My ABC’s of Coping with Mental Illness

Life with mental illness can get tough. In fact, most days are spent trying to figure out what the next moment will bring and how to survive it. Sometimes, it is hard to maintain balance and not get knocked over in the process; and it is equally hard to remind ourselves that our temporary letdowns don’t define us. Indeed, it is easy to get caught up in overwhelming despair. For those moments, I have created an alphabetical list of motivational and inspirational quotes to help me get up, put things in perspective, reapply my mascara, and face the world.

I have a little notebook in which I record any positive affirmations or words of courage I come across. I also keep a mental jar of happy quotes in my head. And for the rough times, you ask? When I don’t even have the strength, and focus to access that jar? That is when this list comes in handy. I pinned it on the bulletin board in my room, so I can refer to it at any given moment. I can always pick one and remind myself that:

A – A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

Ships are meant for sailing the sea, even if that means hitting a storm. Don’t be afraid of taking risks or failure. The biggest failure is to stay put.

B – Broken crayons still color.

No matter what happened today, you’re still worth it. No matter what brings you down, you are unique and still add something special to this universe.

C – Collect moments; not things.

Live in the moment. Don’t think tomorrow or yesterday.

D – Don’t promise when you’re happy, don’t reply when you’re angry, and don’t decide when you’re sad.

Negative emotions don’t last forever. It’s always a good idea to think twice before making an impulsive decision based on anger or depression.

E – Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.

Find the little things; a child’s smile or vanilla ice cream. Just remember that there is something good in every day.

F – Failure is a great teacher, and, if you are open to it, every mistake has a lesson to offer.

It’s ok to make a mistake. And to make the same mistake again. And again. Eventually you will figure it out, learn, and grow.

G – Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade.

Yes, today is hard. But good things don’t come easy. Think instant coffee or freshly brewed real coffee.

H – Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.

Give yourself another day, another chance. You will find your courage eventually. Don’t give up on yourself just yet.

I – If you stumble, make it part of the dance.

Find the beauty at the bottom of the pit. Maybe it’s making a new friend, learning something new, or discovering a new hobby.

J – Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she began to fly.

You never know where the uphill path begins. It might just begin right now.

K – Keep your love of nature, for that is the true way to understand art more and more.

Take time to relax and appreciate natural beauty. You’ll be surprised what a positive impact nature can have on your wellbeing, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

L – Let bygones be bygones.

Yesterday happened. And it’s gone now. There’s nothing that we can do that will change it. Let it go and think of the here and now.

M – Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.

Sometimes this is the hardest thing about mental illness; believing in ourselves. But close your eyes and think of yourself as a magical princess who can conquer anything. Believe in your inner strength and beauty.

N – Negative people don’t need to be defeated. They defeat themselves with their negative attitude.

Sometimes we get caught up in our negative thoughts and dire predictions which end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Slow down, and fill your head with positive thoughts.

O – Of all things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship.

This is probably the thing that helps me most in my struggles; friendship. It really helps to have someone with who you can laugh about your struggles and cry about it too. Remember, it is ok to reach out for help.

P – Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.

Today is tough. And maybe tomorrow too. But in a week from now things will be looking up. If you quit today you won’t get to next week. Hold on tight.

R – Rain makes the sun shine brighter.

Only when we’re in the low, we learn to appreciate the precious moments of feeling better. And remember, there is no rainbow without the rain.

S – Start writing. No matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Writing is an amazing tool that can help sort out difficult emotions. It’s your journal entry, simply write how you feel in the present moment. There is no right or wrong.

T – Tough times don’t last; tough people do.

Be the winner. Don’t allow the tough times to win over you. Show them you’re tougher.

U – United we stand.

Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. When it gets tough, ask for help.

V – Victory belongs to the most persevering.

Your perseverance will get you very far. We each have our own finish line so don’t compare your journey to others’.

W – Whatever you do, never run back to what broke you.

Sometimes, chaos feels normal so we recreate chaos in our lives, repeatedly. But once we realize that there is no benefit in doing that, we can move on from what breaks us.

Y – Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.

Each day is a new battle, yet each day also holds promises of sweet victories.

 

This list is on the wall in my bedroom and is easily accessible when I need a quick, motivational reminder. I will always find at least one line that I can connect to. Keep this list handy; your room, your wallet, your desk; wherever you may need a loving reminder that you are not alone and that you are strong.

My Little ‘How To Accept Myself’ List

I tell people all the time, “Don’t let anybody define your unique experience and struggle with mental illness. Don’t let anybody prescribe some generic emotion you’re supposed to feel.” And I mean every single word; do not allow anybody, family, friend, or professional, to tell you how life should make you feel.

But I, myself, wasn’t always so sure of my emotions. Whenever I hit a rough patch, I would reach out and ask if it’s OK to feel a certain way. Sometimes, people would tell me that my situation would make them angry and if I wasn’t angry at that point, I would start riling myself up. When my attempts were unsuccessful, I would get frustrated with myself and that always ended with me being angry only at myself. Other times, people would ask me why I’m not sad after triggering events, causing a turmoil of emotions and self-doubt. Worse than feeling negative emotions, is doubting oneself and constantly questioning if your mind and heart are in order.

