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10 Ways I Make My Mental Illness More Bearable

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When dealing with my mental illness, sometimes all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep for days. It’s easy for me to be frightened by my illness and to cut myself down all the time. Why am I feeling this way? Why do I have to act so “weird” when I’m in this state? Why can’t I just enjoy my life? Here is a list of ways I make dealing with my mental illness a bit more bearable.

1. I listen to my needs.

When I’m in a depressive phase or I am experiencing my physical symptoms, I have to think about what I need in order to cope. This might mean canceling a night out with friends, or leaving early from an event and just going home and doing something calming like taking a lavender bath, changing into my pajamas, turning on my fairy lights, and then reading a book or watching Netflix. I know that when I’m in this phase, I have to fill my life with happy things, so I usually choose something uplifting to read or watch. But sometimes, a friend is what I need. I’m not a fan of public areas when I’m in one of these phases (usually I’m overstimulated by the crowds and noise, which feed my symptoms), so I usually schedule a low-key evening with one or two close friends and either watch a movie or just talk. Good friends will always be there for support.

2. I track my mood and take notes for my therapy meetings.

This is something I’m still trying to get in the habit of doing. But, when I do it, I usually rate my mood, motivation, and anxiety on a scale of one to 10 and take notes about any symptoms I may be experiencing. Then I draw a colorful graph with my mood, motivation and anxiety levels in different colors. This may seem ambitious and overwhelming, but when I do it, it’s actually quite therapeutic and it’s an amazing visual representation of what I’m experiencing on which days and how frequently it’s happening. It’s also important to make note of things that happened on a particular day that may have influenced my mood, motivation and anxiety as well as keep track of my symptoms and how many days they last. It’s easy to forget, and having the information available is helpful for my psychiatrist in terms of medication adjustments.

3. I listen to music that makes me feel.

Music speaks the language of every emotion. Some people say you should listen to happy music when you’re feeling down, but I feel like I can’t truly enjoy happy music when I’m in a depressive phase. While I avoid music that brings me to a place that’s too dark, I listen to music that brings out more tepid emotions, and it’s nice and therapeutic.

4. I snuggle with my cat (and I don’t care about the hair).

Pet therapy is a real thing. Sometimes when my cat Sadie wants some snuggle time, I push her away because I don’t want hair on my clothes. But sometimes you just have to enjoy the warm fuzzy ball of love, a live being under your care that just wants your love. And it’s worth the mess.

5. I let my mental illness inspire my art.

Art is a beautiful therapy for those struggling with mental illness (and, really, anybody). Sometimes I draw quirky comics that illustrate a more humorous side to my mental illness (which is a great way to shift my perspective about my illness toward a more positive light) and sometimes I create more serious depictions of my illness, such as in my chapbook Free the Strange. Usually it depends on how I’m feeling, but both ways are equally therapeutic and, in my opinion, are productive in taking something ugly and creating beauty.

6. I dressed up my light box (and named it Phil).

This is another way I shift my perception of my mental illness towards a more positive light. I have a form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so I use light box therapy to get through the dark days of winter. Inspired by a suggestion from my therapist, I decided to personalize my light box. I named it Phil. And I made a doodle of a face with a speech bubble saying: “Good morning, Andrea! Here’s your daily dose of artificial sun!” and taped it on my light box and made it look as if it were holding it for me. It’s silly, but it made the methods of dealing with my illness a bit of fun.

7. I use a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are a wonderful tool for people with anxiety, depression or any other kind of mental illness (plus, they’re super warm and cozy). They’re supposed to be about 10 percent of a person’s weight, so when you lie underneath it, it’s like being covered with a safe, warm hug. Whenever I watch movies or read a book, I always have my weighted blanket on top of me, and it is glorious.

8. I journal about my mental state (and don’t care if the writing sucks).

As a writer, it’s difficult for me to journal because I feel like the writing has to be good. But I have to remember my journal is for my eyes only (and maybe for my therapist). And it doesn’t necessarily have to be in paragraph form, either. It could be a bulleted list or word collage or a brain dump of words on a page. And it gets the emotion out.

9. I see myself as a character in the low point of their story. (Which means good is on the way!)

I’ve always been a reader and writer, so that’s probably why this speaks to me. In fiction, a character must endure obstacles in order to attain what they desire — which, in my case, has been attaining my master’s degree, having a successful career, and being… well, happy. My mental illness has been a huge obstacle in attaining all these things. But when I think of it in terms of a plot of a novel, obstacles in the way of the character’s desires are necessary for character development. And when they overcome these obstacles, it makes the achievement all the more satisfying. Applying this way of thinking to my life has truly opened my eyes to the big picture and has given me the determination to carry on and not give up.

And finally…

10. When I’m feeling good, I enjoy every moment.

In this seemingly rare phase when I’m feeling great, it’s easy for me to take it for granted or not truly enjoy it. In many cases, I’m spending this time worrying about how long I have until my next episode, worrying it will happen during an important event or fun trip planned. And then I forget to enjoy feeling good. So, just recently, I started practicing mindfulness during my happy phases. When it’s a beautiful day, I close my eyes and feel the sun on my skin. When I taste something delicious, I take small bites and savor them slowly to make it last longer. When I schedule plans with friends, I take the time to tell them how much I value them as a person and enjoy the time I have with them. When I hear a wonderful song, I dance. I savor life. I savor these beautiful feelings. And I remember I may not feel this good tomorrow, but I will again.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Image via contributor.

Originally published: July 12, 2018
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