I have a diagnosis of Bipolar 2 (major depression-mild manic episodes) and generalized anxiety disorder. I found out at the age of 22. I admitted myself into a facility because I was experiencing racing thoughts, suicidal ideation and anxiety. I was drinking excessively and taking sleeping pills as well. If I could’ve had it my way, I would’ve slept for all of eternity. I didn’t want to feel, so did what I could to numb myself. My only suicide attempt was at 15, so clearly I was struggling way before my initial diagnosis.
Since then, I’ve played an active role towards my recovery and stability. A lot of trial and error, but I’ve learned and have grown a lot along the way. I’ve researched immensely and have educated myself on the ins and outs of mental illness. I’ve read books, I’ve studied articles and statistics.
I take medication to correct the chemical imbalance I struggle with. I go to therapy and have been seeing a therapist on and off, for 12 years now. I am straight forward with my doctor, even if it pains me. The point of seeking mental help is to learn and transform. To evolve into the best version of yourself. That’s not supposed to be a comfortable process. You sure as hell will not reach it by being dishonest or omitting information from the one person whose job is to guide you towards the path to improvement.
I’m going to share some transformative things I’ve learned in my life. Some of the epiphanies that have allowed me to see life in a refreshingly, new perspective. I hope this information helps you, because it saved me. I’m only paying it forward.
At the very brink of any strong emotion, that pang that sucker punches you, leaving you internally stunned and frozen; I leave the situation to give myself a moment of clarity. If I cannot leave where I am, I choose to behave calmly. I accept that I cannot give a valid, logical, responsible response until I’m tranquil.
Then, I journal in my notepad on my phone in the style of free association writing. Free association, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the expression (as by speaking or writing) the content of consciousness without censorship as an aid in gaining access to unconscious processes especially in psychoanalysis: the reporting of the first thought that comes to mind in response to a given stimulus (as a word).
You are writing everything you are thinking at the moment. All those thoughts, shooting like stars across the velvety sky, in your mind? Write them down. No matter how stupid, shameful, silly, embarrassing… these words are for your eyes only. It’s important to be as candid as possible.
Is this uncomfortable? Absolutely. Is complete honesty necessary? Absolutely. If you are not genuine, this is pointless. The reason for this is to dig DEEP. In order to heal, you have to figure out the root of those feelings. Where they are originating from? Why are they happening now? In order to get better, you have to try something you’ve never done before. Say exercising, for example. The first time someone ever did a push up was way harder than the 500th they trained their way up to.
This is an immediately release, similar to venting to a friend. All of the emotional dumping without draining someone else and feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders as a result. When you’re done, read what you’ve written. Pretend you’re reading someone else’s words. Imagine your words as a story with fictional characters in a film. This will allow you to think objectively. Thinking neutrally will help you observe your thoughts and feelings in a non biased way.
Read your words over and over again. It will relax you, also providing you with a clarity of the emotion you’re experiencing. This is essential because identifying this emotion will help you understand yourself and your needs better.
When reading what you’ve written, there are a couple of things you must be accept here. Now, this isn’t simple. I do promise as hard as this is, once you do, the quality of your life will improve.
Okay. Say this with me. Write it down. Paste it on your wall if you need to.
You cannot stress what you cannot control. You cannot control what you feel. You cannot control what someone else feels. You cannot control someone else’s actions and choices. You cannot control someone else’s thoughts. You cannot control someone’s opinion of you. You cannot make someone like you. You cannot make everyone happy. It is your job, and your job only to make YOURSELF happy. The people around you either add to that happiness or have to go because they will hinder your joy.
Instead, redirect your focus on what you CAN control. You can control the way you react to the dumb shit people will do. You can control your own actions. You can choose to take responsibility of your own happiness and fulfillment. Trying to do the same for others is exhausting and impossible. You might as well avert the energy towards yourself.
Accepting all of this is powerful. It eliminates the chunk of what mentally burdens us often, the inevitable. It forces us to practice self care.
My therapist taught me something I now live my life by. “When you’re on an airplane, you are told in an emergency to put your own oxygen mask on first. You are of no help to anyone, if you haven’t taken care of yourself first”.
You cannot love yourself fully if you have not learned self care and self preservation. You cannot fully love someone else if you haven’t learned this. You cannot be the best version of yourself to your significant other, to your children, to your family, to your friends, to your employer or to yourself if you do not learn to do this. Self care is not selfish. It’s survival.
After you come to terms with the situation, you should be able to target the exact emotion you’re struggling with. That’s when coping skills come into the picture. Coping skills are techniques that help us survive stressful situations in a safe and productive manner. Showering, going for a walk, meditation, meditation music, nature sounds, using perfume or scented candle in your favorite scent, exercise, coloring, watching a funny film, crying, deep breathing, singing, dancing, and reciting positive affirmations are all awesome coping skills.
You also have the option of writing a list of activities that make fill you with bliss. You can choose to treat yourself by performing actions you’ve listed. This is a more personalized approach to coping skills. They may even work more effectively because they are designed for your specific needs.
Also, beware of negative coping skills. Do not integrate them into your list accidentally. If you find yourself doing the following, step away for a moment and contemplate to yourself “Is this action productive towards my recovery?”
Some examples of negative coping skills are criticizing yourself (negative self-talk), driving fast in a car, chewing your finger nails, becoming violent or aggressive with someone, eating too much or too little, overloading with caffeine, drinking alcohol, yelling at your significant other, children or friends, taking recreational drugs, as well as isolating yourself from family and friends. This may seem obvious, but mental illness can skew your perception so they need to be discussed.
When you find yourself in a fragile state of mind, retreat to your favorite coping skills. Keep in mind, you’re feeling sick that day. Imagine yourself with the flu. You’d be gentle with yourself. You’d give yourself the time to heal. You’d do what you had to to rest. You wouldn’t plague yourself with critical remarks. You’d nurse yourself back to a healthy state. It’s the same with mental illness. Love yourself enough to prioritize self care and self preservation. It’s your obligation to do so.
I encourage anyone who suspects they have a mental illness to see a mental health professional. This piece is not intended to substitute professional help. However, this is not a journey that’s safe enough to travel alone and I will always stand by those who are agonizing in quietude. Much love to you all.