Life is anything but normal these days. There have been many days over the last year that I question if I can even remember what normal life used to be like. In all honesty, I don't know why I find myself perplexed. My life, by most people's standards, has been anything but normal. I am one of the millions of people world wide who struggle with mental health issues. A lot of issues. Like.... a lot.
Abnormality has always been a big part of my normal life. Despite the challenges I've faced with my mental health not always being predictable, I always found some sort of comfort in a daily routine. I found solace in the mundane daily tasks my job required of me. I had a bed time and a waking time. I ate and took my medication at specific times. I scheduled everything, that is, until my schedule was obliterated.
Covid stole my job, and with it, the structure my entire life was built around. I know I'm not alone. Concern over mental health is all over the media. Everywhere I look I see top ten lists of how to stay stress-free, mindful, present in the moment. Tips and tricks to deal with the upheaval this pandemic is causing are everywhere. The problem is that these are all geared toward "normal" people. People who led relatively normal lives before this global tragedy.
I haven't read a single article or watched a news segment that discusses tips and tricks for those of us who were already struggling before the pandemic. The closest thing to date is the occasional PSA showing the suicide hotline number or a reminder to get professional help if absolutely necessary. Right. I've been seeking professional help for the last 10 years, and now my only option is therapy through Zoom meetings. Half of my appointment is taken up by technical malfunctions and background distractions.
I know we have made great strides to decrease the negative stigma around those battling mental illness, but the fact remains that its still there. Everywhere. We live in a society where people assume you're probably pretty similar to everyone else, but that simply isn't true for some of us.
The first month off work was kind of nice. I got back into my artwork and music. I read books I had been intending to read for months. I loved spending more time with my fiance. I was trying new things, and for once, I kind of had this glimpse into what I imagine people without mental health issues experience on a regular basis. I was doing pretty well...or so I thought.
Without my routine, I began to feel directionless. When I feel directionless, I feel anxious. When I have high anxiety I start forgetting important things, like taking my medication. When I stop taking my medication regularly, my life turns upside down. Before I even realize it, I am in a downward spiral and my brain goes into meltdown mode. My self esteem tanks. I make poor life choices. My moods and behavior become erratic and unpredictable. A cycle of mayhem begins, and its not easy to get back on track.
My relationship started to suffer. I became withdrawn. Depression was back. I was eating garbage. My self-care went down the drain. I didn't even see the point of getting out of bed to brush my hair, take a shower or go outside. When this happened before I had resources, a solid support system, medical professionals to reach out to, a list on my fridge of people I could count on, but Covid took most of that away from me.
These tips, tricks and life hacks for the normal crowd weren't addressing my issues. The suggestions seemed like they were designed for stable people who had a mild case of the blues, not for a train wreck like me. It almost felt like the world was mocking me. I felt worse about myself attempting and ultimately failing at these activities that SHOULD be easy. But they were anything but easy.
If any of you reading this are familiar with the cycles of MDD or Bipolar disorder, you know what I mean. When you're in a depressed state of mind EVERYTHING seems impossible. When you try and fail at something you see other people doing with ease, it adds insult to injury and destroys your motivation to continue trying. Some days you just want to throw in the towel because it feels like you can't do anything right. The frustration is humiliating, and you don't want anyone to see how helpless you feel.
On top of losing my job, my fiance decided to move out for a while because our living space had become toxic. I was either buried under covers crying my eyes out or screaming at him over something ridiculous. I had stopped talking to my parents. I shut everyone out, and I shut down.
It doesn't have to come to this.
I'm here to to help you hold on to your sanity. There needs to be a Tips, Tricks and Life Hacks list for people like us. Actually, it was this idea that slowly pulled me out of the darkness. We process our life experiences differently, so we obviously need a different set of tips, tricks and life hacks to wrench us out of a rut. Duh, right?
First tip: It's okay to be different. The world would be pretty boring if everyone was the same. It's okay to be sensitive and react to traumatic experiences with deep emotion. You do not have to pretend everything is okay. The entire world is in crisis mode right now on infinite, unique levels. We have our place in this world too. However, nothing will right itself by hiding from reality and pushing people away....even if that instinct seems involuntary.
First trick: Start making lists. Start with really simple simple things. Set a goal of a reasonable number of things you want to accomplish in a day. Start with physically getting out of bed. That can absolutely be item number one on the first list. Brush your teeth. Take a shower. Eat. Make your bed (so you feel less temptation to hop back under the covers). Watch TV on the couch instead of in bed. Read one chapter of your favorite book. All of these things should be viewed as accomplishments. Work your way up from wherever you are. Actually write these things down and physically check them off as you complete each task. Your self esteem will improve.
First Hack: Reward yourself when you accomplish your daily list of activities, but don't beat yourself up if you don't get to everything in a day. Simply put those items on the list for the next day, and aside from getting out of bed (hopefully), do the things you didn't get to the previous day first. Rome wasn't built in a day and any progress is still progress. When we can physically see progress (such as items checked off on a list), we tend to feel more motivated to progress further. We start believing in ourselves.
When we start to believe in ourselves, our overall mental wellness improves. It doesn't matter how many times you've been here before. It doesn't matter what you've achieved in the past. When you're in a state of mind where everything feels hopeless, the only thing that matters is the present.
Literally, THIS very second is the only thing that matters. Once you establish that you aren't under any immediate threat, it frees your mind to think of what you're going to do next. Maybe all you can do is breathe. That's okay. Keep doing that until you think of something else you can do to make your day more fulfilling.
Do not jump ahead to next week when all your bills are due, or tomorrow when you have to take the trash out, or three hours from now when you have to take your dog to the vet. The idea is to avoid feeling overwhelmed at any time. Do what you can do to feel better about yourself right this second.
Eventually the seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours, and hours turn into days. Get a routine going again. Go through the motions if you cant stomach the thought of breakfast. Have a cup of tea or water instead...maybe you'll be hungry in an hour. If you planned to take a short walk but outside just isn't happening today, dance or sway to your favorite song inside. Plan your day, but make room for plan B.
When the day is done, write out your accomplishments. Think of at least 3 things you're grateful for (electricity, wifi, your cat, whatever), write them down. You can stop there, but Id encourage you to think of at least one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't had the chance or opportunity to do yet. It can be a big thing or a small thing. This creates a sense of hopefulness. It gives you something to look forward to in the future. It gives you a purpose to continue doing all the small things so you can eventually accomplish great things.
You want to know what my big wish was? I wanted to be a published writer. A year ago today, when I wrote my first list and started my first journal, my epic goal was to get my writing out there for people to read. I found this community by random chance, and I submitted an entry to the Little Black Book writing challenge. My entry was accepted.
It all started by accomplishing the first item on my first list. I got out of bed when I woke up the next morning. I started from ground zero.... maybe lower. It started by accepting that I was different than most people and evolved into learning how to reconfigure my life according to what I knew I was capable of doing. Not only is it okay to be different, it is something to be proud of. Nobody else is just like you, and that is the most beautiful phenomenon this life has to offer anyone.