10 Things to Add to Your Routine If You Struggle With Mental Illness
The thought of following a regimen might sound daunting and exhausting, especially when living with a mental health condition is problematic in and of itself. However, to live a more stable life, it is necessary to find a sense of balance. Therefore, I’d like to offer some key points that have helped me achieve and maintain stability.
1. Sleep regimen.
The proper amount of sleep is crucial to one’s mental wellness.
For several reasons, I have struggled with a proper bedtime routine since I was a teenager. I have always loved nighttime the most. And for some reason, I feel less lonely at night compared to during the day.
My mind would also race the second my head hit the pillow, which caused me to become more anxious and unable to sleep. But what was and still is most difficult for me is having to face the following day.
So, to avoid the empty feelings, I would sleep in until the late afternoon. It then became a vicious cycle, as my moods would vacillate from mania at night to depression the following day.
I became so sick of feeling that way and eventually put myself on a fairly regular sleep and wake schedule. Since the change, it has improved my sleep and has decreased my anxiety and depression.
2. Get out of bed.
As I mentioned earlier, getting out of bed is my greatest struggle. Knowing I have to face the day is very difficult for me and it’s when my depression is the worst.
The depression then leads to my body becoming physically numb; I feel like I can’t move. Therefore, I stopped allowing my thoughts to creep in and tell me I couldn’t do it, and instead, I got out of bed before I could even think about it.
I began to tell myself out loud to get up and out of bed; for some reason, it became more concrete hearing myself say it. It wasn’t comfortable doing this, but through repetition and time, it became less complicated. And for quite some time, I could only go from the bed to the couch, but it was still better than feeling that depression in bed. Just doing that alone helped me to no longer associate my bedroom as a dark and dreaded place.
3. Take meds on time.
I used to be terrible with maintaining a regular med routine. I would either forget to take my medication on time or not take the meds consistently. My poor family felt its consequences because it would severely affect my moods: It would vacillate hourly (sometimes within minutes) from mania to depression, anxiety, rage, etc.
I decided to buy a vitamin pillbox and keep it near my bed to remind me. And for individuals who have young children, you can purchase the ones that have safety locks on them.
I also set my alarm clock to take my meds simultaneously every day, which is essential to me as I want my moods to remain as balanced as possible.
4. Shower more regularly.
As disgusting as this may sound, I would go almost a week without showering, changing my clothing or brushing my hair. It got to the point where I could smell myself. And though the shower was right there, it felt so far away and too difficult for me to step into the tub.
I know these tasks may seem minuscule for someone who doesn’t live with severe depression, but for those who battle with it, the thought of doing any of these tasks can genuinely be so exhausting.
Mind you, I still don’t shower every single day, but I now remind myself how good it felt the time before. I have also become more aware if I go too long without taking one, the depression is creeping in and I need to nip it in the bud.
5. Proper nutrition.
It sounds so cliché, but proper nutrition is so important. I was incredibly addicted to sweets for years and years, as it fed my depression, but then came the sugar crash, the guilt of eating so much of it and the eventual weight gain. All it did was cause me to feel worse about myself, and I was so sick and tired of feeling that way, I finally gave up sweets.
I never thought the day I would give up sweets would come; within the first year, I lost a significant amount of weight. I actually gave up sweets for three years, but now I reward myself with a doughnut once a week and have proudly maintained a balance. Not everyone can give up sweets altogether, and therefore, that is why I mention balance.
Also, every meal I eat now consists of protein, a complex carbohydrate and fruit and vegetable. My body and brain can feel the benefits. And my self-esteem has significantly improved.
Yes, the dreaded activity for most of us. Trust me — I was there! Just the thought of getting out of bed was more than enough to handle, let alone exercise. Therefore, I had to take it one step at a time: I had to master the skill of getting out of bed first, eating properly and going to bed regularly to have the energy to exercise.
