Long time no see! As usual. I am so very sorry for not being very active on here anymore. I realize i wrote a grand total of maybe like 3 or so posts for all of 2017! Unbelievable! Thank you for those of you who have stay tuned all these years, and been ever so patient in between posts during years like this. This is going to be a very honest post, with some details that some may find discouraging, but i promise you i am writing it for the opposite effect. I want to write this as a reminder to myself, AND to you, my lovelies….that in the world of mental illness, it is natural to have an ebb and flow of ups and downs, forward steps and back steps, and starting from the drawing board. It is okay when these things happen, ALWAYS. It is not the end of the world. It just means we have to go back to basics, and re-learn what it means to take care of ourselves in the here and now. Anyway…shall we?
YEARS LIKE THIS.
Where do we even start? On a global level, so much has happened that has brought us together, AND pulled us apart as humans. So much has been weighing on the collective consciousness and it has been severely damaging to many – at least to so many people i know, and myself included.
On a personal level, it has been a whirlwind too. I haven’t been able to work for about 50% of 2017 thanks to my illness. There was a hopeful moment i had in 2016 where i was trying to wean OFF of medication, do you recall? You can read about that HERE. Well, as you can imagine, that has not panned out. I am currently in the middle of a possible re-diagnosis all together, and am on 2 new kinds of medication, and still unable to work. During the most expensive time of the year no less! I’m not going to lie, i have been feeling useless and I can’t help but feel like I have taken major steps backwards. It’s the sad truth of how it feels, but inherently I know it’s not REALLY true. It IS however a truth that has led me to revisiting a lot of aspects about habits and thought patterns that i have, as well as what it means to take care of myself.
I guess in this post today, i just wanted chat a little bit about relapse, the struggle that comes with it and a few of the things I am doing to try and get back on track. Ultimately if you or someone in your life is dealing with mental illness in one of it’s many forms, relapse is inevitable at least once. For me it has been several times over the last 12 or so years, and that is part of the reason that at this point the medical professionals and counselling I have in my life are starting from scratch and revisiting what I might truly be fighting. Part of me goes WHAT THE HELL WHY DIDN’T WE SEE THESE THINGS SOONER, WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE FIXED ME SOONER? but the reality is that’s not the way this game works. The reality is I HAD to live with it this long to learn, and to understand it’s complexities. I HAD to live with it this long to learn that some things that i THOUGHT were a part of my character as a person, are actually rather difficult and persistent traits of my ILLNESS. Things that trying to rewire in counselling without the CORRECT medication would never accomplish. Now we know. I wish it had been sooner, but it’s never too late. And as I write this, I’m accepting that that’s okay.
The toughest parts so far of relapsing this year have been….
- Having to leave my well paying job in a company in which I thought i’d be staying at for the foreseeable future – feeling like taking major steps back, losing money, losing contact with that social circle, etc.
- Pulling away from some involvement in things that are important to me – feeling like i’m burning bridges, feeling like I’m setting myself up for failure
- Switching medication a couple of times – emotional/physical ups and downs, exhaustion
- Learning that I have some extremely deep rooted patterns formed by my illness that are going to take some major work – scary.
…Amongst some other things, but those are a few main points as an example. I am constantly living with mental illness, as many people are. But when I say relapse here, please note that I am referring to relapsing into having episodes – for me, those episodes look like deep depression, restlessness, suicidal thoughts/plans, anxiety, OCD, impulsive behaviours, inability to communicate or perform basic tasks for myself OR taking on an excessive amount of tasks to overcompensate. It looks like many different things. Sometimes I relapse for a day, sometimes a week, or sometimes like this year I relapse for months at a time. Due to having this lead to some of the above points, I’ve been trying to utilize the time off I am taking to put the pieces back together as best I can starting from the very basics. I personally experience a constant daily firing of neurons in my brain that often doesn’t ALLOW me to slow down or focus on the task at hand- until my brain shuts down entirely into a full blown depression where I can’t do anything at all.
So “Back to Basics” for me looks something like this…(although it might look different for you, and that’s great!)
- Focus on Nourishment of my body and my soul. One of the hardest things to do sometimes when you’re not feeling like yourself is to stay physically healthy. Luckily, i do actually like to cook most of the time. So most days, 60% of all that schedule myself in a day is to make food. To make healthy meals that I will enjoy and that will sustain me. I try to make the effort to move every day too, usually through yoga…but there are days I just don’t have it in me, and I am trying not to beat myself up for that, as your body knows when rest is more important. Meditation has always been a powerful tool for me too – i’ve been struggling with it recently, but i make the effort to try at least 10 minutes a day anyway. Even if my mind wanders, at least I am practicing a healthy habit.
