Living with a mental illness is quite a challenge. I often find myself caught in that depression/anxiety backwater…working like crazy to get free of my moods but constantly being flung around.

Over the 35 years that I’ve been mentally ill, I have found a way of living that keeps me fairly happy. I still have bad days that sometimes bleed into weeks. (And sometimes into years.) But, for the most part, I am stable. And stable means a lot.

When I was in recovery, I was able to ask myself, “How can I kick this illness in the ass? How can I be the winner when my illness and I don’t agree?” Through years of therapy, ( learning mostly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), attending group therapy weekly, taking medications, getting good sleep and a real desire to live my life for me and not some stupid illness. (Please note: I said the illness is stupid, not people that have it. I just wanted to make sure nobody’s train was going to that town).

I carry out the tasks I’ve listed below to keep myself as me in the driver’s seat. Not my illness.

*Maintain a support network. People in your support network include: your psychiatrist, your therapist, members of group therapy, members of other clubs you belong to, family and friends.

Building a support network is no small feat. It can take years to get all the pieces in place, but the results are worth it.

You also have to be willing to put yourself out there to find some parts of your support network. I won’t lie, its not easy.

I know there is stigma surrounding mental illness that may have kept your support network small or non-existent. I decided that people who were not okay with me being open about having a mental illness were not the kind of people I needed in my life. You may not be ready for that step. But you need some people around you that understand you and have compassion for you.

*Practice Gratitude. First thing in the morning think about, or write down, the things in your life that you’re grateful for. Aim for ten.

It is amazing the peace I receive when I practice gratitude. By writing down the things and thinking about what I’m grateful for, I learn that there really is a lot of good in my life.

Try keeping a notebook by your bed and write 10 things you’re grateful for every morning.

*Take your medications as directed. I cannot emphasize the importance of taking all your medication at the proper time. If you have trouble remembering to take it, set an alarm (or two) on your phone.

Whenever you start a new medication or increase/decrease a dosage of a current medication, keep a log of how you feel so you can determine if the change is helping. This is taking an active role in your treatment. Record your mood and side effects.

*Have regular visits with your therapist. It is vital to talk with someone who understands your illness and can provide concrete ways to live with it. How often you see your therapist is up to you. I have gone as often as once a week for individual therapy and I have also stretched it to a month. Its all about what’s going on in my life right now and how much assistance I need.

Don’t get trapped in “chit chat”. Its easy to blow into your therapist’s office and talk about nothing for an hour. Stay present during therapy and try to talk about “core issues” (Ie: things that get in your way, mentally). Learn to bring up the areas you need help in to your therapist.

*Maintain good sleep hygiene. This can be difficult, especially if insomnia is involved. Develop a bedtime routine where you complete certain chores leading up to getting into bed. No electronics in bed. Preferably no reading in bed. (It has been said that your bed should only be used for sleeping.) Try to get from 6-10 hours of sleep nightly.

If you’re getting 10 hours and you still feel tired, tell your doctor. It could be that one of your medications is causing fatigue. And if you’re getting less than six hours of sleep, be mindful of hypomania/mania. If you feel like you’re moving too fast or your brain is moving too fast, its time to check in with your doctor.

*Connect with nature and/or exercise. It feels so good to go out in the morning and feel the sun on your face. Try to soak up the sun for a few minutes…take some nice, deep breaths and notice the sights and sounds around you.

I suggest you take up gardening on a small scale. You can just use containers, you don’t have to actually dig a garden. Just buy some soil, some starter plants (tomatoes are a good choice) and get your hands in the dirt. And the rewards from gardening are plenty.

Try walking briskly for 20-30 minutes per day. If walking isn’t your thing, there are tons of other exercise options….biking, swimming, jogging, tennis, aerobics, weight lifting, etc.

*Stop negative thoughts and replace with positive. Stop and listen to the thoughts going through your head. Hear anything negative? I bet you do. Isolate one of those negative thoughts and change it into something positive. For example, if you’re thinking, “I’m lazy. I never get anything done,” respond with, “I get lots of things done every day. I am productive.” The most difficult part of this is catching the negative thought. That’s why it helps to stop what you’re doing and focus on your thoughts.

Changing the way you think can change everything. Your thoughts are very powerful.

*Do something you enjoy outside your home. I made a list of places I like to go so I can just choose something off the list. Getting out of your house opens your mind and heart. It connects you with the outside world.

*Alcohol and caffeine in moderation. Eat 3-6 meals a day.

Try eating either three meals a day or six smaller meals and stay hydrated. You have to treat your body right as well in order to be successful at living with mental illness.

To recap, staying healthy involves: Practicing gratitude, taking medications properly, having regular visits with your therapist, maintaining good sleep hygiene, connecting with nature and exercising; stopping negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts, doing something you enjoy outside your home, and drinking alcohol and caffeine in moderation and eating 3-6 meals/day.

I hope this has been helpful and that you have peace in your life.

What steps do you take to make living with mental illness easier?

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