I then began to walk or go on my stationary bike for short durations at a gentle pace. Now, I go walking or hiking every day with my dog. Not only does exercise help one become more fit, but it releases endorphins, which are the happy neurotransmitters that assist in decreasing anxiety and depression. It also promotes better sleep, which can benefit those who experience insomnia.
And finally, just going outside and taking in the sights and sounds can be so refreshing, especially if it’s sunny out. It’s an excellent way to take in some vitamin D. However, don’t forget the sunscreen!
7. Decrease or eliminate substances and alcohol.
It took me 35 years to discover I was an alcoholic until blacking out became a nightly venture. It also affected my moods in the worst of ways: I would go from being high energy and happy to crying about my childhood and becoming a violent drunk. It not only affected my mental health to such an extreme, but it destroyed my family.
After I admitted myself into inpatient, I began to see a substance abuse counselor. I told her I didn’t think I was an alcoholic at the time because I quickly gave up drinking for years. She told me it is easier to give up alcohol, but if you go back and can’t stop at one or two drinks, then that’s an alcohol abuse issue.
I can proudly say I’ve now been sober for the past four years because of that one statement. However, I will not be a hypocrite and preach or tell you what I think is best: My only suggestion is to know what and how much you’re taking in. However, remember mixing substances, alcohol or both for someone with a mental health condition can have disastrous results — especially if you take psychotropic medications.
8. Find your identity.
I spent my childhood caring for my mother, who lived with bipolar disorder herself. I then hid behind substances, along with raising a family. However, outside of that, I had absolutely no identity.
My children were my every reason for being; therefore, when they grew up and no longer needed me, I felt I had no reason to be on this Earth any longer. However, after another inpatient hospitalization, I realized I had to do something I could purely call my own to live a meaningful life. And though the thought of it sounded selfish to me, I was reminded by my therapist the kids are now grown and it is necessary to find my own identity. Although, I’m not saying it was an overnight process, as I had to search deep within.
I attempted various roles to see what piqued my interest: school courses, going on an orientation to volunteer at a pet shelter, taking online classes and other adventures. It took me a while to figure out my niche, but I finally did.
Now, I present at inpatient facilities to share my personal story and provide advocacy, education and support. It indeed has been the greatest reward.
Maybe it’s a matter of finding something that you always wanted to do but never had the chance to, or trying something new you might not have considered before. For example, take a course that is different than your usual topic of interest. And if you don’t have the financial resources, there are online classes such as Coursera, Class Central, Udemy and Edx, to name a few. Most importantly, it’s about what fits you the most.
9. Learning to discipline oneself.
I tend to get caught up all day, either lingering on my phone or other immobile things that leave me feeling like I didn’t accomplish one thing. Therefore, I now set my alarm clock to allow myself some downtime, but then move on.
After my downtime, I begin to do some chores in the home. I’m not saying clean my entire house, but even if it’s just to wash the dishes, it helps me feel better about myself.
I also make sure to spend time with my dog and take him out to either play in the yard or go walking. It helps me to take accountability for his well-being. Ultimately, I have found a balance between downtime, which we all deserve, and productive time. It has improved my self-worth.
10. Become mindful of mood cycles.
Becoming more aware of our mood cycles is exceptionally significant. For example, if I’m not showering as much or just lingering around the house (more than usual), I know I am slipping into depression. If I begin to waste money, I know these are signs of mania.
My next step would be to assess the situation and ensure I utilize my task list, asking myself if I’ve been going to bed on time or taking my meds at the usual time. I must get back on a regimen if I’ve veered in any way.
I won’t make any pretenses and tell you this is an overnight process. However, I do believe if you can start with one thing at a time and build upon that, you will feel better about yourself.
Also, try not to push yourself too hard too fast. You don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment. And if you are having a tough day/week/time trying to accomplish any of these tasks, then that’s OK, too. Just go easy on yourself as you are fighting a battle many individuals can’t even begin to fathom.
Most importantly, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for your accomplishments — every bit counts.
A version of this article was originally published on the author’s blog Bipolar Warriors.
Unsplash image by Cathryn Lavery