A Guide To… Self-Care for Mental Illness

Mental illness is really bloody hard. Unless you’ve been through it, you won’t really have any understanding as to what it’s like. Heck, even when suffering, you have no idea what another person is going through. All you can really do is empathise. But, I’ll try and do a different post on how to help someone with mental illnesses in the future. For now, I’ll stick to self-care. Obviously, this won’t work for everyone, but in the past eight years, you could say I’ve tried a lot of different things, read a lot of different books and websites, talked to lots of different people and these are what work for me.
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1. Rest
Rest is the greatest tool for any type of illness. If you have a common cold, the first thing you’re told is to get as much rest as possible to allow your body to repair itself, that’s what it’s there for. Why should the brain not get the same attention? I recently read a book called ‘Depressive Illness‘ by Dr. Tim Cantopher who recommends rest very strongly, and I wholeheartedly agree.
No one quite knows exactly how the brain works yet, which is why there are so many different treatments for the vast array of mental illnesses, but recuperating in a safe place can’t be the worst thing to do at all. Making sure that I’m safe and well, however long that takes, is the easiest and safest option I have. In basic terms, sleep is a bloody life-saver and will help you so much. 
 
2. Binging Netflix
I’m renowned for watching TV series in a matter of days, often repeatedly. It may seem to an outsider that this is because I bloody love Orange is the New Black (for the record – I do). That’s not the main reason though. It blocks out all the bad stuff that tries to control my life. It helps me to try and focus – albeit not very well, hence the rewatching – on something other than what my brain is telling me, all the insecurities and anxieties and thoughts that may try and enter. I’ll admit, it doesn’t always work at blocking things out, but it serves it’s purpose most of the time. If finding out what happens to Walt White in Season 5 of Breaking Bad blocks out the darkness, even just for 47 minutes, I’m 100% down with that. 
 
3. Reading
Similar to the last point, reading blocks everything out. I’ve always been one of those readers who gets lost in a book and has to finish it the same day (probably why I’ve read more this year than any other year since I was about 10). It’s a method of escapism from your own mind. I literally can’t think of anything else but the book I’m reading and that is excellent, I honestly couldn’t wish for anymore – except obviously when the book finishes and I get that empty void (until the next one). If you want to see what I’m reading at the moment, you can add me on GoodreadsBasically, reading shuts out EVERYTHING and doesn’t allow for anything else – which is great if that’s what you’re aiming for. 
 
4. Music
Now, this is a tricky one. I have a lot of songs that really trigger me, and I’ve learnt that it’s fine to listen them to get out all those emotions that I need to get out at the time. But not all the time. Music can be really helpful though, and I’m trying to focus on the good songs that pull you out of that awful place. Arctic Monkeys (fave band ever!) always seem to get me into a great mood however I’m feeling, they’ve saved my life countless times. *Also recommend 60s Soul for pulling you out of any dark place and feeling like you’re on top of the world.* It doesn’t matter what time of day, where I am, who I’m with – all you need to do is pop in your earphones and everything can change. I guess that’s the whole point of music, to make you feel something, whether it be sadness, happiness or pumped for life. 
 
5. Projects
I don’t care what your project is. When I came out of hospital, I started the #100DaysOfMakeup on Instagram because it meant that for 100 days, I had to do something every single day. It wasn’t to showcase my makeup abilities or anything like that, it was a reason to stay alive. I set myself a challenge and had to accomplish it, because I’m just that stubborn. My new project is going to be painting my bedroom. Your project could be anything, from collecting all the Pokémon on Pokémon Go (gotta catch ’em all and all that) to making sure you brush your teeth twice a day for the next 10 days, it can be literally anything. It gives you a reason to be here, it gives you a reason to persevere against those bad thoughts. Whatever you want to do, go for it, there’s no reason not to and you CAN  do it.
 
6. A Bath
This is probably the heading that sounds the most boring, I agree. Though, when you’re at your worst, bathing doesn’t seem like the most essential thing. Do it. Have a bath, throw in that Lush bath bomb you were saving for a special occasion, borrow your mother’s bath salts if you have to. You deserve it, your body that’s keeping you going – despite your brain’s attempts to salvage it – deserves it. Whilst soaking your body, you’ll find it does wonders to your mind as a pleasant side-effect.
 
7. Avoidance 
Avoidance isn’t the best tactic in the world, and shouldn’t be the one you turn to for the long term. But it helps me. Avoiding things, places, people, anything that I know will trigger me and keep me safe is one of the most important pieces of self-care I’ve learnt. Would I (my friends, my family, anyone) prefer to be in somewhere they find comfort or somewhere where they know they could relapse/breakdown/not be very comfortable at all? Obviously the former – if you chose the latter, you’re a little daredevil and I very strongly admire you. Taking care of yourself, first and foremost, is the most important thing, because when you get down to it, if you’re not there then there really isn’t any point. Saying this, I regularly push myself out of my comfort zone – even if it’s just to go into town alone and reward myself with a Starbucks sugar-free vanilla soya latte. But, if you know it will cause you harm, just don’t do it. If you need to avoid it because it will make you worse, then avoid it, no point in harming your own recovery.
8. Support Network
For a long time, I didn’t feel like I had any support network at all. I’d barricaded myself in my safe place, my room, for so long that I felt like I’d lost everything, everyone. Slowly, I’m trying to reconnect with the people I’d shut out for so long and that’s making me feel a lot better. You’ll realise that people want to help and care for you. I know that blackness in your mind says that you’re not worth it but if you try, people will understand (except from those who are so ignorant – but you don’t need those in your life anyway). Even if you feel there is no one you can speak to, or that you don’t want anyone to know what you’re feeling, you can email me at megrrees@gmail.com or tweet me, no judgement and I’ll try and reply as soon as possible. People do care for you and want to support you as much as possible.
 
I hope this post has served it’s purpose, I will definitely do a post on how to care for those with mental illness next and perhaps a post on what doesn’t help in the future. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Megan xxxx
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