When I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder it made me turn my thoughts inwards and honestly think about what I want to feel as opposed to what I should be feeling. In the past, when my therapists were talking about the five stages of grief, I perceived their words and translated it in a literal sense. It is commonly known that grieving is a process of five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Though some people see themselves and their experience in this cycle, not everyone does. Most mornings, I found myself waking up and making a conscious decision that today I will be in the bargaining stage, or today I will be in the acceptance stage. And those of you who have been dealing with depression will know that emotions don’t tend to work this way. Depression isn’t wired to hit the acceptance stage when you set it to. Depression is so numb that it doesn’t fully grasp what anger is. And the more expectations I set myself as to how I should feel, the more I set myself up for disappointments which only made me more depressed.

Speaking to my therapists didn’t help, because I kept measuring myself up to a process and therapeutic terms that didn’t fit in my world. Only when I hit rock bottom, did I realize that if I am not going to define my own terms, my own emotions, and my own process, I will end up spiraling down into an endless of pit of self-destruction. I knew that I had to do something big to pull myself out of the rut. I had to learn how to let go of prescribed emotions, expected feelings, and normal thoughts and terms. I had to learn to accept myself for who I am. The only question remaining was how I was going to make those changes? Three daily rituals that I implemented helped me immensely in reteaching myself that what I feel and what I think is perfectly OK because it’s unique to my experience.

  1. I started keeping a daily journal, writing down at least two positive things about myself every night. If I helped someone during the day, I would record that I am kind, and if I struggled to get out of bed in the morning but still did, I wrote that I was courageous. It wasn’t always easy. There were days when I did not see a single good thing in myself and was only seeing the worst which was pulling me down. On those days I simply wrote that I like the sweater I’m wearing and that I still have good taste in fashion. Although it may seem like a minor thing, it gave me something positive to associate with myself. Sometimes, I decorated those journal entries with sketches, art, and poetry for added positivity.
  2. I stopped obsessing over what prescribed symptoms should be. Though most people feel anxiety a certain way, not everyone does. Some people grieve best when they cry and others when they distract themselves and laugh. I allowed my emotions to decide for me and stopped telling myself whether what I’m feeling is right and wrong. It’s not easy to stop obsessing, and it takes time. Yet, every time I caught myself in the act, I would stop, take five deep breaths, and let the expectations go.
  3. I also learned to communicate. Sometimes, people don’t know what we feel until we tell them. And until we tell them what we’re feeling, they will tell us what we’re supposed to be feeling. So no, I didn’t disregard my therapists and the people who care for me. I just learned to accept my feeling first and then communicate it, instead of asking them how or what to feel. And I’ve come to realize that most people are a lot nicer and accommodating when they know what you’re going through.

I am still learning to accept myself for who I am. But I definitely like myself a lot better now, than when people dictated my life. Yes, I still ask for advice and support when I need help, but I don’t let it define who I am. Sometimes, I forget and I do, but when I do I look back at my little list and it makes me feel better.

New Dawn, New Day, New Life.

My bad choices
Of yesterday
Mustn’t influence
My choices of today
I can’t allow myself
To spiral downward
Because I slipped and fell.
If I follow the line
Of the past
Death would be
My middle name
If I let the past reign
I become the oppressed
In a dictatorship
Needing to be overthrown.
I will make new choices
Today and tomorrow
Begin a revolution,
Break the cycle.
Because I can,
Because I want!

Hope. Do Not Give Up.

I’d like to introduce you to the driving force in my life. Meet hope.

I haven’t realized what an important role hope played, until I’ve hit rock bottom and attempted suicide. Only when hope was lost and there was nothing left to save me, have I learned that hope is life in itself. 

Hope – to me – is going to bed every night at bedtime despite me knowing full well that I’m probably not going to sleep. It is getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed and going out to face the day. It is giving my medication another shot, hugging myself after beating myself up, smiling at myself in the mirror, daring to dream of a brighter future, reaching out for help, speaking to my doctor, simple acts of caring for myself, and the list is so much longer. Hope – to me – is life.

It isn’t easy. In fact, it is a hellish road. It is a lot easier to bang my fists on the table, throw a tantrum and then give up. It’s so much easier to keep my eyes closed in the morning and pretend the sun hasn’t come up. Instead of going through the process of finding the right medication, which isn’t a lot of fun, I’d much rather turn a blind eye to reality and forget about medications, doctors and side effects. And yet, I still fight. For despair and losing hope is dangerous. To me, hope has become a matter of life and death. For when hope is lost, and there’s nothing left to hold onto, thoughts spiral out of control. The next step? Suicide.

It isn’t easy to hold onto a small, almost-extinguished, light when life punches you in the face. My brain is constantly in overdrive, thinking so fast and so much. I’m pretty sure if brains could suffer from heart attacks, I’d have a brain attack. The demons living in me are wrestling me and constantly knocking me over. The light at the end of the tunnel is merely a dream. Still, I will listen when my heart whispers in the language of hope. Because hope is life. And I will choose to live every single day. 

When hope is lost there is nothing else left to live for. Yes, hope is the driving force of life. Hope is what has kept me going for the past year, through all of my painful struggles. And when I lost it, it only made me realize how precious it is. And even through my setbacks, crying and screaming, I still hope. I learned to understand that those setbacks are a part of the recovery process and as long as I don’t give up, I can allow myself to take a break sometimes. A break is okay. Giving up, quitting and losing hope is not.

And so, I dare to dream. One day, things will be okay and I will be in a better place. For now? Now… I hope. And you? You should hope too… This too shall pass. And light shall come soon enough. 

Cheers! To hope!