I’ve learned through anxiety, depression, mania and natural life cycle events that happiness is a direction you go in. This is no way marginalizing the affect brain chemicals or tragic events have on me but owning and taking power over how I live thru it.
Seeking happiness and living my life in positive ways is my therapy. It takes all of my effort to be consistent with positive healthy habits and behaviors that promote a balanced mental state. I take pills. Not Xanax, Paxil, or Depakote but Running, Vegetables, Flax Seeds and Journaling.
Here are a few of the tools I’ve used over the last 3 years to ditch my mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics and beta-blockers.
Disclaimer: I’m not prescribing anyone or suggesting you ditch your meds. There are levels to this mental health shit. LEVELS Some of us at certain times in our lives need pharmaceutical drugs to maintain balance. If you want to pursue behavioral health as a way to heal, consult a licensed psychiatrist or certified therapist who has experience with your condition.
It has taken me years of ups and downs and readings here and there on blogs, in books or first hand accounts from others to figure out what works best for me.
- Acceptance – I have read about these phantom studies of diagnosed schizophrenics who went through a trial of changed diet, exercise and peaceful stimuli to slow and sometimes reverse their mental health issues. I’ve never seen these studies verified by a credible source or on the NIH website. That did not deter me from interest in the theory. I saw potential to cure my mental illness. People have a stigma and stereotype of mentally disabled as crazy and wild and I don’t fit it. (Or maybe I do lol) I know by pattern, mood, and evidence that I have a mental disability. I’ve known this longer than those around me and argued the validation of it but I did not accept it. I wanted to cure it. I thought taking Celaxa and Depakote daily meant that I could go on with life. Like acetaminophen for a headache. This doesn’t go away and popping a pill without dealing with a cause is fixing a leaky faucet with a bucket. Throughout 1998-2012 I was on many different types of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood-stabilizers and anti-anxiety meds. With little consistency, because of inadequate and inconsistent health care coverage and limited resources, I could never quite get fixed or cured. I would constantly go up and down. On meds I was ok but never well. Off meds I was very high and very low and unfocused. I believed in this diet, exercise and peaceful stimuli theory because it meant I wasn’t stuck with bi-polar disorder, that I had a chance to shake it, that I didn’t have to accept it. I tried to live my life as normal as possible and live with my condition in the background until a mood, or something I did made it very clear that I wasn’t well. Most evident in my decision making it was hard to ignore things when life became unbearable. In 2013 after I hit my true bottom I accepted myself as being mentally unfocused and disabled and I began to change. Since then, I regard every event as something that teaches me how to approach the world not as something that I have to fix.
- SWOT Analysis – I learned this in a boring 200 level marketing class but it applies. I identified my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Acceptance is essential for this. You must accept what you are great at and what/who you’re horrible for. Acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t attempt to improve, it is key to knowing what to improve and learning how to improve. It is knowing when to hold and when to fold. Everything from the simple to the great is on the table. I was honest with myself. I dealt with the criticisms of my friends, family, professors and employers. For someone prone to depression and self deprecating language this is painful. It is much easier though if you treat yourself like someone of value that needs refining. I didn’t make a SWOT quadrant map like marketing class but I made lists. (I make a lot of lists.) I made lists of what I liked about myself, what I didn’t like, what others consistently liked and did not like about me. From that I pulled the common threads and identified what mattered to changing my life. Again I was at bottom so it was obvious that changes needed to be made. There was no grey area. I was at the precipice of get your shit together or fall. Identifying my strengths seemed easy but I had to also collect what others identified as my strengths that I maybe didn’t care for. This is great to reread and recovery material after you identify your weaknesses. I made lists of opportunities based on my strengths and weaknesses. I identified what opportunities I wanted and those most accessible based based on the other lists. Eg. I’m great at data management but but I’m horrible in corporate culture. Identifying my threats was about listing triggers that made it difficult to thrive on my strengths and take advantage of my opportunities. Some of my threats were culture related, others were people and sometimes substance. I identified what threats I could avoid and what I could challenge and deal with differently. Listing my qualities in terms of SWOT analysis taught me to realistically view how I approach the world, with balanced perspective.
- Consistent Commitment – Knowing what to do and doing it is a dissonance that produces advice. I knew that certain habits produced certain results but I had difficulty executing the discipline of practicing habits. I’ve wanted to be a runner since 1998. I’ve wanted to be the fit friend all my life. I’ve wanted to be a business woman since I was 7. I’ve wanted to drive sports cars since I could drive. I’ve wanted to be a respected writer since I was 11. I had the hopes and dreams of any child but no discipline to produce these outcomes. I began to make daily lists of habits that would get me closer to those dreams. I researched what I needed to practice to be, have and do exactly what I wanted and pursued those habits on a regular basis. I set a schedule for running and eating. I wrote grocery lists based on nutritional needs for deficiency’s that I had. I researched habits that stabilize those with bi-polar disorder. I compiled a list of habits that I needed to practice to change my life. I ran, I journaled, I meditated, I vlogged, I went for peaceful walks, I sought healthy entertainment. I stopped my alcohol and recreational drug use. I did these things daily. I made sure to check a list off of what I had done and made note of what needed to be done the next day. So my life goals became monthly goals and then daily goals and on bad days, hourly goals. I began to see my life less as a big picture of the greatness I wanted to get to and more as the greatness I accomplished everyday and in the moments I lived. There are many books and an empire based on effective habits and I had come across them all in my life but I didn’t consistently commit to the teachings. Consistently committing to everything I wanted in life taught me to live my dreams everyday.
These three tools and habits happened after years of struggle and many times falling down so don’t approach them as a fix or cure, approach them as a practice to master the art of life. I am not near perfect, all of my goals are not achieved on an ultimate level and I still struggle but these habits keep me happy and that is my ultimate goal. Achieving that goal daily is pretty fucking awesome.