Mental illness can take everything from you, and in the midst of it, you become like a lost lamb, vulnerable and desperate for the pain to ease or, in the case of a bipolar high, for calm to cover you. When you are lost, you do not know which way to turn, or what will help you and who is helpful and who is not.
I will run through what I do when I am in the midst of a depression, and I assume you are already on anti-depressants; if not, this should be something you consider seriously. If you want to get better, then I recommend a medical approach, I spent years trying to deal with depression and bipolar through self-help, and it just prolonged my pain.
My First Steps
The first thing I have learned to do is not to dwell on the previous version of myself. This will not help me, and trying to get back to that person is no longer possible as they do not exist anymore. Every time I become unwell, I change; see my article on the subject of Emerging. I know through experience I will come out of this phase a different person again.
Of course, I will retain some of my quirks and some of my personality, but I change. They say a leopard cannot change its spots, which is true, but it does shed its hair. The basics are still in place, but a new coat will cover the leopard. It is the same with mental illness.
You will shed your former self, which is good because this is the person who became unwell in the first place. You will discover a new you.
Don’t be disheartened about this; everything changes, and we all do; it is just with mental illness your change is greater than that of someone who has not experienced it.
I know eventually, I will land in a version of me who is not subject to the whims and fancies of the brain. But until that time, I have to adjust, and when you are lost, you have to find the right direction to go in.
You need to rule out going backwards, this is the first thing I do.
It took me years to realise there is no going back. I made myself more ill, trying to recapture the essence of who I once was. There is no going back, only forwards.
When You Are Lost Find The Path
The evaporation of your former self is necessary, it may seem morbid to think you will change, but as I said before, everything is changing, from the seasons to your physical body; why not your mind?
People assume we stay the same, but we don’t; we grow, change, and learn new lessons about ourselves. You have to understand there is nothing braver than realising you are progressing in life, not stagnating. Once you stop trying to go backwards, you start living for now.
The way I find my path is to try new things. At the time, I don’t want to try new things unless I’m in a hypomanic phase of my bipolar, then I want to try everything.
I start simple with my local Indian takeaway.
Each week, I choose a new dish, one I have never tried before and I have no idea if I will like it or not.
Once it arrives, I spend some time just looking at it and smelling it, just absorbing the new experience. Sometimes I don’t like it, and this pleases me because I learn something about myself. After I have eaten it, I write in a gratitude journal and thank the Lord (I am a Christian) for the experience. You can do the same and thank whoever you want to, be it the universe or an angel or even yourself.
This food path is the most basic, you have to eat, and with some medication, your tastebuds change and what used to make you salivate no longer does so. About fifteen years ago, I used to love pork and apple sauce; now I can’t stand it; it tastes rancid to me.
You may find your taste does not change, and if you want to start on another basic function, it would be cleanliness. Choosing a different brand or aroma, but still do the same, smell it look at it and discover if you like it. Then write about it in your journal.
Steps Along the Path
My next step is to practice mindfulness; you can see my favourite one; it is the raisin technique that I learned through occupational therapy.
Patience is key here, and you need to practice this two to three times per day to quiet the mind and stop obtrusive thoughts from entering.
Using a meditation app also helps, and I also pray a lot when I am depressed. Your choice of the app depends on what works for you; try them out, many are free and then purchase the one which suits you best to get rid of the annoying adverts.
If you want to learn to pray to God, then I advise visiting the Crosswalk site; they have 23 short prayers that you can learn and recite. Sharing your illness with God will help you to realise you are not alone. You can still pray to God even if you are not a Christian; He will still be listening.
Using meditation and mindfulness plus prayer, you begin to live in the moment, which is where you need to be. There is no point living in the past as it no longer exists and the future has yet to happen; living in the moment is all you have. It is where you live now, and the activities I suggest will keep your mind from trying to travel down paths that lead nowhere but back to your illness.
The Way Forward
Now, as I said, the future has not happened, but once you have a few weeks of mindfulness and food under your belt, you can start considering what else you like. This is not a quick process, but then you didn’t just wake up depressed one day; it gradually built up; the same thing happens when moving out of the experience.
If you have been too ill to work, you may think you will never be able to work again, but this is not true; there are plenty of opportunities out there; I have some on this website which will help you if you want to rely on yourself.
Getting better is all about looking within through mindfulness, and once you have nailed that, you can then look ahead to the future with goal setting. I use a technique called S.M.A.R.T, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Using this method with goal setting, you will set a specific goal, such as working for myself online. You will measure it by setting smaller goals that are easily achievable with a depressed mind. The mini-goals will be realistic; for example, write out the first paragraph of a business plan. And they will be time-limited, so you give yourself one week to achieve it or one day.
This is the only way I know how to goal set with a depressed mind. Now you might be thinking, Lou, I have no idea who I am or what I want to do with my life! And that is fine; you will learn along the way. Start simple, like getting your hygiene sorted if this is a problem.
You can use my self-care checklists to help you with this, and you can make these into your S.M.A.R.T goals. For instance, when I am depressed or hypomanic, my cleanliness does not enter my mind. I’m not embarrassed by this. It is just a fact, and I deal with facts when it comes to my mental health. I know it is a problem, so I have to have self-care sheets dotted about to remember.
The energy it takes to follow a cleanliness ritual is huge when you feel unwell with a mental illness, and this is why I provide the sheets and suggest using the goal-setting method. You see, the main thing is to set a goal you can achieve. It is maybe getting out of bed by 8 am, so you would set mini-goals to lead to this. Such as going to bed before midnight, setting the alarm etc.
You can set the goal to be as small or as big as you like, but it is the mini ones which will get you there.
Along the way of you doing these, the feeling of being lost will slowly disappear, and you will realise one day you don’t feel the same; you feel better. When you are lost, all of what I’ve said sounds like a big challenge, but little by little, the changes will happen.
You will discover a new path and a new you, stronger than the one before and equally more aware of vulnerabilities. You discover more than you could ever have imagined, and it is not the end of the world. It is the start of a new you.
If you have followed any of this life lesson, let me know in the comments below, I’d be super-pleased to learn about your experience.
Peace and Blessings x