How to Find Resilience When You Have a Mental Illness


Resilience, to me, feels like trying to hold on to a blow-up rubber ring in the middle of an ocean. You know… that ring you use when you go on holiday? The prime position is placing your backside in the middle, your legs hanging over the side, sunglasses on and a bottle of beer in hand. That’s the dream.

Last year, when I had my “mental breakdown,” my rubber ring burst and I was thrown into the ocean, at the mercy of the great swells, crashing waves and ever-unpredictable weather. Drowning. Gasping for air. A resilience deficit.

More recently, I’ve acquired a new rubber ring — a new, better rubber ring. I’m just struggling to get myself into the prime position… or in any position, really. I feel I’m mostly holding on to the side and sometimes I get as far as getting my head in the middle but I can’t yet pull my arms through to hoist myself up. This makes for surviving sizable waves all the more difficult, and frankly, tiring.

In these moments, it’s all about employing strategies that will help you ride the waves until you’re able to get on top of your rubber ring and later grab your beer. Strategies that will help you stay there.

1. Know your limits.

Don’t try to do a handstand when you can’t even get on the ring in the first place. More commonly referred to as: “Don’t run before you can walk.” Especially when life is returning to some form of normality, it is natural to want to pick up everything you used to do all at once (or at least that’s what I’ve found myself doing). In order to stay a float and stay holding on to the rubber ring, these things need to come with time. It’s about putting on your oxygen mask before assisting other people with theirs. It’s about putting in boundaries and not only guarding but prioritizing your self-care. Know when to say yes and when to say no. Never say yes if this means you have to let go of your own rubber ring. You need your resilience. You need your oxygen mask. You need your ring.

2, Seek support

Obvious, I know. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel — bear with me. When I’m struggling, my default is to isolate myself which is possibly one of the worse things I could do — struggling to hold on in the stormy seas all on my own. I’d like to think I have improved at reaching out, though there are still times where I completely shut down, hide and become uncommunicative. Simply messaging someone and revealing that you’re less than OK is enough. I know I’ve got a particularly difficult week coming up and pre-empting that, I’ve moved in with friends until the weekend. So when the big waves hit, I’m not alone in it all. Yes for forward planning!

3. Take medication as prescribed

Since my hospital admission, I now have PRN medication. What’s a PRN when it’s at home? Well, Google just enlightened me that PRN stands for “pro re nata,” which is a Latin phrase for “as the circumstances arises,” which in medical speak means “use when necessary.” In Trevor speak, PRN means when you’re absolutely up a height/in distress/very anxious/not coping – take the damn pill. It helps. For me, popping it feels like a last resort, but I have been told I am holding out too long before taking it. I admit I’m not the biggest fan of meds, but at the end of the day they are there to help. For the most part, they do.

4. Peer support

Chatting to other folk who are also struggling to climb on their rubber ring can be really helpful. They can give you tips, tricks and offer that all-important “me too” affirming head nod. This month, I’ll be embarking on a 10-week group therapy adventure called “The Resilience Program.” This is the program’s maiden voyage, designed and delivered by psychologists, tailored for people who have experienced childhood trauma and have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. We’ll be covering mindfulness, self-compassion and acceptance, and commitment therapy. I’m feeling pretty optimistic about it and hope the group supports my continued recovery and maybe even helps me get my backside into my ring. The beer can come later.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Kabat-Zinn

Originally published on the author’s blog.

Thinkstock photo via WILLSIE


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