Moderating the Use of Self-Help for Mental Illness (Guest Post)

The emerging blogger series on Mental Health @ Home -background image of cherry blossoms

In this emerging blogger post, TheInBetweenQueen writes about the role self-help plays in mental illness.

Phone sitting on top of notebooks
Image by Daniela Mackova from Pixabay

As a person who loves to read and to be inspired, sometimes at the same time, I have taken to reading a lot of books from the “self-help” or “self transformation” sections. I’ve even written a book that could go in that section of any Barnes & Noble in the near future.

Since I was a small child, I’ve also loved to write. I’ve also been extremely anxious and even more extremely introspective since then. That’s why self-help books and workbooks work so well for me–until they don’t.

I’ve kept every journal I’ve written in since the sixth grade–they chronicle a lot of my trauma, depression, anxiety and means of coping with my identity as it changed and shifted while I found my way through high school, an eating disorder, and a yet-to-be-treated-but-definitely-existed-my-entire-life-long mental illness(es).

Those notebooks are sacred to me because they show the world how broken I was and how resilient I am; they have proven to be really useful tools in treatment, often answering the question “Why am I like this???”

I have taken solace often in mood tracking apps (my favorite being Sanvello always and forever), meditation apps, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) apps and workbooks, Brene Brown, my Wreck This Journal, Melody Beattie journals, and my latest favorite, Brain Hacks by Lara Honos. As I write this right now, there are two journals and three workbooks in front of me on my bedroom floor.

I (sometimes) log my meal and mood combinations to keep on top of my eating disorder recovery. I have a tenth step app that I’m (supposed) to take inventory on each night for my fellowship. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Self-help apps and workbooks help me get insight into my daily moods, patterns, behaviors and shortcomings so that I can report them to my treatment team in a tangible way. Workbooks help me look deeper into the things about my own psychology that may need to shift in order to serve me better.

The running joke with me and my mental illness is that I often am playing “symptomatic whack-a-mole” with oscillating states of anxiety, compulsiveness, depression, laziness, disorganization, and being overwhelmed.

This makes for keeping up with self-help apps, tracking and completing however many workbook pages I resolved to do when I bought the book really hard. It is possible to overdose on self-care, and compartmentalize your life to the point where self-help advice becomes really loud and counterproductive. And when you don’t meet the goals and the app keeps nagging you to check in, that can lead to shame spiralling and MORE depression. So just log what you can, write when you can, and use what helps.

Not all of the hours in your day can be spent bathing in the wise words of people with PhD’s; sometimes, unplugging from cognitive engagement with the thing you’re trying to change or look deeper into is actually the most helpful thing of all, in my experience. Shutting it off and taking a walk adds balance, and getting a meal with a friend allows your body to regenerate in more ways than one. Help yourself by untethering from self-help once in a while–your brain will thank you.

Theinbetweenqueen is a chronically anxious, question-asking speaker, teacher and author of the Royally Incomplete blog. She writes about fat acceptance, body positivity, eating disorder recovery and mental health. IBQ has a book of the same title.

6 thoughts on “Moderating the Use of Self-Help for Mental Illness (Guest Post)”

  1. Also, helping others helps! 🙂
    Nice article, I wish you could see my desk right now, I have papers, notebooks, and scratch pads all over it! Maybe I should spend some time going over all of it instead of taking MORE notes once in a while. LOL

  2. Take up a hobby in addition to writing. Ernest Hemingway liked to fish for marlin, hunt lions, ski in the Alps, attend bullfights, and drink. Get out of your head. Go to a party. Get a job. It is possible to write yourself into a hole. I’ve done it. I think writing, socializing, and exercise have helped me most. I’m out of the abyss, after 45 years in it. I never miss an appointment. I’m in A.A. too. Personal hygiene and pride in appearance are important. Look good, even if you don’t feel good. Think of others. They’re here, too. Healthy people are not caught up with themselves. Don’t preach, like I’m doing right now. Strive to be happy. You deserve it. Ten bucks says you’ve earned it.

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