Living Well with Mental Illness

by Jaz Johnstone about a year ago in advice

Ten Tips

Living Well with Mental Illness

I have Depression, Anxiety and OCD. I also have a life that makes me happy. Sometimes the former affects the latter, yet through practice and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I have found some things that help me to live my life in a way that makes my mental illness stay in its place, as something I live with, but does not control me.

1. Plan the details.

Oftentimes, when you are trapped in a funk with your illness, it is far too easy to over think everything to the point where you exhaust yourself and never actually do it, leading you to further justify self hatred. I struggled a lot with this but have found that planning a routine in advance helps a lot. I have a productivity planner that I write down my daily tasks into. I have a list of set jobs that need to be done around the house throughout the week which all have their assigned day. Firstly, those jobs go in the productivity planner and then it is fleshed out with anything else such as appointments, general jobs and things I enjoy. Having this means I am not daunted by a mountain of thinking to get through. It also makes the environment around me much nicer. Often our environment grows to match our mindset; if you are able to maintain a nice living standard, you are more likely to feel good living within it. I simply open the book each day and work my way through it. It takes away the mental load and also means that at the end of every day I can visibly see something ticked off. It means I have always done something and on the bad days, simply doing something is great.

2. Plan enjoyable things with equal importance to practical things.

I make sure to include enjoyable things in my productivity planner alongside chores and practical activities. If I don't, I simply won't do them. I realised that whilst I focused energy on making sure my husband had enjoyable outlets, I never gave myself any for a few years. I convinced myself that not only did I not deserve any, I didn't have any substance as a person to actually desire any. I now set time aside every week to write, I started to write my novel again and I am going to start making videos once I have a small piece of equipment. I even emailed a hill walking club as it is something I have wanted to do for quite some time. If you let yourself think, chances are you will think of something that makes you feel good. It doesn't have to be something big or organised like a team sport (though that would be great), it can be something as simple as baking or walking. The important thing is to plan a time for it on a regular basis. Prioritising time for enjoyment and pleasure is an important way to lift yourself.

3. Find the good in yourself.

It is commonplace for people struggling with mental illness and/or low self esteem to dismiss any achievements as nothing special and amplify any mistakes or perceived flaws as being monumental. We tend not to do this for other people, only ourselves. It is an uncomfortable activity at first, but write a list of things you do well, good qualities you have and anything positive you can think of. It can be anything small, from being good at meal planning, to being polite or being good at baking bread. It might make you feel silly at first, especially things that seem very small, but they add up. Be really honest and don't allow yourself to downplay things. Look at the list and take stock of all the positive aspects of yourself. If you need to, take note of things others think about you.

4. Take note of how you perceive others.

When you are out and about, look at other people around you. Take note of their bodies and how they look. Read things other people have written. Pay close attention to food other people have made. Notice all the small flaws around you that you normally wouldn't. Make it a conscious habit to notice these things and note how they do not negatively influence your perception of other people at all. The chances are you are a lot more reasonable towards them than you are to yourself. Once you really start noticing the normalcy of what's around you, you start noticing it in yourself. This can be a helpful way of viewing yourself in a more reasonable light.

5. Have a basic self care routine.

Even if you still make sure to get the jobs done you need to throughout the day and still look after others, often the first thing to happen when you hit a low is that you stop taking care of yourself. I have a routine for my day where I get specific things done. This literally is compiled of brushing my teeth twice a day and getting dressed into proper clothes before my husband gets home (that's just the time I give myself). I also plan my showers and make sure I moisturise, otherwise my eczema flares up. Most routines you read talk about styling your hair, having a makeup routine etc. I say scrap this. Have a routine that is easy to achieve everyday, even on difficult days. By all means wear makeup, style your hair and dress nice, but do those as an enjoyable activity, rather than a routine. Setting yourself intense routines opens the door for failure and this can be enough to set you off.