- Practicing the art of asking for help. There are times where I really don’t have it in me to do any of the above. There are days where being at home on my own only entices my compulsive behaviours to come out and drive me to the brink of self destruction. When those days come around, I am trying to get better at acknowledging that it’s okay to ask for some help. It doesn’t make you less of a person and it doesn’t mean that you will need to lean on others your whole life either. But it’s okay to lean on your support system when you need to- they want you to get better! Ask for help making a meal, ask to stay over somewhere for a couple of days if you don’t want to be alone, don’t feel safe or feel like you can’t rest. Ask for help picking up a medication if you don’t have time or money. Those favours can always be returned when you are stronger again.
- Steering clear of emails, social media, etc. Obviously not entirely, as I am clearly on my blog today! I’ve been trying my hand at not making checking my email, facebook or texts the FIRST thing i do in the morning. One of my compulsions is to say ‘yes’ and to get involved in as much as I can, feeling like that will speed up my personal growth (spoiler alert- it DOESN’T!) So I’m trying not to spend as much time reading invites to events, messages, emails, or to be the first one to respond “yes, i’ll do that, yes i’ll take that on”. It’s very natural to compare ourselves to what we see online as well, so I am trying my best to avoid that at all costs. I’m trying to lay back and treat it extremely low priority, with only a few exceptions. I can only hope this will be a healthy habit i’ll carry with me even once i get back to myself, back to work, etc. I am also being very honest with those around me about what I am dealing with. It’s not always easy, but people appreciate transparency, and are often more understanding with this stuff than you’d think. The world will not end if I politely decline an opportunity or an invite. It will not end if I don’t sort and reply to my emails before making a coffee. Deep breaths, it can wait.
- Only physically scheduling health related and otherwise “important” appointments. I am a compulsive scheduler and list maker (OH GOD I’M MAKING A LIST RIGHT NOW!!). I do not say this lightly. It’s bad. So a big step for me is laying off the lists and the calendars, even in the slightest bit. I sometimes need gentle reminders from my partner that it’s not appropriate to schedule “date night” into my phone – but hey, baby steps! Over all, i’m making an effort to only put reminders in my devices/in lists in regards to very important things like doctors appointments, counselling appointments, prescription pick ups, etc. The main list I am updating now and then is our grocery list. Other than that, i find that not scheduling much else in gives me the chance to fill the rest of the time with what my mind and body NEEDS. It is a challenge for me to literally take things day by day instead of thinking 20 steps ahead, which is a surefire way to end up burnt out.
- Write down my desires for my future, and then leave them alone. This is a big one for me too! It would be easy for many (myself included) to look at all this empty calendar space on a ‘good day’ and try to fill it with projects to work towards your big dreams and goals. I know that’s not a reality for everyone with mental illness – sometimes half the battle is just recognizing ANY dreams. For me, that has rarely been the problem. The problem has always been having manic episodes of taking on too much, over extending myself, impulsive spending, impulsive decision making – leading to inevitable burnouts and feeling like a failure etc. So for me this is a real challenge, but a basic concept. I have made a chalkboard wall poster beside my bed that lists out the ‘long term goals’ i have in mind for myself, so i can see them everyday. But instead of making constant, structured plans to make those things happen, I am just letting it be. I think about those things lots, and I might even meditate on them, but I am definitely not focusing on projects. I have reached a point of acceptance that I am only 25, and that my health takes priority here. The current goal is to have a long, healthy life to achieve those things. I have to trust in my future self that I will make those things happen when I am stronger, when I am well.
So my lovelies, those are a few ways I am going back to a more basic ‘self care’ approach in this current chapter of my life. I am not taking on lots of projects, I am not surrounding myself with distractions or lots of appointments. I am simply focusing on taking care of my physical and mental self in the most simple and basic ways possible. I think I got off to a rocky start in building my foundation before, so this is essentially me trying my hand at that all over again. The hardest part has been accepting that this isn’t truly a backslide…all of this is helping me grow as a person, and learn what it means to take care of myself NOW. I am only human. But not really – I am human, living with mental illness. Relapse is hard, stressful and scary. But I am lucky in that I’m making it work, and I have endless support. Know that even if your situation is a little different, you are not alone. There is always someone who can help lead you to the resources you need. Even me! Never hesitate to reach out. I promise you, I have not been fighting this thing alone, not by any stretch.
Thank you so much for tuning back in, and staying with me on this journey.
Oh! and Happy Holidays to you and yours!! ❤
-Spirit Sister, Nicolle