Things You Can Do On Your Own For Your Mental Health

This post is going to be about things you can do on your own to help alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety that goes along with mental health problems. There are times that, in spite of all the counseling, therapy,and medications involved, we still have problems. This is when we with mental health issues have to resort to our own resourcefulness. This post is going to be what you can do when you are primarily alone or in a private setting. The issue of avoiding problems in public will be the subject of another post later on.

For myself, there are at least three activities that I have found that help ward off stress, anxiety, and depression. One of these is writing out my frustrations. I have entire notebooks full of the writings I have done in efforts to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. I write in these even when I’m feeling well as a sort of preventative maintenance. I look back over these on occasion just to see if I notice patterns developing, especially over a period of weeks and months. From these writings alone I’ve noticed that my individual illness has a seasonal pattern to it, were I tend to do worse in late summer and around Christmas/end of year holidays than I normally do. My times I do best are in spring, early summer, most of autumn, and surprisingly late winter. I probably wouldn’t have figured out these patterns as soon as I did without my writing about what I was going through. An important factor in my journaling is that I do not censor what I write. I am honest with myself, even sometimes brutally. Of course I’m the only one who sees these writings. I also usually shred my writings after about two to three years as kind of a way to let the past go.

The second activity I do to alleviate stress is listen to music. I absolutely love almost all genres of music and the type I listen to varies even within a given day. Even though I have no musical talent myself, I appreciate those who can play instruments or sing and are not afraid to. To the end of listening to music I have an iPod, a subscription to Pandora internet radio service, and even look up music and music videos on youtube. A good session of listening to music can relax me even when I feel like telling someone off.

Finally, the third activity I do that helps to relax me is just silent time/meditation/prayer. While I’m not going to delve into any religious theology discussions as there are plenty of other blogs that do that, I do know that meditation, prayer, and just taking a few steps back have all worked well for me. As far as these go, I found they become even more effective once I stopped worrying if I was doing these ‘right.’ Even though I grew up in a devout Christian family, we were never required to memorize prayers when I was growing up. We just spoke what was on our hearts and minds at the time. In short, the only advice I give on this type of relaxation is don’t worry about doing it a right or wrong way.

There are plenty of things/activities you can do on your own to help alleviate your mental illness issues. While I have yet to find an activity that will cure all my problems at all times, I have at least found a few that work well for me. I’m interested in hearing from others as to what helps them to relax, calm down, etc.

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Mental illness and the Decisions Made as a Result

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When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia back in 2000, I was determined that in no way it would affect my plans for my life.  At the time I was in my second year of college studying pre-med courses.  I had done reasonably well in my first year of college even with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I figured that I would fight through this with very little problem.  Man, I was wrong.  After failing Organic Chemistry and having to drop a Calculus class, I was faced with some serious decisions to make.  I was also facing a mental illness that was getting worse with each passing day.  After half of a spring semester in 2001 of struggling to even make it to classes, let alone do well, I found myself in danger of flunking out entirely.  This was a serious blow to my ego and self confidence as I always prided myself on my grades and academic accomplishments.  At mid term, I made the painful decision to drop all of my classes and take a few months off.  

After approximately six weeks on the mend, I started working again.  In spite of my problems I never lost sight of the goal of graduating from college.  I knew that because of my failures in my science classes I would be forced to change directions.  It was gut wrenching for my dream of going into medical research to die.  I decided that I would study primarily business management for two reasons 1) I believed that it would make me employable once I left college even though I had no true business or sales experience or even ability. 2) Even though I loved both history and english, I thought that I could study those on my own and I really had little desire to teach once I left college.  As a result I ended up earning a degree in a job field I really had no aptitude  for.  Sure I learned some interesting things that helped me later in life once I had to live on a very limited budget.  But I never did use my degree in any kind of career.

One of the odd, and sad, things about my mental illness is that I retained almost all of my intelligence and problem solving skills while I completely lost my ability to manage stress, understand ‘office politics’, and relate to people as would be needed in a workplace environment.  Most people meeting me for the first time would never suspect I was mentally ill and can’t understand why I have had such problems in the workplace.  Because I don’t look like the stereotypical mentally il person, at least as the public understands mental illness, I used to get a great deal of ‘you’re not working hard enough’ or ‘you’re too lazy’ or ‘you just don’t play the game right’ and on and on.  Sadly, in America, we are often defined by what we do to make money.  I don’t know what it’s like in other nations.  But defining someone by their paid work, or lack thereof, is a really lousy way to measure some one up for their intrinsic worth.  

