Mental Health is a Journey
I asked my friends what type of content they would expect to see on a mental health website and this was one of the replies I got:
"Stories of people with mental health issues who are working, productive and valuable members of society."
So how do we continue to push forward despite having mental health problems?
A lot of this depends on what stage you are currently in regarding your mental health. For this post I'm going to focus on my own journey. There are times when I wasn't able to be productive because my mental health was so out of hand that I could barely get out of bed in the morning. I cried constantly. I could read a piece of paper and couldn't retain one thing on the page the moment after I read it because my depression and anxiety was so strong.
I could read a piece of paper and couldn't retain one thing on the page the moment after I read it. Yes, I repeated it because during those times I had to do very minimalist things. I couldn't read something to learn a new skill. I needed someone to talk me through developing the skills I needed to get better.
There were a lot of things that went into creating my recovery, but these are the ones that stand out the most.
Having multiple interventions at the same time can be beneficial. At that time I reached out to my high school social worker (I was still in high school then). Since I had been cutting myself I was referred to the hospital for further intervention. As a result I ended up with multiple treatment providers:
My school social worker continued to see me and advocate for my needs at school to adjust academic requirements so that I could continue with my studies. (I basically did almost nothing for several months and still passed all my classes.)
A social worker at the hospital who helped me talk through specific problems, questioned my negative thoughts and helped me with skill development and other referrals. (I was referred to two other programs which I tried, but didn't continue with.)
A psychiatrist at the hospital to monitor how my medication was affecting my functioning. On one visit with him I refused to leave at the end of my appointment because I was afraid I would hurt myself if I went home. I was held at the hospital for three days, where I was bored and decided my life wasn't as bad as being stuck in a hospital doing nothing. (A successful intervention.)
The way we define success impacts our progress. If you asked me when I stopped these treatments how successful I thought they were then I would probably give it a 3 our of 10. Looking back on it, now that I've taken counseling and understand the approaches that were being used, I would give it an 8. I didn't think it was helping because I didn't understand the objectives.
My social worker helped me challenge my negative thoughts, set goals, reach out and taught me skills to calm myself, focus on things I had control over and to let go of things I couldn't control. These were invaluable to me and gave me the building blocks to interact with other treatment providers down the road.
Acknowledging the good things that were happening in my life helped me realize that my life wasn't just the bad stuff I was thinking about. I had to make a choice to stop being angry about things I couldn't change and focus on the things that were going well. It was hard to think of these things at first, but there were plenty of good things to focus on.
I also learned to challenge my negative thoughts. I learned that my negative thoughts were often irrational and that I needed to ignore them. Thoughts that are deeply connected with our emotions can mislead us into believing things like, "No one cares." "I can't succeed." These thoughts aren't true, but it's hard to acknowledge that when the feelings that come from them are so strong.
Being persistent in seeking help. I didn't limit myself to getting help during therapy time. I started listening to people who inspired me and challenged me to make better choices in my life. As I started making better decisions I developed more confidence in myself and that alone helped me feel better.
Focusing on small success helped me build bigger success. By setting goals for small things I learned that I could accomplish things that I made specific plans to do. This helped me endure setbacks and gave me the confidence to try harder tasks.
What is life like now? (15 years later)
I am self-motivated and driven. I understand my limits and know how to pull back to prevent burnout. When I get burned out I know how to deal with my burnout so that I recover quickly. I don't expect people to come check in on me. I take the initiative in my friendships. I'm not devastated when I face challenges. I keep going.
I encourage you to plan for a better tomorrow and you'll get there. You can do it!
If you have a friend struggling with mental health share this article with them and ask them to pick out one thing they need the most help with and do what you can to help them with it.
For more about my journey you can buy my book, Real Truth for Real Choices. Available on Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Real-Truth-Choices-Liz-Millican-ebook/dp/B00M3NM7SK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1531851635&sr=8-1&keywords=Real+truth+for+real+choices+liz+millican
If you'd like to share your own story to help others you can contact me and share it anonymously.