6. Cultivate healthy habits.

Not only should you get rid of bad habits, but try to actively start good ones. Sometimes leaning on comfortable activities is keeping you down in a bad place. Again, I am not talking about large things here. Too many times I and many others have planned out an intense regime for things like exercise, only for things to get in the way and it to not work out, leading us to not do anything and fall back to the familiarity of feeling bad about ourselves. My healthy habits are much more manageable now. I make sure I (and my family) go to the dentist every six months, I stay up to date with vaccinations and smear tests, I go to the optician when I am due for a check up. I brush my teeth regularly and I make sure I go out for walks and do small workouts through the week. I no longer try to push myself through very intense workouts all the time or try to force myself to wear makeup every day. The likelihood is, if it feels like a chore, it won't work out. If it feels like you are simply taking care of yourself, it is easier to keep going with it.

7. Don't give yourself the chance to dwell on things.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, that voice creeps into your head and starts talking you out of something. I find in these situations it is best to literally push yourself into something before you have time to think. Have a motto that works for you, be it 'Just do it,' 'what's the worst that could happen,' or even just 'f**k it.' When you find yourself freaking out, sometimes it's good to be tough with yourself. Say something to yourself to shake out of it and force your foot through the door. Anticipation of something is almost always worse than the thing itself and once you have made the first step, it is usually uphill from there. The sound of the phone ringing is worse than speaking to the person once they have picked up, the sick feeling before you go into a group for the first time is worse than the first time you make eye contact with someone and walking across the floor in the pool is worse than the feeling you get when you are swimming through the water. The more times you push yourself past that initial fear, the more reward you will get.

8. Talk to yourself.

Keep yourself in check regularly. It is a conscious habit that takes genuine effort and practice, but with both it does become possible to talk yourself out of a hole. When you find yourself starting to go down a spiral of extremely self critical thinking, ask yourself questions. Ask yourself if you would be so harsh were it somebody else, ask yourself what the worst outcome will be, ask yourself what is probable, ask yourself if you are being fair, ask yourself how you would feel if you heard a loved one speaking that way about themselves or being spoken to that way. You can teach yourself to recognise when you are being very unreasonable about yourself and therefore stop the thoughts in their tracks.

9. Find an escape.

When you simply want thoughts to stop, have an escape. Whatever it means to you, be it having a cup of tea, going outside, sitting in a specific area of the house or blasting music. For me, it's wearing headphones and listening to music that blocks everything out. If you have something that works, do it, even if it seems a bit random in the moment.

10. Find purpose for your life.

Some people love their jobs, some people live for the weekend and for some people, family is everything. Many people struggle with a sense of 'is this it' or constantly strive for the next step up to make them happy. The truth is, true happiness lies in having a sense of purpose. It's the thing that many people find missing today in this world of endless opportunity, massive growth and interconnectedness. These things are amazing but they also lead the way to feelings of failure, isolation and loneliness and feeling lost. Finding your sense of purpose, however small it may be, will change your life. For me, it is making a difference in the world by being kind and raising my family. I run my home and family as though it were the most important profession in the world, as well as doing things to make a difference. My husband and I always do a full shop to fill the food bank bins when they appear in the supermarket, I like to do small surprises to make my husband and friends smile, I give to charity and I make sure to check in with my parents regularly. The feeling you get when you know you have made something easier, happier or simply better for somebody else is unmatched in its boost. Taking care of yourself is an important and worthwhile endeavor. Taking care of others is possibly the most uplifting one you could ever undertake.

Whilst mental illness can feel all encompassing and insurmountable at times, like it has invaded your body and taken root, it is possible to live with it and to live well at that. Try things until you find what works for you. Life is difficult and painful but also precious and joyful and the key to getting power over your mental illness is to remember it is something you live with, something that is a part of you, but it is not the sum of you.

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Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Jaz Johnstone

Been writing since I could hold a pen.. poetry, blogs and currently working on my novel.

See all posts by Jaz Johnstone