While I enjoyed my time working for the county courthouse as a custodian for the four years I did it, I was ready for something else.  After a few false starts, I think I found what I really enjoy doing in blogging and my other writings.  Sure they don’t pay the bills, and likely never will.  But it does give me a sense that I’m doing something positive for the small corner of the universe I’m in.

Arguing and My Schizophrenic Mind

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I personally hate arguing with others, listening to arguments, and even reading an online forum argument. I hate these as much as I have ever hated anything in my entire life.  I never could understand people who feel a need to yell, curse, and scream at others.  It is one of those things that simply overwhelms my already massively overstimulated and sometimes way too anxious and paranoid mind.  There are times it is so bad, for me anyway, that it literally triggers the ages old ‘fight or flight’ instincts.  There were times early in the course of my illness, I would just either walk out on someone trying to argue with me or tell them off so bad and so personally it ruined any chance I ever had with being friends with those people.  And it wasn’t because I was trying to prove a point or win the argument, it was because I was so mentally overwhelmed (not only with the argument itself but also with my paranoias and the auditory hallucinations that were arguing with me as well) that walking out and telling off this person was what stopped me from physically assaulting these individuals.  

Some, especially among the chronically normal, may think this is a terrible way to live, having to avoid arguments or overly strong emotions for your own mental health’s sake.  For me it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  It has kept me out of a lot of trouble even though some accuse me of being weak, stupid, and refusing to stand up for what I believe in.  Yet I believe, I’ve always believed, that there are far more types of strength than the getting in someone’s face or looking for fights routine.  The quiet strength and confidence that refuses to boast, the kind that people like Ghandi, Jesus, Buddha, Einstein,Newton, along with many of history’s greatest heroes doesn’t seem to be valued in the modern world. And I guess I don’t understand people well enough to know why.

To listen to any kind of debate, whether it’s politics or religion or science or anything else is far from my idea of having a good time.  It is actually torture for me to listen to most news programs where there are two people trying to be heard as well as fight it out with each other.  And I certainly cannot stand to read any kind of online arguments, especially if it’s a hot button topic like politics, religion, economics, or even college football fan forums.  I definitely have my beliefs about all these things and think I can contribute to a rational discussion, but I flat out refuse to be in any kind of arguments about them.  With my schizophrenic mind, which desperately craves reason, order, and mutual respect, being part of any of this will quickly upset the stability of mind I’ve worked a long time to attain. 

As far as interpersonal conflict goes with friends and family, I attempt to avoid this as much as possible too.  I have had friends that I have known for over thirteen years that I have literally never had a shouting match with.  I know that sounds like a crock to most people but it’s true.  We have our disagreements, to be sure, but we also know when not to press the issues.  I’d much rather thought to be wrong then to kill a friendship.  Because I get so overwhelmed during an argument, I haven’t dated in almost eight years. I will never date again or even consider the possibility of marriage.  It’s not that I’m not interested in love or romance, it’s just that it’s not worth all the arguments, up and down emotions, and questioning where I stand with a significant other (due to my natural paranoia).  At least for myself it isn’t worth it.

I simply cannot stand to be in an argument, especially a heated or emotionally charged one.  This is due to the sensory overload, anxiousness, paranoia, and even auditory hallucinations that come with schizophrenia.  It isn’t that I’m devoid of beliefs, convictions, and emotions. Far from it.  I feel strongly about my convictions.  I have my beliefs.  I definitely have my emotions, especially when I don’t show them or I keep silent.

 

Things I Didn’t Know As A Kid, Part 2

For this entry, I’m taking a break from my regular mental illness writings and writing on something more light hearted.  Growing up, we’ve all had mistaken impressions about what things were really like in the adult world or in popular culture.  I was no exception.

Here is another installment of the depth of my youthful ignorance.  It’s amazing, though.  I’ve been out on my own for ten years and I’m now less intelligent than I thought I was when I was eighteen.  Either the older I get the dumber I was or I just forget what I actually did know.

As a kid growing up in rural Nebraska, I not only had no idea that Minnesotans and Canadians spoke with accents BUT I was ignorant enough to believe that we in Nebraska did not as well.  Way wrong on that one.  Just ask anyone who has ever heard me talk.

