In my last post, I said there was hope. There is hope because there is help. There is no one set “cure” for mental illness, but there are things that can help improve quality of life, things that can help make it a little easier to get through life. First, we have to break through the stigma within the stigma. I know, you are going to get so sick of that word, but it is attached to mental illness, so there’s no going around it.
One of those stigmas is medication. Medication is something that can help. It has helped me. It does not “cure” my depression, anxiety or OCD, but it has improved my quality of life. It has made the big things that seem impossible, a little bit smaller and the smaller things more achievable. Yet there is a stigma attached to taking medication. For some reason, people don’t want to take it or others don’t want you to take it. They think it means there is something wrong with you, and you should be able to take care of it yourself. Yet, no one has a problem with someone taking medication for their thyroid disease or a diabetic taking insulin. Medication for mental illness is no different. It is an illness that can help be combatted by medication. Maybe the way to fight it is through medication.
Counseling is another thing that can help—and another one of those things with a stigma. There will never be an end to psychiatrist and therapy jokes, but if getting therapy helps, it is a good thing! I’ve been amazed in the last ten years or so to learn just how many people have seen therapists—not just for mental illness. People see therapists for all sorts of things. And there are different kinds of therapists and therapy. You just have to find the one that is right for you. I have been to three different counselors since I was sixteen. Sometimes just having someone to talk to really helps. Sometimes the advice they offer works. Sometimes their perspective gives you understanding. All of these are things that can lift up someone with mental illness.
Light can also help. I have seasonal affective disorder. Even when taking medication, winter where I live is hard. It’s cold, dark, gray and depressing. I always struggle in winter. So sometimes, I would go to a tanning salon—just for the light and the warmth. Steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs or a warm bath also help. It may sound silly, or even stupid, but it really can help!
Other things that have made a difference to me are exercise and yoga. I really believe keeping your body in shape helps keep your mind in shape as well. When I exercise, I feel good about myself. Yoga is meditative for me. Meditation—another thing that can help. As a parent it can be hard to find time to yourself, but you have to do it. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, find a time and place where you can be alone without crazy, noisy distractions.
Depression steals the joy from your life. It’s hard finding joy in anything—even things that once did bring you happiness, but it’s important to try, anyway. Go back to the things that brought you joy, develop interests and hobbies. This one day, not long before my divorce was final, I was feeling really down. Going through a divorce is the hardest thing I’ve faced in my life. I ran upstairs, away from my kids, because I could tell I was about to break down. Then I saw my flute sitting there. Before I could fall on my bed and start crying, I picked it up and started playing. I only played for a few minutes, but it relieved the stress, tension and sadness in me, and I came out feeling happier than I was before. Other things that do that for me are reading, writing, being outside, talking to a friend. I understand how hard it is to motivate yourself when you have mental illness, but if you can find even one little thing that helps bring some bit of light back into your life, it is worth it.
I hope some of what I’ve shared helps. If anyone out there has their own story of things that have helped them through mental illness, please contact me. I would love to share your story here. Let’s inspire each other!