I have been battling mental illness for all of my adult life. In all actuality it has probably been most of my entire life, however I was not diagnosed until I hit my adult years. Along the way I have had three stints in inpatient care, a handful of therapist, doctors, pills and therapies. I have encountered struggles that have brought me to my knees. There were times where it looked like I had reached the end of the rope. It has been a long, painful, difficult road to get where I am today.
In a past post I had written about some specific things that are challenges in my life. As a point of clarification on that topic, life is very good right now. I have a very good handle on what is going on with me and even my bad days now are far better than a typical day a few years ago. My bad days are usually a bad moment or two, sometimes a bad hour, but very seldom does it truly turn into a bad day. I may look at the day and think, man today really blew, but that is me getting in my head and letting a day with bad parts become something bigger that it really is. What I was trying to describe in that post was how what is going on around you can affect your mental health, mostly from people who are trying to understand but don’t have it quite right or people that just don’t get it. These “environmental” factors are a bigger part of my mental health issues than my actual diagnosis’ are and that has been that way for some time. These things can trigger responses that lead to symptoms growing, moods sliding and anxiety rearing it’s ugly head. But life is better.
There is so much that I have learned about my illnesses, my treatments, coping tools and strategies, and most importantly, myself, over the past ten years. There is very little that I can’t actually handle. There are boundaries and rules that have been set up so that I can remain in as good a state of being as I possibly can. We have set p our world to give me, and our family, the greatest chance of success as possible. Many large sacrifices have been made and dreams have been altered or set aside so that we can have our own version of a happily ever after. It hasn’t been easy. This is not how we thought things would be after 25 years+ together. But life is good.
One of the things that happened to me, as it seems to with many people who share these illnesses, is that I isolated myself from just about everything. There were times, long stretches of time, when the only time I left my home was to visit my care providers. That type of isolation becomes a vicious circle. It can get to the point where you are terrified of leaving the house in case your are put in a place that could possibly, maybe, trigger a negative response. You stay home, not because it is bad, but because it might get bad. You start looking for ways to make it bad. Self sabotage happens. Things can get arranged so that you fail at the task at hand so you can go back your dark bedroom and your music and petrify. I was grounded. My wings were clipped and it was basically game over. Doing time until life was done with me. I was still alive but I wasn’t living.
It was not easy to break out of that cocoon. To this day, I prefer being at home to being out and about. I like my books, my music and my writing. I like spending quiet evenings with my wife, talking or just occupying the same space. I like spending my days with light cleaning, writing, reading and creating. It’s different now in that I can leave and I do enjoy spending time with friends and my community. I am learning how to be something or someone again.
There are many things and people that can be given credit for this success. I have learned many coping skills. I have learned how to manage my symptoms and triggers. I have also found spirituality again. Taking good care of my physical self has been important. Eating right and exercise, at least exercise I can do, are key elements to good mental health. As a friend of mine has said over and over, you are what you eat. Do you want to be a nugget? Physical health care is important, but spiritual self care has been equally important. I am not saying go out and join a mega church and give all your money to some TV church. Spiritual care can be something much simpler. Reading spiritual books, a good meditation practice, writing about a spiritual journey, all of these are parts of what has become my spiritual path.
Being mindful of how a view the world around me is another big part of both my spiritual care and my mental self care. I try to limit exposure to negative news. I limit the time I spend with the TV on at all. I try to surround myself with people who have a healthy positive world view. I tend to avoid what I call the professional angry person. This is the person that is constantly and relentlessly looking for things to be offended by, and or angry about. This type of person can infect you with their world view and cause a negative spiral in your mental well being. While being realistic as well, I tend to look for people who find reasons to be happy and that show gratitude.
Looking for things to be grateful for, having that world view of life is beautiful, of things are going to be OK, helps keep the moods and triggers manageable. If things start to go south I can recognize and start to talk myself down by going to gratitude. This is a learned behavior and it doesn’t always work. Lately, things have piled up and made this world view hard to maintain and I have had several breakdowns and anxiety attacks. However, things get better, moods shift, attacks end and I can reset and get back into the attitude of gratitude.
Nothing is perfect. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. That is an expectation that I have left behind. It sets a person up for failure to expect the perfect life scenario. I am learning to fly, condition grounded but determined to try. That is all we can ever do, keep going.