For me, 2012 has been a year of great success, immense loss, incredible opportunity and continual change. I accomplished things that I once doubted I could, lost people and things that I had expected to have for years to come, was presented with chances to do things that excited and inspired me, and have experienced more changes, both in my life and within my life, that I would never have imagined was possible in such a short period of time. As they say in the classics, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times and, as I look ahead to 2013, I cannot help but reflect on it all.
In particular, I have found myself focusing on the impact that this year has had on me, my
health and my overall well-being. As many reading this are likely aware, stress, loss and change, in both their painful and joyous forms, have a habit of wrecking havoc on those of us suffering from mentally interesting brains. They can trigger instability and, with it, a slew of emotional, physical and medicinal problems; this is especially true when we fail to be mindful of our needs and insist on trudging on as if we had none. Admittedly, I [and many others close to me and I am sure many of you] have been guilty of this form of self-neglect and have suffered considerably from it.
Thus, as we enter the New Year, I thought it would be helpful to write down some reminders about how best to take care of ourselves in times of both stress and normalcy. While mental illness and many of things that occur in our lives may be not be a choice, our responses to them are and it is important to do our best to make sure that repose is a positive one. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you make sure that it is:
~ Acknowledge that you have needs. For me, this is one of the most difficult to follow through on. I don’t want to have admit and take the time to address my emotional and physical needs, especially during those periods where they are significant (such as when I’m suffering from a mood episode). I want to be able to do what I want and get on with my life. Unfortunately, ignoring their existence does not make them go away and, in fact, will only make the situation and its impact on your life worse and more pervasive. So, in 2013, make sure to recognize that you, just like everyone else, have needs that deserve to be addressed, especially during those times where they may be a little “more”.
~ Reach out for help when you need it. Like the prior suggestion, this one is always hard for me. I don’t want to have to slow down and ask for help. I want to be able to manage things all on my own! Even though I intellectually know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, my pride still stands up and throws a fit to try to convince me otherwise. Again, unfortunately, denying that I need help doesn’t make that need for help go away. Remember that it’s OK to be honest about your need for and ask for help, even when you don’t believe it yourself, and that at times it can be necessary to keep you happy, healthy and safe.
~ Build your support network and keep them close. It’s important for anyone to have a strong support network they can go to in times of need, but it’s especially important for those of us suffering from mental health complications.While it can be hard to do sometimes, it’s important that we do our best to go out into the world and build up our support network as strong as possible. This support network can be made up by doctors, therapists, peers, support groups, family, friends or anyone who can serve as a reliable support during times of need. Once you’ve built it up, make sure to keep it close — stay in contact with those in it and reach out when you need a helping hand.
~ Do, but only what you can. Even during periods of mental unwellness, it’s important to ‘do’ something so that we stay connected with ourselves, our support network and the world at large. This can be working, going to school, getting together with those who have similar interests, taking a walk, blogging, attending a support group, going out to eat with a close friend, calling someone on the phone, snuggling with a pet cat or anything else, really, as long as it’s something that is healthy and non-destructive. At the same time, doing too much or more than you are
able to at a given moment can cause you to feel stressed, trigger a symptom and, when you find yourself struggling or unable, even unfairly hurt your sense of self-esteem, self-worth and self- confidence Thus, you must be willing to recognize that you do have limitations and be careful to only do what you are able — and to accept that, for now, that’s enough.
~ Lend a hand to others in need. While, to some extent, an extension of the above, if one is able, they should try to aid others in need. Not only does this connect you with the greater world, but it can give you a sense of purpose and has been shown, consistently, to increase mental wellness. This can be anything from playing games on freerice.com, a site that donates a grain of rice for each correct answer, to volunteering a few hours at a soup kitchen, to running a toy drive for hospitalized children to maintaining a position at a non-profit. Again, do what you can, but not more than what you can.
~ Do something for yourself. In the midst of mental distress and crisis, it is easy to forget, or convince ourselves otherwise, that we are inherently good people who deserve good things. Do your best not to forget this and, instead, do something — something joyful, something soothing, something fun, something silly or something helpful — for yourself. Buy your favorite chocolate bar. Treat yourself to your favorite restaurant. Treat yourself to a spa day. Spend a day watching your favorite, childhood cartoons. Watch Corgi videos on YouTube. Take a mental health day and veg out. Buy yourself that thing you’ve been eyeing for months. Whatever it is that may make your day a little better and your life, even if for a short while, a tiny bit easier.
~ Be honest and stay engaged with your treatment team. For us Mentally Interesting folks, this is vital. Your treatment team — doctors, therapists, group supports — are there to help you manage your illness and get the most out of life; but they need you to stay engaged and stay honest with them so they can do their jobs. Do your best to be open with them and, even when you feel that you can’t get out of bed another day, do your best to keep in touch with them. And make sure to follow their recommendations [hopefully made with your input and full participation], even when it makes your stomach feel a bit icky.
~ Take breaks and keep perspective. When things become too overwhelming, to the extent it
is possible, sometimes it’s best to slow down and take a break. To put our health and wellness above our self-posed or societal-imposed timelines. To put our health and wellness above our ideas and expectations on what we should or should not be able to do. It’s important to remember that our first obligation is to ourselves and that, even when we face setbacks and disappointments, as long as we’re doing what we can, when we can, we’re doing pretty good.
What are some of your tips for staying well in the New Year? Happy New Year!