My intention writing these things is absolutely not to suggest that I'm an expert on mental illness of any type or how to deal with it. I'm really only a journeyman at dealing with it myself. But I've made concrete, trackable progress over the past year of which I'm very proud, and if what I've done and experienced can help anyone else, then I'd be thrilled. If not... well, then I hope you don't mind too much reading what goes on in my addled little brain.
In the last post I discussed that all-important first step – the hardest one, if you ask me. Once I was able to get past that hurdle I found it easier to make progress. Here are a few of the things I've learned:
You're going to have setbacks.We're all works in progress. And navigating the minefield of a disordered brain is no small feat. There are still days when I feel fatigued, or anti-social, or unmotivated. There are still days when that little voice in my brain just won't cease fire and I spend half my energy defending against it's relentless attack. There are still some days when I lose that battle.
But losing a battle doesn't mean losing the war. I had to learn to forgive myself for not always being up to the fight. I had to learn not to let myself spin the failure to beat that voice down into an even greater snowball of self-loathing. I had to learn to keep perspective. Pitfalls happen, and I had to learn to accept them and not let them undo any forward motion I'd attained.
Which sort of brings me to the next thing that's been important to me...
Having a system helps.You don't need to go all Memento, but for me I've found that having devices in place when mental crisis hits help me hold the downward spiral at bay. I think of it like little failsafes I keep in place for when my brain just isn't cooperating.
A few examples:
I self-medicate – harmlessly. I always have almonds, or something containing almonds (I'm a big fan of these granola bars) with me. This is partly because I tend to get low blood sugar and nuts help with that, but also because I have a hefty anxiety bend to my depression. Almonds are high in magnesium, which helps with anxiety. I admit that the immediate effect is almost certainly psychosomatic, but it does help. Even just the act of sitting still and eating a few almonds, one by one, calms me down when I feel shaky.
I write. It's not usually public, but if I'm really in a state I've found that just the act of purging the poison from my head can be really helpful. Sometimes people respond, sometimes they don't. But the helpful part is the act of writing out the thoughts in my head and getting them out of my head. I also find it helpful to go back and look over things I've written when I'm feeling more rational, so I can break down the way my mind works on itself and learn to better combat it.
I reach out. My instinct when I hit a depressive rut is to cocoon and hide from the world. It's also the worst thing for me. I've learned to force myself to reach out for contact – even if it's just texting a friend to make small talk, a little human interaction helps me. It distracts me from my own thoughts, or gives me a chance to ask for help if I need it. I used to sit and wallow, thinking that people didn't reach out to me because they didn't care. What I was failing to understand was that my friends can't read my mind – they're happy to help me, but they need to know I need it.
These things work for me. What works for you will probably be different. The important thing is figuring out the devices you can use to compensate when and where you need it.
Meltdowns don't have to be nuclear.Sometimes, no matter what I do, the meltdown comes. I cry, and I think awful, self-destructive things, and I want nothing more than to wallow in my misery. I used to beat myself up for this (which is a really effective way of making a bad thing worse), but I've come to realize that sometimes it's better to just let the wave come and pass rather than swimming against it.
Would I rather never have these episodes? Of course. But sometimes the energy spent trying to fight it off would be better used reaching out for a sympathetic ear once the worst of it has passed, or getting some much-needed rest, or otherwise recovering. Sometimes my mind just needs to have a freak-out. I think of it like a pressure cooker: sometimes too much steam builds up and it just needs to be let out. And that's really unpleasant when it's happening, but it can be a relief once it's passed.
That said, I do my best not to let this happen when I'm around other people. I don't like subjecting those around me to my frailties if I can avoid it. But if I'm alone, and can afford to just ride it out, I find sometimes some of the weight comes off my shoulders once I come out the other side.
Again... this is all stuff that I've learned about myself. And it's come after years of confusion, self-analysis, hard work, and battling. But it might be completely irrelevant to your situation. The only thing I can really say with certainty is that it's important to know yourself. Know what things tend to set you off and learn how to compensate. Know what things help you feel better or cope. And if you have anything you'd like to add to what I've put down here, I'd love to hear it!
Post title stolen from Kate Bush.