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Managing Mental Illness Requires More Than One Tool

Managing depression: which puzzle pieces are right for you? Therapy? Meds? Mindfulness? Physical activity?

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.

My tools

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
  • 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
  • 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?

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, 2nd Edition, by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle.

It’s available on Amazon and Google Play.

35 thoughts on “Managing Mental Illness Requires More Than One Tool”

  1. Self-care is so important in addition to other things. What I try to do at the moment, still, is monitor my sleep. I go to bed when I’m tired, most times I start to yawn in the mid afternoon.
    I try to rest when I feel that it’s needed. I try to unwind and relax (not easy for me!) I try not to push myself (again, I need to be careful of that). I try to be more kind to myself and to keep my inner ‘Donald’ critic in his corner. My current ‘goal’ is to eat better, which goes with ups and downs and to start to read some books, which isn’t easy either. When I want to shut the world out, I knit and when I want to invite the world in, I blog. I love yoga but I’m still afraid of going to class because there are (too) many people.
    I try to take every day as it comes, that would be the lesson I guess learned through dealing with mental illness. Letting go, adjusting and accepting. It is a lot of work!

  2. So true, I really believe that mental illness should be considered just as important as any other illness is. It deserves equal treatment and equal respect.💞

  3. I don’t know if what I will write really relates to your post Ashley, but here is what am dealing with now. The more high achieving I am , and more often than not happy to be, the more I sometimes have to deal with ‘not losing my cool’ and ‘sleep’ and even well my ‘groundedness’ especially when I feel like too much is expected of me or I am being patronized as a result. For me it seems like a whole Kaleidoscope and ha like today I wish I could ‘shut a lot up’ and yet still ‘do alot’ -ZUT was the word I used with a friend this afternoon and I dunno if we are ex-friends by now because we both deal with issues and I think we both lost it with each other. So, there we go, one moment at a time

      1. And the puzzle is I am happy with all am doing but I would also love some support which is emmm hard to find. So in the end am slowing down on some, letting go of some, taking up less than ok support for others, and well above all making selfcaremybestcare

          1. Ever -elusive is indeed the word. But I was just thinking this morning about that word BALANCE. Whose scale are using in the first place? It’s intriguing indeed darling hahahaha

  4. So true, I really believe mental illness should be treated with as much respect as any other illness. I frankly believe it is the best way to show you respect mental health and mental health care. There is no shame in having any kind of mental illness, and the sooner the world accepts that, the better it is for the world’s future.

  5. I have some similar tools in terms of meds, supplements and blogging to offload and for support – I tend to understand issues, think them through and come to terms with them by writing about them. Other things are self-care (trying to brush my teeth, shave and shower regularly because I feel worse if I neglect them for long), taking time for relaxation, particularly Doctor Who and other classic British science fiction television which, as my autistic special interest, can be a way of becoming focused on something that isn’t my depression. Therapy has been important in the past, but I need to find a new therapist if I want to do that again.

    You are making me think about getting guinea pigs again…

      1. The things holding me back are perhaps not the right things, like the social anxiety of going to a pet shop and speaking to the assistants and it being obvious that I’ve never had pets, or not knowing what to do when they die (which is a morbid thing to think of) and wanting to find out in advance if I’m OK with stroking/holding them.

          1. Hmm, interesting. I would like to go somewhere and see if I’m OK petting them first. When I went to my second cousin’s house the other week he had some guinea pigs, but I was too shy – and, by the time I found the guinea pigs, too exhausted – to ask to play with them. Maybe if I go there again, but that probably won’t be for a year.

  6. We like nature walks, too. We are devoted to early bedtime and early arising. We have noticed recently that our cooking and baking have improved; that is, some of it tastes like “food” lol. We have abundant food intolerances so that getting sustenance requires effort. We are very sad and stuck presently. Have been in numb cocoon. You are a person whom we care about. Do you know that? Cuz it’s true

    1. I’m an early bedtime and early riser as well. I’m glad things are getting easier with food.

      I”m sorry to hear that you’re in a sad and stuck place right now. I care about all of you too. ❤️

  7. It’s a balance for me. That’s the key and it’s hard because I tend to be a black/white person. For example, if I feel better one weekend while being social I think, well then, maybe I need more people around more often. No! Wrong! And the same goes for being alone. Sleeping too much or too little. Etc. If I get in a rut with a routine, the dark thoughts begin to take hold again. I need to confuse them by switching things up a bit.

  8. Well you’ve probably figured out that I don’t take medications even though I am aware that have a number of mental health diagnoses. Other tools are meditation, aerobic exercise, housecleaning and arranging, things like singing & piano playing, and (probably most importantly, for me) maintaining positive contacts within my community, and especially with my daughter. As far as bipolar, they say it’s mild for me, and so I keep a mood chart and like to see how I can utilize the swings to my creative advantage. My ADHD is more difficult to manage without meds, but I’ve never yet taken an ADHD med that didn’t have severe consequences on my sleep disorders. I’ve been wondering lately if a simple non-benzo anti-anxiety such as buspirone might help. Then there’s PTSD which is the most challenging because I never know when it will strike. But I’ve worked out techniques that I do automatically when the triggers arise, and they can greatly reduce the duration of the attacks. Glad you posted this. Hope I’ve been helpful.

    1. That’s great that you’ve put together a set of strategies that work well for you. I think that self-awareness is important in general, but probably even more so when not going the medication route.

      1. I tend to agree. I couldn’t do it without practicing meditation, as it helps me take note of thought patterns and when they are tending to go awry.

  9. Animals are so helpful! I’m glad you have your guinea pigs to brighten your day, even if just a little. I’m with you on the adjustment of facing treatment-resistant depression. I’m still trying to accept that my day to day life is going to include symptoms, even when I’m throwing everything at it that I can. I’m positive that I’d be a lot worse off if I didn’t have my dog to take care of, though. Meds, running, and puppy cuddles are my main tools. I’m also finding therapy helpful, both for accountability and gaining insight.

  10. Hey. You are amazing in achieving all you have with the unpredictable nature of mental illness and depression. Seriously well done! I started to really build my toolbox when I gave up alcohol in November. I’d been diagnosed with anxiety and depression way before then and meds and counselling were the two tools. Then I gave up booze and I started blogging, taking time for myself, writing a mindfulness journal, trying guided meditation and adding more and more tools. It’s been amazing. Plus our guinea pigs are also part of my toolbox for sure. The new little fella is a delight 😊
    Claire xx

  11. In my case, it turned out my mental illness was largely being caused by the circumstances of my life. Changing those circumstances has been difficult and slow, and in the meantime I’ve pulled a lot of stuff out of the toolbox because I’m not in a situation to safely try medication.

    Music (probably the most helpful method I’ve found to help me manage both anxiety and depression symptoms – they’ve discovered music triggers the release of dopamine.)
    Nature walks
    Writing (blogging, in particular)
    Sleep hygiene
    Supplements (in my case at the moment, holy basil, vitamin C, vitamin D
    Managing social media (limiting exposure to things that may trigger depression or anxiety)
    Meditation (via the insight Timer app)
    Social life / hobbies
    Driving (this wouldn’t be useful for everyone, it’s just calming/soothing for me.)

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