Unfortunately, mental illness isn’t often something you beat. You can’t fix it or medicate it away. There’s a lot of talk about how to ask for help, how to prevent suicide, but I haven’t found much on how to live with your demons. Because my bipolar, my depression, these things aren’t going away (at least not any time soon). And I have dreams of a better life. Of accomplishing things. I have skills and talents I want to use. I want to have babies and build a business and have a peaceful home.
Living with mental illness is hard. I won’t say it’s ever easy but I’ve gotten better at it. I can see the signs, I know more tricks, I’ve created healthier thought patterns and my favorite, safe guards. I’m going to get real real with you guys here on how I make life more livable for myself, my husband, and my friends.
This can not be understated. If you are on medicine for your mental illness (if you’re not, and you’re not feeling better, I would highly recommend having the medicine conversation with your doctor) you NEED to stay on it. Don’t wean yourself off, don’t switch up your dosage, don’t get too cool for it, don’t give up a few weeks in because it “isn’t working.” You aren’t a doctor. And most medicines that work on the brain take time, consistency, and therapy to really work.
(This is a doctor, listen to him)
I’m currently on an anti-seizure medicine that helps with my mood swings (lol right?? ANTI SEISZURE. That’s how messed up my brain signals are) and if I miss a dose, I can feel it. If I miss a few doses I get shaky and tired and light-headed. Set-up automatic prescription refills, find a pharmacy you trust, AND (this is a big one no one tells you about) find a generic brand that works. Different pharmacies have slightly different formulas for their generic drugs, so consider that when switching or picking pharmacies.
I dare you, for one week, to go to bed before midnight and get up before eight. You will be amazed at what that does for your mental stability. I’ve been staying up late watching Jessica Jones with the hubby (it’s so good guys) and it’s killing my mental capacity. It feels like I’m fighting an uphill battle. Getting good sleep won’t eliminate your sickness, but it does help in leveling the playing field.
Mental illness/sickness, whatever you want to call it, isn’t something you can compartmentalize. I’m sure you want to. You want to pretend you can go to work and act like it isn’t wreaking havoc on your emotions. You can try to convince yourself you can handle the stress. But you can’t. Your mental illness is a huge part of your brain and how it works. You need to respect that.
Every work place is different, but a few things you should absolutely try to fit in are breaks, routines, and boundaries. If you aren’t taking meaningful breaks where you leave your work station to think and breathe and clear your head, you’re doing it wrong. Try incorporating start-of-day and end-of-day routines. For me, this is making coffee and checking my email. That’s how I know my work has started. When it’s time to end the day, I take a few deep breaths and shut the door to my office (I work from home, but when I worked at an office I took a walk around my block the minute I got home). Now, for boundaries, I could write a book on this. But I’ll just say this. You are not your work, and your work is not you.
This doesn’t have to mean regularly attending counseling, but you should have some kind of activity that functions as mental exercise. If you tore your ACL you would have to take physical therapy, right? Same goes for your brain. Try drawing, coloring, painting, singing, dancing, reading, journaling, walking, swimming, jumping, screaming, breathing, stretching, punching, showering, or crying. These are all things that I do regularly to keep my sanity. The goal with any of those activities is to bring my mind to the present moment. To give it a break from it’s normal routine and start back from center.
Everyone is about to get real uncomfortable, but this is important. Just suck it up for like three minutes. If you struggle with intrusive thoughts, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm, you can not, I repeat CAN NOT live your life like everyone else. You just can’t. Sorry. You can’t go out drinking like everyone else, you can’t keep knives around, you can’t be alone for days on end. I require my husband keep his guns locked up at all times because I struggle with suicidal thoughts. I don’t spend more than 24 hours alone. I don’t drink more than three glasses of wine because I get weirdly emotional. It’s super un-fun to think about, but avoiding it will only make it worse.
This is a super abbreviated list of the things I do to maintain sanity, it’s a never ending quest for balance. While it sucks to be sick, and sometimes it doesn’t feel fair, it’s a reality. And once you accept the reality and start making changes, it becomes a lot easer to deal with.
And maybe, with lots of time and practice, you can become as awesome as I am.