30 Day Challenge, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Distorted Perceptions, Isolation, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Paranoid Schizophrenia, Relationships, Self-Awareness, Self-Doubt, Self-Harming, Self-Hatred, Self-Image, Self-Loathing, Suicidal Thoughts, Therapy
Today’s subject (in this 30 Day Mental Illness Awareness Challenge) is a very interesting one for me.
And once again it challenges me to think about the way in which I try to manage (and/or allow others to help me manage) my mental health/illnesses and the type and level of impact that it has on my life.
The question asks me to consider both ‘treatment’ and ‘coping skills’ which are or have been most effective. And if I am truly honest I can offer very little in respect of ‘treatment’.
In my previous posts (within this challenge, and indeed elsewhere) I made mention of the long and drawn out journey that is often experienced before gaining a diagnosis. And it is worth mentioning here perhaps – by way of encouragement to others undergoing this journey – that along side this (and very often coupled to this) there can often be a veritable roller coaster ride of different medications and treatments whilst they find the ones which are most effective.
It is also worth mentioning – in the spirit of openness and honesty – that I personally am notoriously bad at taking my medication. And in fact – in terms of treatment (outside of medication) – the only other ‘official’ treatments that I have received in respect of my mental illnesses/health were many years ago and through…
a) the regular visits of a psychiatric social worker – who took me out and helped me to interact socially. and
b) a series of Cognitive Therapy Sessions which helped me to understand and come to terms with my mental illnesses.
That having been said both of these were, in my personal experience, extremely beneficial.
Which brings me to the subject of…
For me personally, this is the most important part of managing my mental illnesses/health. And over the years I have developed ‘coping’ several skills or techniques designed to (and fairly effective) in helping me manage my mental illnesses. But in order to understand their benefits I guess I also need to give and indication of how my mental health works and also to identify the need or behavior which these coping skills are designed to address.
The way my mental health works (or indeed breaks) – according to your personal perspective.
I have long since recognized that I do not enjoy the same levels of mental health that many folk appear to have. In truth the way my mind works and the impact that it has on my life has for as long as I can remember been different to my peers and other folk. And in this I can’t remember a time when I can truly say I have enjoyed ‘normal’ mental health. (Although I totally struggle with the very concept of ‘normal’ mental health – but that’s a different rant for a different day perhaps.
What I do experience therefore is a baseline of mental health which ‘generally’ appears to be somewhat below that experienced by others and which at times either…
a) crashes into the deepest of depths of desperation and (self-targeted) destructive behavior,
b) enters into a state of chaos and confusion, and/or
c) encourages self-inflicted isolation.
These are – without doubt – the three most noticeable and most frequent results of my mental illnesses and are without doubt a fairly constant feature of my mental health varying only in the sequences in which they appear and indeed the speed and severity of their appearance.
So, in truth, my ‘coping skills‘ are designed to either a) limit the potential of these things happening or b) to limit the level of damage that they (or I as a result of them) can do to my life.
Positivity and Selectivity.
Over the years I have come to realize that negativity can, without doubt, have a very real and indeed a very harmful effect on my mental health. Things which we are subjected to (or subject ourselves to) everyday can (I am convinced) have a very real impact on our thought-processes, moods, outlooks and attitudes.
Whereas some folk seem to have a protective layer over them which means that a lot of stuff simply doesn’t affect them I have come to understand that I am far more absorbent than that. So I actively avoid negativity where possible. I have in fact learned to be selective over what I allow to enter into my life.
This is in respect of many things, and I truly believe that you might be surprised if you sit and objectively consider what kind of affects certain everyday things might be having on your mental health. I am therefore selective when it comes to such things as… The types of music I listen to. The types of television programs that I watch. The level of ‘news’ reports that I look at. The types of books that I read. The types of games that I play. Even the content of social media that I allow myself to witness /see each and everyday. And, I have to be honest here, the types of blogs which I follow and read. (Here’s an interesting exercise for you. Do a positivity/negativity audit on the blogs and social media content you often read. Consider how they could be effecting you.)
But the hardest of all of these, when it comes to selectivity, has to be the impact of those people who are part of our life – especially those closest and nearest and dearest to us. In truth this one is the one I struggle with the most. I am, I believe, very compassionate and caring and I want to be there for folk especially those who are suffering. In fact, a s a Christian, the very faith that I hold so dear, requires me to be there for folk.
But, the plain fact of the matter is that some people can, by their attitudes and comments, be harmful to my mental health and I have had to be cautious, selective and realistic about allowing – or not allowing (as the case may be) harmful relationships to continue in my life and have (where attempts to explain the issues, address and change such relationships have failed) had to cut those relationships out of my life or at best limit my exposure to them. Likewise I try to be very selective about taking ownership of some of the comments which can be thrown our way. Because they can also (as sad as it may seem) be part of the ‘stresses’ or ‘triggers’ which can affect our mental health.
