The first Blog I wrote in this series discussed facing the diagnosis of mental illness and how to initiate yourself into this new world. Please refer to http://searchingforgrey.com/diagnosed-with-mental-illness-now-what/ .
In this Blog, now that you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder I want to discuss getting your ‘ducks in a row’ personally. I want to impart new habits, healthier ways of doing things that will help you throughout your day. These are things that you will want to put in place for those times when stressors or triggers come and you find that you have come to the end of yourself almost too easily. Many things can and will crop up in the first part of your journey in learning to live with a mental health disability. They will be new and often scary, anxiety provoking, agitating, depressing, or all of the above and sometimes all at once! I think that for most of us, there are times in life when it all just feels like Too Much. I want you to think of the things I am about to share and compare them to the bumpers on a baby’s crib. Bumpers provide a safety feature in the baby’s crib designed to keep the baby from bumping against the hard sides and hurting themselves or from becoming entrapped between the crib slats; breathable bumpers are also used to reduce the risk of suffocation. Simplistic analogy, but it works.
These ‘bumpers’ are things you will want to put in place when you are in a semi-good place to do so emotionally and mentally. They will act as your safety net when the hard times come. In my journey with mental illness, no one ever taught me these things. I wish they had, so I am sharing them with you now. A big part of living with mental illness is the inability to self-soothe when we are triggered (a trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; and different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback).
Triggers can serve to exacerbate our symptoms (such as anxiety) into a heightened state. If we are not used to working through the trigger, it is quite difficult to work our mind back out of that state of emotional disturbance. Most of us who suffer with mental illness have experienced extreme trauma and abuse in our lives and we are used to dealing with an environment that involves trauma. There are times where a person used to trauma, yelling and abuse will even cause or bring about a drama episode because we are so ingrained being in a such a trauma episode. As a person newly diagnosed with mental illness, not yet having the skill set or ability to self-sooth or live without turmoil, can make things even worse by acting out.
The temptation we typically fall back into is to drown it out with things that are harmful to us, or those around us, such as the use of alcohol, recreational drugs, reckless behavior or sex, self-harming, provoking a rage attack against the nearest person to you, or binging and purging; there are a variety of BAD ways to self soothe. What we need to do is to re-learn our responses to triggers and seek a change of mindset where we don’t want to cause drama/trauma situations just because they are all we know. Changing these behaviors now will serve to give you a better chance at surviving this journey intact!
All people suffer good and bad days. With mental illness in the mix, it gets kicked up a notch. There may be bad days, weeks, months, extended periods of time, when just the thought of getting out of bed seems impossible, never mind showering, dressing and getting to work on time. On these days, the mere notion of putting one foot in front of another seems insurmountable. It is a fact that many suffering with mental illness have lower immune systems, and like myself, you may suffer physical ailments in addition to the mental/emotional symptoms such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, or MS. The addition of physical symptoms serves to make getting through the day even more difficult.
If you wake to the day filled with anxiety, depression, physical or emotional trauma it’s a rude awakening indeed. You may have feelings of being ‘off’ because of trying a new psychiatric medication that doesn’t seem to be working yet. Or, maybe there’s no easily understood reason for why you’re feeling bad. Whatever the issue, it is time to set our ‘Bumper Plan’ in place. This is a system you can use to help you get things back on track. You are in a place of literally needing to retrain your brain to have a new, more positive and productive response vs. the old system you used to use.
The first thing to do upon awakening, is to conduct a head to toe checklist in your mind, of how you feel both physically and emotionally. Lay there a moment and take some slow, deep cleansing breaths as you conduct your self-check. What, if anything, hurts physically? Your back, general muscle and joint aches? Are you having a headache, stomach upset? What is your emotional mood? After you’ve visited the bathroom, go to the sink and splash some cold water on your face. Use a clean washcloth, get the water as cold as you can, and focus on the area of your eyes and forehead. Then, try some slow yoga stretches. Get your blood circulating. The concept I am getting to is the introduction of a morning and nighttime routine. Routines are great to have for any person, especially those who fight a mental disorder. If you have a daily job you need to get to and you suffer from depression, having your clothing set out the night before, your medications and vitamins in a pill dispenser will be helpful. Also having the coffee pot preset and ready to just push the on switch, plus a nourishing, hearty breakfast planned to start the day off right, will help to alleviate much of the distraction and anxiety of having to put these things in place when you are already facing a down mood.
If you are headed to the shower, have your favorite playlist ready to go, use some scented body wash and lotion that will help uplift your mood. If you have been more depressed than usual, cry it out in the shower. I often allow that as my cry time. I have to finish by the time I get out. Often, letting it out is much healthier than bottling up those emotions.
