It would be nice if treating mental illness was as simple as popping a pill and carrying on with life. But of course life (and mental illness) doesn’t work that way. Managing a chronic mental illness means drawing on multiple different tools and trying to build up the toolbox as much as possible.
My evolving illness
Earlier in the course of my depression, I didn’t give a lot of thought that building up the toolbox part. After getting out of hospital, I just wanted to get better and get my life back, which at that time seemed like a goal that was within reach. I was seeing a therapist, although we weren’t really accomplishing anything, and I was taking meds. Other than that, I just tried to live my life as I had been before.
For the first 9 years of my illness, I would get sick and then eventually I would get fully better. That changed with my last relapse 4 years ago, and “well” no longer seems to be in the cards. Being treatment-resistant has definitely prompted a shift to a more holistic view of my illness and overall wellbeing. My main form of treatment, medications, only does so much. That means I’ve had to come up with other things to add into the mix to make life a little easier.
I’ve gotten a lot more aware over the last few years of what I’m doing and how it impacts my health. I’ve had guinea pigs as long as I’ve had depression, but now I more consciously recognize them as being a really important factor in helping me cope with my illness. I also pay more attention to self-care, and try to be mindful as I’m doing it. With illness being ever-present, the little things, like various self-care strategies, become a lot more important in terms of maintaining overall quality of life.
Some of the key pieces for me are:
- my medication cocktail: venlafaxine, mirtazapine, lithium, quetiapine, dextroamphetamine
- supplements: omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin
- tracking factors related to my mental health in my bullet journal (my bullet journal how-to guide is available from the MH@H Download Centre)
- blogging – it’s therapeutic in multiple ways, including self-expression, exercising my brain, and the peer support of the blogging community
- my emotional assistance guinea pigs
- self-care, including aromatherapy
- restorative yoga
- mindful nature walks
I can’t necessarily do all of those things all of the time. Over the last couple of months, I haven’t been able to do walks or yoga because of psychomotor retardation. I’ve also had a harder time with basic self-care. It’s frustrating to be even more limited than usual in what I’m able to do, but I’m improving with my showering, and I’ll try to build back up as best I can.
Still, the one thing that’s predictable about mental illness is that it’s unpredictable, and we just have to take it as it comes.
What are some of the different tools that you use in managing your mental illness?