Growing up as a hopeless college football junkie, I knew that the Wishbone formation was a football offense long before I knew it was a chicken bone.  Sad but true.  Yet I did know who The President was before I knew who Tom Osborne was.  

As a kid who was an avid reader, the old library in my hometown was a second home to me.  I read so much as a kid that I was well into college before I even imagine why other people just couldn’t get into reading.  Just a matter of practice makes perfect.

When I was in grade school, I found it laughable that kids from the big cities on the coasts thought that kids from the midwest rode horses to school or lived two miles from their nearest neighbors or didn’t have indoor plumbing or such other nonsense as if we were still in the late 1800s.  Yet it didn’t occur to me that the idea of there being drug dealers and pimps on every street corner, mobsters buying off entire state governments, and the ‘valley girl types’ were just as ridiculous.  But that’s stereotypes for you.

Even as a kid I didn’t like Mickey Mouse at all.  I was more partial to Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck.  And I used to have endless debates with my friends about who was the better cartoon character.  Think a grade school version of the deeper debates (i.e. Capitalism vs. Communism, Evolution vs. Creationism, Ford vs. Chevy) if you will.  Of course when I’d be losing my argument I’d bring out the heavy artillery and yell “Yeah, well Donald Duck is such a man that he doesn’t even wear pants!” or “Yeah, well how much money does Mickey Mouse have?  Scrooge McDuck can swim in his cash!” 

 The first time I saw ‘Braveheart’ as a teenager, I unintentionally spent the next 24 hours speaking a Scottish accent.  I’m just glad that I didn’t own a kilt or a massive sword.

 My biggest aspiration as an 8 year old child was to “Be rich enough that me and my friends can play Monopoly with real money.”  Of course I’m well short of this goal right now but I could probably start building houses on Baltic Avenue right now.  

 When I was 13 and first heard about the book ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand, I immediately thought it was about the writing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’  I was a bit off on that one.

When I was in college, I read an email forward titled ‘Jocks vs. Nerds.’  It described how much money Michael Jordan had and how fast he was earning his money and “at that rate it would take over 400 years to have the money Bill Gates has right now.  Nerds win.”  I was telling one of my friends this and he retorted, “Yeah, well how many women would want Bill Gates if it weren’t for his money?”  To which I responded, “Well, at least any paternity suits against him would be automatically false.  So there’s one advantage.”  And I say that typing with a computer program he made famous.

Blog For Mental Health 2014 Pledge

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“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

I only recently discovered the Blog For Mental Health Pledge, which is sponsored by acanvasoftheminds.com/2014/01/07/blog-for-mental-health-2014/ and I thought that I would add what I had to offer.  Since I blog about mental health/illness already, this seems a natural fit.

My experiences with mental illness have given me a deeper compassion for those who are suffering.  After a long road of ups, downs, and even sideways movements I believe I have recovered to where I can talk about my personal experiences, offer aid and advice to those who are looking for it, and advocate for those who aren’t able or ready to advocate for themselves.  I also believe that the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness are in serious need of being challenged and completely done away with.  The more we get people advocating for the mentally ill as well as those who are mentally ill sharing our stories, the quicker we can get the tasks at hand accomplished.

 

Self Advocacy and Speaking Out

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There are things that you can do on your own in order to help alleviate problems associated with mental illness.  I made two big mistakes in the early years of my treatment.  One, I relied solely on medications to make things better and Two, I almost never talked about my problems.  Completely relying on the medications meant that I never went to therapy sessions and expected to find that ever elusive all purpose solution in the form of medications.  It doesn’t work that way.  For one, there is no cure all in the forms of pills.  For me, taking the meds was only one part of solving my problems.  I didn’t really start improving until I started talking to therapists, other individuals with mental health problems, and counselors.  And I really started improving once I stopped hiding the fact I had mental illness and quit lying to others and myself.