Shower, dress your best, get that makeup on (if you wear any) and present the best you possible physically. When we look good for ourselves, it raises our self-esteem and elevates our mood to look good. I talk myself throughout the day aloud while I am getting ready. I tell myself, “You got this girl”, “You can do this”, “Don’t let the little things bring you down”. I also have motivational sayings and pictures all around my bathroom. Things NOT to do during this time like turning on the news station, checking in on any type of Social Media, starting in on emails, or reading a newspaper. These are no-no’s! This is your safe environment and you are preparing yourself to exit it and go out into the WORLD in your best manner.
On days you can’t manage, DON’T! Stay in bed. Call in sick. Take comp time if you can. Take a mental health day. Say no to extra obligations, chores, or anything that pulls on you. If things are really bad, put a call in to your therapist and see if they can squeeze you in. I often have a quickie phone session (that yes, I pay for) with my therapist if I need to get back on track. Times come when you need to dial down your expectations of yourself. When you’re going through tough times, be realistic; let others know that you are just not up to peopling that day. I have a circle of girlfriends that know I may be prone to cancel if I feel off. We have a thing called spontaneous coffee dates. If I have a good functioning day I give them a call and if they are free, we make plans to meet up. I have learned to accept that there are days where I just CANNOT. I used to beat myself up and feel undependable, flighty, or, just plain sorry for myself that I cannot participate at times. I have to radically accept that fact and move forward with what I can do, when I can.
Let’s look at some other ways of self-soothing that are healthy and known for producing a better mood. Before we do however, I want to mention that, for some of us, like myself, who suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder, or any mood disorder that could lead to suicidal ideation or a psychotic break, if you are really bad, skip this stuff and go straight to the therapist call, psychiatrist or suicide hotline. Big warning here! If you live alone, get someone to come over immediately, if you can. DO NOT remain alone. I call this babysitting time. This is serious gang. Those of us who suffer at a deeper level can go to some really dark places in our mind and being alone is not a good option.
OK, list of Baby Bumpers to help you out of your funk:
- Watch a comforting/silly/funny/lighthearted TV show or movie
- Curl up with a blanket and read a great book.
- Color in an Adult Coloring Book (they have them all over today, or look at some gorgeous pictures of scenery or art online).
- Watch funny YouTube videos (I personally like the ones with goats screaming, that gets me every time!)
- Reach out on Social Media for some “love” from your tribe
- Cocoon yourself up in a cozy fleece blanket and sip a cup of hot tea.
- Have you had enough water today? Have you eaten something recently that is healthy and nourishing?
- Give yourself some rest time.
- Go outside if you are able, if the weather is nice and take a walk in the sunshine.
- If you are physically ok to do so, hit the gym and work out for at least 30 mins to one hour. Get those endorphins going.
- Google or read books on people who overcame obstacles or who inspire you.
- Take a long, hot bath, light a candle and pamper yourself.
- Cuddle your partner, a pillow, a stuffed animal, or your pet. (I have a stuffed Llama)
- Read past emails/postcards/letters etc. from friends and family reminding you of happier times.
- Engage your hands in something like gardening, knitting, sculpting, drawing, or baking.
- Write it out. Free form in a journal or a Google doc. Vent and let it out. You can delete or tear it up later.
- Take five minutes to meditate and practice deep breathing.
- Sniff some scents that bring you joy or remind you of happier times. Light a scented candle.
- Organize something, your pantry, your shoes, your underwear drawer. Sometimes tidying up helps to calm our minds.
- If you feel up to it and it would not cause you more anxiety, go out in public, and be around others. You don’t have to engage. Just be around people.
- Use magazines or photos to create a collage of things you love.
- Read some uplifting spiritual literature or versus. I love the Psalms.
- Let it out! Scream, pound pillows, tear up paper, and shake your body to move the energy out.
- Eat your favorite, most comforting foods. (Ice cream?)
- Call a friend to join you for an uplifting movie.
- If you live near water, go to it. Looking at water, especially the ocean is very cathartic.
- If you want to stay in bed all day watching Netflix, do it.
Educate yourself about what you’re going through. Learn about what you’re facing, what you can expect to feel, and how you can support yourself in this place. I have found that knowledge of my disorder my symptoms, even reading other people's accounts of living with what I do to be very edifying. Once you are armed with knowledge, share it with your loved ones and family members.
Think of some more options that will take you out of yourself and into a different frame of mind. Try to stay focused on what you’re going through right now is temporary. It may not feel like that at the moment and that is where we get stuck. Try to see beyond the moment you are in right now. These are self-care suggestions, not therapeutic advice. If you feel suicidal or find yourself having suicidal ideations, please call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
As always, I am with you on this Journey, Alice