Identifying Stresses and Triggers
Is, for me, another essential coping skill and is very closely related to the above section about Positivity and Selectivity.
There are, for me, certain subjects or topics, and especially (it seems) certain sites, sounds and smells even, which can immediately unsettle my mind and have a very real effect on my mental health.
One such example would be images or graphic details of self-harming. These can immediately trigger very real and very unwanted and potentially destructive responses and thought processes in my mind. But they are not the only things and are just one example of what I am talking about. In fact, there are numerous stresses and triggers out there which can affect me.
So much so in fact that another example would be that I have to be very cautious about the kind of films that I watch. And in fact I have even learned that, when I fall asleep watching the television, the content of television programs that I am listening to, if negative or violent, whilst asleep or dozing off can seem to cause me to have nightmares. As a result of this I generally only watch the comedy channel just before bed as I have come to learn that this is generally safe.
Order and Organization.
Would, without doubt, be one of the biggest coping skills that I have developed over the years.
One of the biggest impacts that my mental illnesses have on my life is the chaos and confusion that can often result from my mental health crashing. Chaos and confusion which, it has to be said, often leads to weeks and even months of having to repair what has been done (or indeed has not been done but should have been done) during the period of the crash. And by this I mean things such as – medication not being taken, bills and payments not being paid, relationships not being nurtured.
But it also goes so much beyond that. I have also noticed that the less ordered and organized my life and my immediate environments (home, work area etc) are the more easily my mental health can crash and the harder it can be to repair things and get back to a level of ‘normality’ (there’s that word again) when I eventually come out of the crash.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not analy retentive when it comes to order and organization – although I do also have OCD which means I can be somewhat particular about certain things. But I do find that a neat and tidy house and work space does improve my mental health or at least reduce the effect other factors have on it.
Realistic and Objective Self-Assessment.
This, for me personally, has to be one of the biggest coping skills and indeed one of the biggest needs.
There is a conflict, which can exist, when we experience poor mental health. The conflict between the need to cope, the desire to be independent and respected, and the desire to be reliable with the realization that sometimes we just can’t cope, just have to depend on others and sometimes are just not able to be reliable.
In the experience of my own mental illnesses/health, there is no one regular pattern when it comes to how it is experienced or presents itself. And in truth, whilst I am fortunate enough to be able to cope and have a fairly ‘normal’ existence on some level or another most of the time, the ‘crashes’ can either be sudden or gradual.
So being self-aware (when possible) of my own mental health and being extremely realistic and objective concerning it can be essential to preventing a decline in it, a further crash or indeed to limiting the potential damage it can do.
And this brings me to the last coping skill I shall share in what has already become a fairly long post…
Openness, Honesty and Trust.
Directly linked to the skill mentioned above ‘Realistic and Objective Self-Assessment‘ the ability to be open, and honest about the state of my mental health has been essential to my ability to manage my mental health.
On one level even the ability to blog about my mental health has and is extremely beneficial to my mental health. The thought that I might be helping others gives suffering my mental health issues some form of positivity, some resultant goodness perhaps. But more than that it also allows me to get to the ‘outside’ that which is or was previously trapped ‘inside’. This in itself opens conversation and dialogue – which is in my experience in the main healthy and which can assist us in seeing our mental illnesses or the experiences resulting from them in different ways and from differing perspectives.
But on a much closer, deeper and more intimate level having people in your life who are willing to at least try to understand (that which very often we ourselves don’t fully understand) and with whom we can be open and honest can, in my opinion, be essential to coping (and even at times surviving) our mental illnesses.
And by this I mean open and honest not only in what we share with them but also in what they share with us. One of the saddest and most detrimental (excuse the pun) effects of mental illness is the isolation that it can often create – either as a result of self-doubt, resultant lack of self-worth, the stigma that is all too often and all too wrongly attached, or because of the confusion and havoc it can sometimes bring.
Having folk in our life who are aware of, and whom we can share with is, essential and just as importantly folk who will not only try to understand but who will; support us, lovingly challenge us, inspire us, encourage us and also who will hold us accountable for our own actions and our own management of our mental illnesses and resultant behaviors is, in my experience and opinion absolutely essential.
I am convince that this objectivity which I mentioned above and which is directly in play here. And on that note I end with this one thought…
In my experience and opinion, one of the most effective skills we can have when it comes to coping, is being able to a) recognize and admit to those times and those areas in which we are not able to cope and b) reach out to folk who will; safely, compassionately and realistically help us get to or get back to a place where we can.