Facing Change Caused by Mental Illness
Thoughts from a life that changed.
Many things can cause change in life. Illness, injury, loss, pain or triumph/success to list but a few. We can add to that list the experience of living with mental illness. A life can change enormously due to the need to find methods of coping with the day-to-day symptoms, managing medication and therapy etc. It’s not always easy to deal with these changes, especially when it feels like you have no control over what’s happening to your body or mind.
A Lonely Road
Change can be gradual or sudden. When it’s gradual it might sneak up on you without you noticing. Alternatively, it may feel like the slow/dogged disintegration of the person you used to recognise as yourself; until you’re left with fragments that don’t seem to make up a whole person. You might find yourself dwelling on memories of things you’ve lost, people who couldn’t deal with your illness and things you can no longer do. When the change is sudden it can completely wrongfoot you, so that it can begin to feel as if the earth beneath you is no longer stable. In both cases it can feel lonely and isolating.
It’s at times like this that we can find ourselves in need of some support to help us move forwards onto secure ground. That support can come from someone else, certainly, but it can also come from within. There is a videogame called The Inner Friend and as part of the story you see the main character reach out a hand to his past self to help him navigate the ever-changing and often frightening landscape of his mind. When everything about life feels uncertain, I think it’s only natural to reach out and seek comfort from another, yet I also believe that we can be that ‘inner friend’ to ourselves.
I think it is possible to reach out to our own inner selves with compassion. In just the same way as the main character in The Inner Friend reaches out a hand to the Shadow (his former self) to lead him safely through his memories, we can also lend ourselves a helping hand. We can allow ourselves to grieve for the self we feel we’ve lost and work towards accepting our new normal.
A philosophy that has helped me since beginning my recovery journey is one of acceptance. For example, by accepting that change happens, whether we want it to or not, it can help us start to make peace with moving on to a new chapter in our lives.
Rather than holding onto the same expectations we had of ourselves in a previous period of our life, we can look at what is realistic now. If, by facing this, it feels like there’s a lot of emotion to process over lost abilities it might help to use a journal to write down all the thoughts and worries that come to mind. Perhaps some kind of creative outlet (such as creative writing, drawing or painting) might also help as a medium to express profound emotions, letting us pay homage to our past selves.
If videogames hold a fond position/place in your life, perhaps taking that first step towards self-compassion could be by proxy – holding the metaphorical hand of a character you love as they journey through some kind of change and make it out the other side. Call it a practice run for when you’re ready to show yourself the same kindness.
[*NOTE – just in case anyone were to misinterpret the paragraphs above, let me say clearly that in no way am I implying that anyone can simply cure their own mental illness, or that such an illness is their fault.]
Put Down the Sword and Shield
Being supportive (to someone else) through change doesn’t have to mean being a knight in shining armour. Nor does it have to mean breaking your own boundaries or giving more than is healthy for you. It can be as simple as making a small connection with someone. Sending a message of support. Asking how someone is. Letting them know that they exist and that they matter. Treating them as the person they have become.
Words are powerful. When we share them with other people, their power increases. Letting someone know that you are there for them can mean the world. Especially when it can feel like so much has already been lost to change.
How you spend time together with a friend or family member might also change over time. There might be new limitations of various kinds: mobility, financial, triggers etc. to name a few examples. In addition, you may choose or have to make changes surrounding food, drink, alcohol etc. that influence the kinds of leisure activities you take part in. When friends or family support lifestyle changes that have been imposed on someone by mental illness, it can feel significant. It can go a long way to helping us accept the changes for ourselves.
On the Flipside
Change can be scary and full of the unknown, but it can also offer hope. If there is always the possibility of change, then there is always the possibility that things can get better; that tomorrow, the tide might turn. Whether we’re looking after ourselves, each other or both, we can perhaps try to take comfort in the fact that change is a constant. Since, when you look at it this way round, there is always a chance of something different.
About the author
Alicia writes about a variety of topics including mental illness, languages, education and cats. She also loves writing poetry and fiction. Alicia lives in Rutland, England with her partner, cat and dog.
Find her on Twitter: @aliciabrunskill