. The self-care approach may work for some people (in particular people who are coming from a history of ignoring their own needs completely in favor of others; who perhaps are learning for the first time that they’re important too). But I do wish there were more options of treatments that focused instead on developing the ability to contribute and caretake, and on finding the right outlet that would best make use of the client’s unique interests and talents.
I have to give happiness in order to keep it.