As you are all most likely aware, I am currently (and finally!) in mental health recovery. It has been quite the journey and process for me to reach this point, but I have worked and still work diligently at it on a daily basis. Over the years, I have frequently been asked what types of things I have done to achieve recovery. I am writing this in response to those inquiries so that those who are wondering what they can try to help make their journey a little easier can have my list as a reference. Please keep in mind that everyone is different and not everything that works for me will work for you or your loved one. These are listed in no specific order as I feel that each of these has played an equal role in my recovery. Without further ado (with the exception of my disclaimer), here is what has helped me the most in my journey to recovery.
***DISCLAIMER*** THERE IS NO MAGIC, FIX-ALL, WONDER SOLUTION FOR MENTAL ILLNESS OF ANY KIND!!!
- Identifying Triggers & Applying Coping Skills
One of the most crucial things I had to do to get myself into recovery was identifying my triggers. If you do not know what a trigger is, it is an external event that can result in uncomfortable emotions or lead to psychiatric symptoms, such as elevated anxiety or a depressive episode. Triggers vary among individuals and also have a vast array of intensity. For the sake of avoiding triggering others, I will not list any examples. Identifying the things that trigger me allowed me the ability to start coping with my triggers and to determine which of the skills in my toolbox are appropriate for which situations. Certain situations are too difficult for me to be able to cope with, so I tend to avoid them completely. Other situations are things that I cannot avoid, so I do what I can to prepare myself for these situations when it is possible.
- Reducing Stress & Exposure to Triggers
This is one of the most important aspects of my recovery. Reducing exposure to triggers and stress can be incredibly difficult, especially when you are trying to live a “normal” life and function in the real world. Some stressors and triggers absolutely cannot be avoided, which makes having a toolbox full of coping skills even more important. Though I realize this is not feasible for everyone, not working in a job outside of the home has made a huge difference in the occurrence of my symptoms and has been incredibly helpful with focusing on my recovery. I am fortunate enough to have a spouse who has a secure job that pays him more than enough for us to be able to live (mostly) comfortably on a single income.
- Setting Boundaries
This was an extremely difficult step for me to take and I still struggle with this on a daily basis. At my core, I am a people-pleaser and an insufferable empath. Saying “no” is incredibly hard for me, especially when it comes to the people and issues I care about most. I want to help everyone as much as I can, all of the time, and do as many things as I can possibly fit into one day. This often results in me not taking care of myself and my needs. Although implementing and enforcing boundaries is still a work in progress for me, the process of doing so is allowing me to stay focused on what is necessary for my mental health and keep that at the top of my priority list.
Figuring out a self-care routine is difficult for most people, whether they live with mental illness or not. We live in a society that is heavily focused on productivity and adding as much to our plates as possible, even when that means putting our well-being at risk. Self-care has become increasingly popular, but many posts circulating the internet and social media portray a skewed image of what self-care really is. I will make a post in the next week going further into what my self-care routine looks like and how I adjust my routine depending on the symptoms I am currently experiencing. Everything that I discuss in this post is included in my personal self-care and I would consider these things to be the most important components of my self-care, but there are many facets of a complete and effective self-care routine.
- Getting Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep is not only a trigger for me but, in certain situations, is a sign that I am starting in on a hypomanic episode. Having good sleep hygiene is crucial to getting enough sleep, which in turn has a major impact on both your physical and mental health. Some of the things I do to ensure I am getting enough sleep include: going to bed around the same time every night, not consuming anything caffeinated after 12 p.m., reducing screen time in the evening hours, and having a bedtime routine (washing my face & brushing my teeth, putting on comfortable pajamas, and reading a chapter of a book before bed). When I am well rested, I am significantly more capable of handling stressors effectively and being productive during the day.
- Taking Treatment Seriously
This should go without saying, but I prefer not to make assumptions or let anything go just being implied, especially with how important this step is. Therapy is hard work. There is homework (gasp!), most of which involves you doing things that are far outside of your comfort zone. Awhile back, my therapist gave me the assignment to write a list of 100 good things about a person that I have had issues with for a long time. Despite my natural aversion to writing the list based on my history with this individual, I actually did the assignment. Granted, I did not make it to 100, I did put my best effort into it and was completely genuine in the things that I came up with for it. Regardless of the fact that my list was not “complete” based upon the original assignment, it was complete in the sense that I took it seriously, which is something that I would not have done in my younger years.
I am currently not seeing a therapist, as traveling with my husband for his job has made it so that it is not possible for me to do so, but I still try to be vigilant about using the skills and tools that I have learned from my therapy sessions.
- Sharing My StoryI was inspired to be open and honest about my journey with mental illness after reading the book, “Postcards from the Edge” by Carrie Fisher. Carrie’s candor about her struggles with mental illness and addiction throughout her lifetime and her role as an advocate for those struggling with them as well made an incredible impression on me. Being able to share my story has been highly therapeutic for me and has also opened my eyes to just how many of the people in my life have similar battles. Many people comment on how brave I am to share my struggles so candidly, which is something I have mixed feelings about, but just as many people have reached out to me for support.
- Finding Support
There are so many amazing resources available for those of us struggling with mental illness that go beyond standard treatment. Many of the people I know personally who live with mental illness do not have the same kind of support from their family and friends as I do. One thing that can help provide support whether this is your situation or not, is a peer-led support group. In my town, there is a local DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – click the link to find a group in your area) group that meets regularly. Finding this group, through the assistance of my grandmother, made a major impact on my recovery and my decision to take my mental health seriously. Other organizations also have peer-led support groups, such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness – click the link to find your local NAMI chapter), as well as local, state-funded mental health clinics. If you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they may also have resources and support groups available to you at no cost, or that are covered by your insurance. For me personally, half of the battle of accepting my disorders and getting into recovery was not feeling like I was alone. Finding support from peers who lived with the same or similar disorders as me made a significant difference in my life.
I hope this list is at least somewhat helpful to those who are curious about my personal process for reaching and staying in recovery. Please remember that what works for me may or may not work for others. I simply share what has worked for me to help provide a starting point for others who are struggling to get started or looking for ideas. For those of you who are living in mental health recovery, I would love to hear what things have been helpful for you personally in your recovery!
Thanks for reading.