One thing I never could stand in conversations with people I met for the first time was the inevitable question of “Oh, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?”  I’m far from old enough to look like I’m retired and from all appearances I am quite healthy.  Since I was frequently between jobs for the first few years after I finished college, I would often lie about having a job or say I was looking when I definitely was not.  I was asked what I did for a living when I met new people practically everywhere I went, whether it was out shopping, at parties, at church, in my apartment complex, etc.  I didn’t enjoy lying at all but I couldn’t explain in ten seconds or less that I was mentally ill and had problems with holding down jobs without committing several social gaffes all at once.  So I resorted to lying for years about my work status and history.  Being asked what I did for a living seriously irritated me.  Now I just mention my writing and my blog.  Though I do all of this for free, I get looked at now like I’m self employed and working out of my home.

Advocation is another thing I do for myself.  I quit lying to myself that I was normal, at least as the world understands normal, and set about sharing my struggles, problems, victories and defeats.  I don’t shy away from people when talking about mental illness anymore.  This was far from easy at first.  It was actually quite terrifying at first.  I was scared of the stigma that I knew would come my way.  Yes, stigma did come my way.  It came namely in the form of being ignored by some, being patronized to by others (I was a frequent recipient of the “We understand how you feel” when they really didn’t and did nothing to try to figure out what goes on with mental illness), and losing friends.  I didn’t mind the losing of some friends because some of these ‘friends’ should have been given up as lost years before.

In closing, talking about my problems and the problems of others with mental illness has helped as much as anything.  It has let me know that people are often not as malicious as my paranoid mind set often made them out to be.  It let me know that there are people who, once they know the problems, are eager to help.  Sure there are malicious and intentionally misunderstanding people out there, but I have found that thankfully they are a small percentage of the population.  Conversations about mental illness, mental health, problems, etc. are not easy, especially at first.  But the stigmas can be broken down.

Being Hospitalized For Mental Illness

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This entry is going to be about the two times I was hospitalized for my schizophrenia.  Even though I was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2000, I was never hospitalized for it until the fall of 2006.  I was not an Emergency Protective Custody (EPC) case as I self committed voluntarily.  I came to the conclusion I needed help because of severe anxiety and flare ups of my paranoia.  These were caused by job place problems and several stressful occurrences that happened throughout the year 2006.  To start the year 2006, I lost my job at the university and had to leave the MBA program.  I had also applied for Social Security Disability Insurance shortly afterward.  At the time it was a major blow to my ego and self confidence as I thought it was admitting defeat in my pursuit to be self-supportive.  I also had a few failed attempts to hold down employment through the spring and summer of 2006, adding to my already considerable anxiety.  Finally after several months of the anxiety, paranoia, and anger building for several months, I came to where I hadn’t slept in probably two and a half days.  By then I knew I had to do something to stop the deterioration I was going through.  That’s when I checked myself into the local mental health hospital.

With the fact I didn’t wait for the police to take me to the hospital, my stay as an inpatient lasted only one week.  Even though I wasn’t uncooperative and belligerent with the hospital staff and doctors, for the first three days I was confused and couldn’t focus at all.  I was also sleeping probably fourteen hours per day for those first three days as I was trying to regain my bearings.  One thing that I am absolutely convinced helped my recovery and allowed for my relatively short stay at the hospital was that I cooperated with the doctors and nurses even when I secretly didn’t want to.  Despite going through a breakdown, I knew I needed their help if I was going to recover and go home.  I think that I found favor with the doctors, nurses, and counselors because I was willing to cooperate, even if it was begrudgingly.  

Finally after a week in the hospital I was well enough to go home.  Even though I could have left probably any time I wanted as I was a voluntary commitment, I was sick and I knew I was not doing well at all.  After I left in early September 2006, it would be another seven years before I would go back to the hospital.

In September 2013, I went back to the hospital.  Once again I was a volunteer commitment.  I could tell that things were getting bad again like they were in 2006.  Because I took preventative measures to make sure things didn’t escalate completely out of control, I was in the hospital for only three and a half days this time.  This time I was still cooperative with the doctors, nurses, and counselors.  By this time I had been dealing with schizophrenia long enough that prolonged stress and anxiety over the course of weeks and months would ultimately lead to problems.  I also have a seasonal element to my schizophrenia as I tend to do better in winters and springs than I do in summers.  For some reason summers have always been a rough time for me.  Both of my hospitalizations took place in the month of September.

If I were to offer any advice to someone going to the hospital for the first time, it would simply be do what the doctors recommend, be as nice as you can with the nurses, be active in counseling, and at least attempt to get along with the other patients.  Believe me, your stay in the hospital will be much less troublesome.

 

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