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When Other Health Issues Impact Your Mental Health (+5 Ways I Help Take Care of Myself)

By: Danielle Workman

Earlier this year I started to suffer from chronic, painful, daily migraines. The pain is constant and intense, taking away my drive to eat at all, removing my drive to exercise, and after days on end of constant and consistent migraines, I am reminded why they are commonly called “suicide headaches”.

For me, I have found stability in my mental health from some basic little things in my life that have made all the difference: A stable bedtime routine, that has been thrown askew by only being able to sleep when pain allows it. Healthful eating, and lots of fresh fruit and veggies, which aren’t easy to eat when you’re nauseated or fatigued from pain. And ability to rest well, physically and mentally, when my body calls for it. Almost all of these things have been pulled to a halt from a platform of stability where they proudly sat and now are wildly rocking off of the shelf and chaos has ensued.

This has caused me to reevaluate how I see my mental health. It has caused me to rethink what mental health is for me, and what it looks like now. One thing that I had to learn this year is that mental health is constantly evolving - and if you’re going to maintain wellness, you’ll need to try to evolve with it.

Today I wanted to share some lessons I have learned in the first half of this year about how this new health issue has impacted my mental health - and ways I try to take care of myself today.

  1. Rest. This isn’t a new lesson, but its one I had to relearn and remind myself of. When I began to work my job I was working night shifts, long twelve hour shifts in a quiet unit. When the nights were busy it was easier - the bright lights and the loud noises helped keep my mind awake, but when it was quiet and we had to keep it dark and slow, it was hard to stay awake. It was even harder to sleep during the day in between shifts. Exhausted, mentally fried and near tears, I approached my mom and asked her for advice on how to combat the fatigue I had been feeling. She advised me that simply lying there was enough. “Lying there, and resting your body, your muscles, if it’s the best you can do, it’s the best you can do.”  I remember lying in bed the next day thinking that and feeling comfort in those words. It made sense to me, and in that, I felt better knowing that I was getting any rest - even if it wasn’t the deep sleep I wanted. These days, when I am in need of rest, my mind goes back to those words and I find emotional and mental comfort in that. 
  2. Smut. Allowing myself to enjoy things that I previously hadn’t has been crucial to my current state of healing and mental well being. While being in bed with a massive migraine I may want to watch a RuPaul’s Drag Race Marathon, or flip through a Cosmo Magazine. While it’s not good for my soul or for my long term well being, it’s good for my current well being and helping take my mind off of the condition at hand. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills aren’t going to help me with my confidence or with feeling better about looking like garbage while I sit in bed, but they do take my mind off of the feeling of hopelessness as I clutch my head and stomach at the same time and cry about feeling bad for myself. Enjoying my smut has helped me more than I care to admit.

  1. Fresh air. My grandmother admittedly doesn’t understand much about mental illness, let alone much about my bipolar disorder. When we try to discuss it, she will toss out ideas as to why this generation has mental illnesses. Usually, I struggle with this and tune her out. But for whatever reason her suggestion this spring caught my attention. “This generation doesn’t get enough fresh air. That would depress anyone.”
    That statement hung with me for a day or two as I thought about it. I thought about ways to get more fresh air into my life on days that I was struggling. I slept with the windows open. I drove with the windows down. I ate lunch outside more. While I couldn’t find studies I could find as valid, I found articles with decent ideas that gave me inspiration and ways to find the fresh air I needed.
    Instead of turning indoors to rest and recuperate and hermit myself when I wanted to be low, I was challenging myself to 30 minutes of fresh air a day. That meant I had to find a way to take a walk, or go for a mountain drive, or even go for a bike ride. This in turn sent me on many small adventures I would not have gone on previously that had boost my spirits (like when I discovered an alien themed cafe in the middle of the desert).
    Turns out, grandma was right again.

  1. Pamper and Polish. Okay, I know this is for the ladies more than for the male readers out there, but this one has become very important for me. When a migraine hits it really hits hard. I don’t eat, or drink, I barely move and I lie in the dark in pain. The meds my doctors gave me have side effects that are just as bad as the migraine itself and it is just a gross situation. Now imagine it daily, and imagine it while being bipolar. It’s not fun. And quickly, and easily, I fell into a rut of not taking care of myself.
    I used to be a girl who woke up early to do her hair and makeup. I used to love applying bright colors to my lips and trying new colors to my eyelids. I loved trying new hairstyles and just not being a slob.
    Until this year.
    This year it was a struggle to get out of bed most days, let alone a struggle to even consider doing my hair and makeup. The mere thought of doing my hair was physically painful, and there were even some days I spent crying over the loss of the woman I used to be. It just had become so physically painful and so physically hard to take care of myself most days.
    My husband was the one that started the idea of pamper and polish. He gifted me a few gel manicures for my birthday, knowing how long they last and their quality. He took me to the salon, driving me there in the rain and even waiting in the car while the appointment went over the time. It was a gesture that did something big - even on the days that I felt truly awful, I had something that made me feel that little bit more pulled together. And that would turn into a domino effect for me. If I noticed my nails after a shower, I would spend an extra moment brushing my hair, or painting my toes, or even applying coconut lotion. And feeling that little bit pampered helped me feel a little bit better emotionally, even if physically I felt totally awful.

  1. Self Forgiveness. This one is one of the hardest ones for me to do. It’s a daily practice and an all day practice at that. I have to forgive myself for being ill.
    I tend to beat myself up a lot emotionally for being sick. Deep down, I do understand that I have had zero control over my ailments. It is not like I chose the paths that led to my sicknesses, but still, I act as if I had a part to play. And when I am down for the count, I play the shame game, thinking of all the things I should be doing with my time instead of spending it in bed resting and taking care of myself. It is a constant mind game that is being played and I am consistently struggling with it.
    That is why this one is the most important one for me. I have had to recognize, try and try again to forgive myself for being ill. I have to forgive myself for being bipolar. I have to forgive myself for not being able to be the woman I want to be. I have to forgive myself for not being the mom or the wife or the employee I want to be. And I have to do it all day long. But it is SO important because once you do it, that weight that releases off of your shoulders, even if its only for a moment is so healing.

As I stated before, mental health is always evolving, and this is just a few of the ways that I have had to evolve my mental health rituals and routines over the last few months to fit my health needs. In order to physically and emotionally survive you’ll need to evolve your own tactics and your own routines as you grow, change and as your life changes around you. As silly and ‘light and fluffy’ as these seem, they made a massive difference. In a few months they will likely change.

In the comments below, share one of the new ways you take care of yourself!

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