The pursuit of wellness is a necessary activity for someone who struggles with their mental health. But sometimes, even when we know how important it is, this pursuit can feel like hard work and just another thing on our never-ending “to do” list. We fall into the trap of comparing our wellbeing with that of others – we put on a “coat of comparison” – and end up wearing ill-fitting outfits.
It might not be a perfect metaphor, but the idea that we can fashion a “wellness wardrobe”, containing items that support our wellbeing, has helped me. Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all matter. Different things work for different people. It’s important that we shed the coat of comparison and wear what works for us rather than the person next to us.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself burdened with feelings of resentment towards others who don’t need to do this wellness work. I look around at what other people do and begin comparing myself with them. I literally put on the coat of comparison and, instead of attending to my own wellbeing, become absorbed with questions like: “Why me? Why do I have to give attention to my wellness while others seem to glide through life without a care in the world? Why do I feel like this? How come others don’t? This isn’t fair!”
No. It’s not fair. Life isn’t fair. Mental illness certainly isn’t fair. Learning to recognise this truth is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves on the wellness journey. Wearing the coat of comparison hinders not only wellbeing but also our personal growth as unique human beings, and it can stifle our progress towards self-acceptance. The coat may appear attractive, and putting it on may feel comforting at first, but those feelings don’t last because the garment wasn’t designed for you!
Besides, just because others seem to us easily sailing, it doesn’t mean they don’t struggle. We don’t know what it costs someone else to wear a smile.
Taking off the coat gives us freedom to fashion a wellness wardrobe that expresses who we are and meets our specific needs: one we can own, be proud of and feel great wearing. Admitting to yourself that you’re not like other people is not only okay, but a great “mental frock” to wear.
We all know the non-negotiable essentials required for any wellness wardrobe: good sleep, moderate exercise and reasonable nutrition. But let’s face it, the basics are just that: basics! A good pair of jeans, a functional jacket and a scarf or tie that matches your eyes. Surely, they can’t be all there is to it. How dull and monotonous would that be! I have found that creating my own wellness wardrobe – adding those extra special items – not only engages my creative side but lifts my mood. I look forward to taking them out of the closet.
Let me give you an example. Like most people who suffer from depression, I know that exercise makes a difference. However, my coat of comparison tells me this means going to the gym or playing sport. But these things haven’t worked for me. No way. “Been there, done that!” All they do is make me feel worse about myself.
Good and enjoyable exercise for me means turning into a “fur-mama”. I have two beautiful large dogs that need to be walked every day. I may struggle sometimes to care for myself and do the things I should. However, it’s harder to neglect two dogs when they look longingly at me with their gorgeous big eyes. And so together we head out to the park to enjoy the beauty of nature and “drink in” the fresh air, all of which is good for my mood and perspective, and the wellbeing of my dogs. Instead of being stifled by the coat of comparison, I wear my fur-mama jacket with pride and joy.
It’s ok to review and refresh our entire wellness wardrobe every now and then. Once you’ve figured out your essentials, have some fun with seasonal mix and match. Let me explain what I mean by that. In winter, a weekly bubble bath is a self-care tool I enjoy and look forward to. I even have a personalised bath-ballad playlist. I have a few inspirational quotes around the walls of my bath tub to ponder and reflect on. But come summer, a hot bath doesn’t quit cut it.
I live in Auckland surrounded by lots of beautiful beaches. When the weather is warmer, I exchange my hot winter bath for a cooling evening ocean swim. The greatest part of this is that, come autumn and spring, I can play around with my hot bath and cooling swim, and sometimes even do both until the weather settles to winter or summer.
I’m not you, and you’re not me. We all have our own struggles with mental health and the pursuit of wellbeing, but we’re not the same. Our triggers are different and therefore the wardrobe we fashion to support wellness must be different too.
So don’t be afraid to spend time in the changing room shaking things up. If what you’re “wearing” isn’t working, try new things. By all means talk to others, read articles like this one, but try not to put on the coat of comparison. There’s a couture wellness wardrobe designed just for you. Embrace it!
You’re worth it!